How to Move from Bitterness to Forgiveness

by Roger Barrier

Dear Roger,

My daughter broke my heart. I just can’t seem to forget her angry words, her rejection. How do I get past my bitterness to forgive her?

Disillusioned Mom

Dear Mom,

Jesus says we are not trapped by our bitterness. We can move from bitterness to healing forgiveness and reconciliation. When we face the temptation to be bitter, we must remember who we are in Christ. We must put on spiritual clothes. Condemnation can destroy us. Pastor Driscoll shares many of these principles in his sermon, “Continuum from Bitterness to Forgiveness.”

How do you know you are bitter? You keep thinking about the hurt. It affects you emotionally. You remember clearly every detail. The way you dig up the “root of bitterness” is with the “shovel of forgiveness.”

Distancing yourself from the person or the relationship will not make the hurt go away. You can pretend that the problem doesn’t exist by avoiding your friend (enemy). It will cripple every relationship you have. You will start to build walls and live a guarded life.

Christ is our forgiveness. As Jesus responded to me, I can be empowered to respond to others in the same way. How do you begin the process of forgiveness?


Don’t minimize the hurts in your life. Mourn your hurts. Express them to a trusted friend or spouse and allow you to be comforted. Jesus died for those hurts. Talk honestly about them. Who has hurt you the most? With whom have you not reconciled? Who does the Holy Spirit bring to your mind when you think hurtful thoughts? Jesus said, “Blessed are they who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Remember, it’s okay to get angry. God did. Anger is one of His emotions.

Anger is a powerful emotion that can lead us to righteous indignation and holiness. Anger, improperly used, can lead us into sin. Satan has access to us when we are in rebellion.


When we refuse to forgive, we are inviting Satan to empower bitterness, disunity and destroy people.


The most difficult people I deal with are hurting, unwilling to let go of their anger. Proverbs says that our tongues can be sharp swords.

Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:29 that we are to build others up. We need to seek good for others. This is only the Holy Spirit’s enabling.


If you don’t choose forgiveness, you choose bitterness. Bitterness from unforgiveness can often turn inward. Many women turn their bitterness inward and become depressed. Many men turn their bitterness outward and their anger tends to escalate.


Here is what you need to know about bitterness:


1. People who tend to be bitter, tend to have a good reason. Hurt results in anger, unprocessed anger simmers and become bitterness.


2. Bitterness can include anger toward God. Naomi, who lost her husband and sons, called herself Mara, or Bitter. But by the end of her story, she is a happy grandmother and her grandson is a forerunner of Christ. God gives you hope and a future. Wait upon Him to see His goodness and His Hand in your life.


3. Sometimes people will become bitter because they feel wounded, cheated, neglected or dismissed. They have experienced great loss and they don’t know how to deal with it.


4. Bitterness has less to do with the magnitude of the offense than the proximity of the offender. When you see the person who has wounded you every day, the offense is magnified.


According to Paul in Ephesians 4, this is how bitterness escalates.

  • Rage-you can’t contain the bitterness, it simmers inside.
  • Anger-people can see our emotion.
  • Brawling-we become combative or passive-aggressive. The internet can cause havoc. Once you air your grievance, it lives on forever and can gather momentum, destroying lives.
  • Slander-we go public and get others involved in our offense. “You hurt me and I will hurt you!”

We get creative on how to punish the offender. Such behavior grieves the Holy Spirit.

We must begin by confessing our sin. Be specific. When you do so,

1. You cancel the debt.

2. You remove that person’s control over you and your emotions.

3. You give them the gift of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not only for them, it is a gift for you.

4. You forsake revenge. “Vengeance is Mine,” saith the Lord. Why? Because ultimate justice must be left to God. God is just.

5. Forgiveness is both a decision and a process. It may take time and cover a series of issues.

6. You know you have forgiven them when you genuinely want God to bless them, you want good for their lives.


Here is what forgiveness is NOT.


1. Forgiveness is not denying the offense ever happened.

2. Forgiveness is not enabling another to repeat the offense. A woman was molested by her Dad. When she had children, she allowed her father to babysit her children. He molested them as well.

3. Forgiveness must not cover up the offense. We are to walk in the light.

4. Forgiveness is not forgetting. We often quote the verse that God remembers our sins no more. God is omniscient. He knows our sins. But He looks at us through the lens of what Christ has done. He chooses to interact with us in the light of Christ, His Son.

5. Forgiveness is not a response to an apology. It is freely offered by the offended.

We must forgive as God in Christ forgave us. No one has been sinned against more than Jesus.

In Psalm 51:4, David said, “Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned.” Our Savior humbled Himself. He never sinned. His wounds were undeserved. Everything He experienced was completely unjust.


“I went with an archaeologist to see the Roman bathrooms. The rich sat and relieved themselves on marble benches. Slaves took sponges to clean out the excrement and used vinegar to sanitize them once again.


The vinegar sponge the soldier’s put to Jesus’ lips on the cross was toilet paper for them.” Mark Driscoll


Jesus kept speaking loving words even with His dying breath. He forgave them, and He forgives you. Offer that gift to others by His power and unconditional love.

Excerpts taken from “Continuum from Bitterness to Forgiveness” by Mark Driscoll, “Racial Reconciliation” by Matt Chandler, and “Job and His Comforters” by Roger Barrier.




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