If you’ve ever played the game Apples to Apples, you probably remember the card that says “Festering Wounds.” I laugh every time it comes up. So much that my mother-in-law took a picture of me holding that card, years ago.
Even if you’ve never played Apples to Apples, you can probably agree that the idea of festering wounds sounds so ridiculously gross that it’s kind of funny. (I’m sure, unless you’ve actually had a festering wound or you work in a medical profession that deals with them regularly.)
Despite how ridiculous and [hilariously] disgusting festering wounds sound, the truth is that so many of us live day-to-day with festering wounds in our hearts. That is, we daily carry around bitterness in our hearts.
When I think of the definition of “bitterness,” I think of grapefruit. I hate grapefruit. It has such a disagreeable flavor. I eat it and my face scrunches up. And it’s not because it’s sour…I actually LOVE sour things. Grapefruit is distinctly different, it’s just bitter.
Carrying around the burden of bitterness toward others in our daily lives is like choosing to eat grapefruit all day long. It’s like we are continually choosing to take in something that is disagreeable. Or like we are continually choosing to keep a wound open and let it fester instead of letting it heal.
That’s why God tells us to rid ourselves of bitterness. The book of Ephesians says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” (Ephesians 4:31)
How exactly do we do that? If we keep reading, the very next verse provides the answer: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
God says the way to let go of bitterness is through forgiveness. Now, hear this out; forgiveness isn’t denying that something terrible, maybe even something horrific, has happened to you. It’s not pretending that you weren’t hurt.
Forgiveness is choosing to release the debt that your offender owes you. It is the choice that you will not let someone else’s action dictate how you will live or the joy you will have.
You may think that refusing to forgive someone means you “have something on them.” But in the end it only eats you up inside and keeps you from living a whole, healed life. As one of my favorite quotes says, refusing to forgive is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
Bitterness is something that creeps into my life quite frequently. I am prone to holding grudges. But when I choose to let go and forgive, I find my life is filled with so much joy and freedom. My wholeness and well-being doesn’t have to depend on how someone else has treated me.
But of course, it is so much easier for me to forgive others when I remember that God first forgave me. The way others have wronged me is nothing compared to how I have wronged God by sinning and choosing to disobey him. My sin separates me from him.
Nevertheless, God, himself, chose to pay the price for the sin of the world so that I, and you, can receive his forgiveness. I’m so not worthy – I will always mess up – but God loves me even still.
I’m glad that God didn’t choose to hold onto bitterness. And today I hope that you won’t either. Instead of allowing the wounds to fester in your heart, choose to let it go. Choose healing. Choose freedom. Choose joy. Choose forgiveness.