Forgiven and Forgiving
Bitterness was eating away at my heart, but I chose to call it “righteous indignation.” A friend had broken my confidence and shared her slightly-skewed version of an issue I was dealing with. Gossip hurts, just as the Bible repeatedly warns. However, I chose an unbiblical response. I stewed, I “vented” (which was actually gossiping to another friend), and I justified my actions based on the supposed damage she had done to my reputation and my ego. I did talk to her about it and she apologized, though in my mind the apology was insufficient.
I continued to hold a grudge for over a year. Our friendship continued on the surface, though my heart was becoming consumed, and sometimes even obsessed, by my bitterness towards her. This was all happening during a difficult time in my marriage when my husband was working long hours and I was busy caring for young children. It was an easy transition for the bitterness to spill over into other areas of my life. Though I continued to pray, attend church and Bible study, my spiritual life was lagging. My relationship with my Savior and best Friend was strained.
Finally, broken and depressed, I allowed God to speak to me through His Word. While reading Ephesians I realized my struggle was not unique.
Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. He who steals must steal no longer; but rather he must labor, performing with his own hands what is good, so that he will have something to share with one who has need. Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.
I had given Satan a corner in my heart and allowed sin to grow. God used this opportunity to teach me one of the most important lessons of my life:
I am responsible for my behavior regardless of how the other person is behaving.
God was not excusing my sin because I was wronged. I became angry and sinned, thus giving Satan a foothold. I realized the only cure for my bitterness was to focus on my own sin and ask for God’s forgiveness and cleansing. I humbly asked Him to forgive me, and renew me, and I was restored. Sweet, sweet restoration.
Realizing how far I had distanced myself from God and being a recipient of His grace transformed my vision. I began to view my friends, my husband, and the rude man in traffic as fellow sisters and brothers needing grace. When frustrated, I remembered that I was responsible for my reaction and not for the other person’s behavior.
My job was to keep a reign on my tongue and actions, not to punish them for theirs.
Many years later, I wish I could say this was a battle won. Yet it is still one I fight daily. Being a parent has added many more opportunities to practice self-control. But as a result of a very hard lesson learned, my relationships have become deeper, especially with my Savior.