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Letting Go of Pain and Bitterness

by Cate Russell-Cole  
10/19/2015 / Christian Living


I've had people say to me quite a number of times, "don't get bitter about it" when someone has hurt me. I always presumed I wasn't a bitter person. There was always someone I could compare myself to, who was blatantly seething over something that had happened to them. They hadn't, for whatever reasoning, let go. It was so simple to point the finger, and knew what they should do.

I wasn't bitter. I recognised that it could take me a long while to come to a place in my heart where I could forgive people, and be friendly again after I'd been hurt. I interpreted that as needing space to heal, and allowing myself that freedom. But bitter? No. Then relationships started to deteriorate in my family, and I was getting hurt more than I had ever been before. There was no possible resolution, I had tried and failed every step of the way to build better, less destructive communication bridges with my mother and sister. The situation wasn't going to get better, it just kept getting worse.

I have just moved out of my home state without telling my family. I didn't even see my sick mother before I left, knowing well, that I wouldn't see her again before she died. Some people have told me it was a cold hearted act, but it was emotional survival for me. I could have rung her, or gone to visit and not let on I was moving. I knew that the moment I contacted her, she would start abusing me for everything she was currently stressing over anyway. I am the family scapegoat. I am the one who is expected to be there to do everything to support my mother, regardless of the impact it has on my own life. Over the past few months, I haven't been there as I have had enough of being abused and accused, and just can't take any more. So I didn't ring her, I stayed right away. I just moved, got a post office address where my family could contact me in an emergency but not harass me, and I wrote to let her know I had gone. I didn't even want to do that. I want no contact with her or my sister, its too painful. I have done my best to be a decent daughter, but nothing has ever been good enough for them.

As I sat struggling with writing the letter to my mother, God gently spoke into my heart and said "you're bitter." That was a shock. It wasn't condemnation or correction, I guess God just wanted me to know that this poison was starting to infect my heart, and for my own good, He wanted to help me stop. I didn't think I was dwelling on the injustice of it all, or sulking or accusing, or bad mouthing my family, well, not too much anyway. I'm not a twisted, unbalanced person, out to get my revenge for what my lying, using, sadistic family have done to me! I had the choice to feel that strongly, but I just wanted to completely avoid the subject, forget the problems. My heart's desire was to start my new life and move on. I had attributed some of my mother's behaviour to her cancer, and I had told the relatives I just couldn't deal with her behaviour change, I hadn't drawn them into an argument to take sides or feel sorry for me. Was I really bitter? I realised I was. Deep down, I knew I was still hanging onto the pain. Even though I was trying not to be angry and destructive emotionally, I was still infected with that poison that was colouring my attitude to families and how I behaved. I couldn't look at anyone else's family and see them as healthy. I couldn't view a family as a good thing anymore. It wasn't a supportive, loving unit worth belonging to. Families had become, in my mind, a breeding ground for nothing but trouble and heartache. I could not forgive. The pain was too raw, so I focussed on my move and my new life, and forgot my own inner turmoil.

I was bought up in a home where giving forgiveness and letting go of the past didn't happen. It was a foreign concept. You had a right to stay angry and be vengeful. Even after nineteen years as a Christian, I still struggle with forgiveness. I know everyone does, and I do get there, sometimes months later, but I would like to be better at it. More open and less liable to carry the sting of insults and rejection for months, having to "be nice" or avoid people. It's such a lead weight to drag around with me. The Bible makes perfect common sense. "Let all bitterness, and wrath and anger and clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, has forgiven you." (Ephesians 4:31-32) That's fine with me. Who wants to live with wrath, anger and malice directed at them? It's just so very hard to do though! So very hard to smile through your tears and even be willing, to one day let it go, let the wound heal clean, and move forward without ruminating over the injustice and pain people inflict. I know I would be emotionally healthier if I could stop thinking about how bad things have been, but I know I can't do it - certainly not on my own.

My family robbed me of a normal childhood. I was emotionally abused right through, am still being accused of treachery as I moved out of home eleven years ago - eleven years and I am still in trouble for wanting my own life. Don't I have a right to be angry? I know there are people reading this who feel the same way about things that have happened in their lives. I know you also understand how it feels to be badly hurt. I know everyone struggles with forgiveness and bitterness, and things that cannot be made right again. I also know how badly you can long for healing, and to be free of all the emotional baggage that weighs us down so much. Everyone has pain in their lives. But just how do you let go? How do you deal with it in a healthy way and move on without carrying the poison, and seeing relationships as a bad deal?

I pulled my dusty Christian books off the shelves and started looking. There are so many normal everyday people in the Bible who got hurt so badly! People with broken lives. Look at Job. There were women who suffered because they were childless. Men like Joseph, betrayed by his own family - just like me. What about Ruth? The one thing I noticed they had in common though, is they all became "over comers." They moved forward with a clear vision, and God healed them and blessed them. They had faith, and God used their situation to make them wiser and better people, and then He made them great. They called out to God for help, and the help came, no matter how much they complained and were miserable. Look at Jonah. No matter what went his way, he still whined at God. But God never turned His back on Jonah because he had a bad attitude.

It seems to work in such a way that the people who stay bitter end up with more trouble, and a bad name. "Try to live at peace with everyone! Live a clean life. If you don't you will never see the Lord. Make sure than no one misses out on God's wonderful kindness. Don't let anyone become bitter and cause trouble for the rest of you." (Hebrews 12:14-15) Bitterness is infectious, it pulls everyone down to a miserable level. It will make the brightest day dull drudgery, and a good opportunity will be full of problems, because that's what bitterness does. It kills off vitality, hope and life.

I'm still finding it hard to forgive my family and heal from the past pain, but I'm going to try. All I know how to do is ask God to help me overcome my bitterness so He can make me a better person, happier inside, and much more at peace. I know only His healing can help me out, and thank God, He will help me do it.

This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Written in Australian English.

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