“Many times during and after treatment I couldn’t help but think “stupid, stupid cancer. You almost took my life. You took my hair. I still feel like crap sometimes, probably from all of the chemicals I’ve been exposed to. You made me vulnerable. [You] could come back again. Forever I will have to get scans and be reminded that I had you in the first place. This is why I have chosen to forgive cancer. There are many sayings out there about how harboring unforgiveness is like drinking poison and hoping your enemy will die. It does no good to hold onto bitterness.” This is the testimony of Hodgkin Lymphoma survivor Rachel Oxhorn. Tragically, her experience with cancer is akin to some people’s experience with the church. It makes them sick.
Many people will not come to church or have anything to do with “Christians” because what they see and have experienced there is pain from the sickness of bitterness. Hebrews 12:15 describes it as pride, animosity, rivalry or anything else harmful to others. Sound familiar? Have you been on the giving end or receiving end? Bitterness turns and keeps the spotlight on the injustice we experience and the anger, pain and disappointment we feel. Eventually it leads to discouragement from the dissatisfaction with the past, distaste for the present, and distrust of the future. Bitterness helps no one although it can wound many.
Bitterness is worse when those who know better practice it, condone it, or fail to confront it. Christians are to be Christ followers. Christ led away from bitterness toward forgiveness, sacrifice over selfishness, and love for others more than love of self. Jesus practiced healing and taught his disciples to do the same. Forgetfulness and weariness are excuses, not options.
We live in a fallen world, however. People are people wherever they are. There is at least a chance to hear in the church about bitterness and be encouraged to live differently. Jesus sets a higher bar for those who call him Lord. He sends the Holy Spirit to enable his family to understand and apply his teachings as they follow him from the desire of love over a sense of duty alone.
Do not hold all Christians responsible for the sin of bitterness inflicted on you by another. I am no more responsible than you are for the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two. On the other hand, I am responsible to restrain and hold accountable those that do not follow the way of Christ either intentionally or accidentally. That is what you do for someone you love and care about.
Here are some things you can do to overcome bitterness in your own life and to lead others in your church family into. Yes, this is the privilege and responsibility of leaders and followers alike. First, forgive as Jesus forgave you. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. It means, rather, that the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship.” Next, make a plan with the decision to stop dwelling and retelling as step one. Finally, seek grace and professional help if necessary. Some wounds can only be healed with God’s help, which is difficult to receive when we are obsessing over our wound.
Choose to focus on what is left rather than what is lost. Make a list of all the good things in your life or do what we started in the church I attend. Take a to-go cup, cut a slit in the top, and place loose change in it every time something good happens to you. Such a blessing cup brings awareness and redirects attention away from bitterness and toward gratitude.
“When you suffer you learn to care. That is why God does not comfort us to make us comfortable, but to make us comforters. But don’t forget, He suffered first…..”