Many people struggle with bitterness. It is one of the most pervasive problems in the American church. Bitterness is often the result of un-forgiveness. Many who are bitter are long term believers, probably because they have been around the church long enough to suffer some of the inevitable consequences of living in relationship with other flawed folks. Someone once told me they weren't going to church any more because the church was filled with hypocrites. That's a classic conclusion of a bitter person. I responded, "Well, the Super WalMart is filled with hypocrites too but you go down there twice a week!". My personal opinion is that everyone is a hypocrite, maybe not a practicing one, but at least a former one and very potentially, a future one as well. We should treat our own hypocrisy like alcoholics treat alcoholism. "Hello. My name is Robin. I am a hypocrite!" Actually it may be true that the only people who emerge from hypocrisy are those who own their own hypocritical ways. That means then that I'm not a hypocrite! (...oops. I think maybe I fell back into it again. Oh well.)
How do you forgive and overcome bitterness? We know we should forgive, Jesus said so:
"And whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him that your Father in heaven may also forgive your trespasses."
We know God won't forgive us, to some degree, if we don't forgive others:
"...but if you don't forgive, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses"...(Mt. 11:25).We know we will be subject to torment if we don't forgive others (see Mt. 18:34-35); but how do you do it? To the best of my knowledge Jesus revealed only one 'how to' when it came to forgiving someone when He said,
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:34).His statement reveals a hidden key: Getting free from un-forgiveness lies in not assigning intent to another person's actions. If people don't know why they do what they do, then we should stop assuming we know as well. Think about it. How many of us truly understand why we do what we do? So, if we don't understand why we act as we do, and we know ourselves much better than we could possibly know anyone else, then why should we assume we know the motives of other people. Judging other people's motives is rooted in pride and that is exactly what God resists...even in us. That assigning of intent locks us into our judgment of them and the bitterness that follows.
Here is a great idea. Realize that people don't know what they are doing and stop taking life so personally. You may find that you get a 'get out of jail free' card as a result.