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, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
— Ephesians 4:31–32
As people near the end of life, the illnesses that invade their bodies often become a source of unremitting pain and discomfort that require medication to control. There are no drugs, however, that can alleviate the suffering caused by spiritual pain. Dr. Alexander Peralta Jr., a gifted palliative care specialist once told me, “Spiritual pain is very real and can be as debilitating as physical pain. An outcome-based plan of care effectively treating symptoms common to the dying is determined only when the patient’s spiritual/religious system of beliefs and values are in view.”
The dying are the people I spend time with each day, and for many of them, the greatest relief from the emotional and spiritual pain they experience comes when they are brought to confront the bitter feelings residing in their hearts. When bitterness is brought to the surface, given a name and dealt with, a calming sense of relief takes its place, exchanging the demonic fruits of bitterness (torment and distress) for the spiritual fruits of reconciliation (love, joy and peace).
To these things I am a witness. I have more than once felt the stinging bite of bitterness, been cursed at, and told to “get the hell out” by some rancorous old man (women, too) who hated the world. No one wants to be around them. Nurses duck behind a wall when they see them come rolling out of their rooms. Even family members who come to visit keep their time with the patient short and sweet for the same reason staff members go into hiding when they see them coming down the hallway.
Bitterness makes us bitter. Holding onto a grudge, refusing to forgive, resentfulness — all such things are tools of the enemy to keep us bitter and prevent our experiencing the joy of salvation. They block the Spirit’s access into the gardens of faith where he would cultivate love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in our lives (see Galatians 5:22–23).
Do people seem to avoid you? Graciously excuse themselves from your presence ?Are you a habitual complainer, finding everything wrong with the world? Do memories of that person who treated you badly continue to haunt? Let it go. A million things can make a person bitter, but only one thing can make us truly better. Only Jesus can release the bonds of bitterness, giving you the ability to let it go. My prescription for you today then is this: Give your life to Jesus and let it go.