This is day 21 of Soulful Simplicity, a 31-day series through the month of October. The series can be found here, and I hope you find it enriching and encouraging. If you have any questions or would otherwise like to connect, feel free to send me a note: lightandloveliness [at] gmail [dot] com.
P.S. If you’ve been following along in real time, you’ll notice I’m a few days behind. I am slowly-but-surely catching up! Thanks for your encouragement!
Have you ever been hurt by someone in a way that remained painful for a long time afterward? My guess would be yes. Most people have a story of that sort they could tell if they wanted to.
Today I want to talk about anger, and the what it does to us—not the person who hurt us—when we leave unchecked for too long.
Anger is a strong emotion, and there are very real reasons to feel it. I don’t wish to minimize someone’s experience in any way, but I do want to call attention to what happens when anger gets a grip on our lives that we cannot shake. Anger left unattended becomes a dangerous vine with deep roots that are not easy to dig up. It has tentacles that slink around everything precious in our lives and distorts them, often keeping the things we want or need most out of our reach. I am referencing bitterness: what becomes of anger that has not been dealt with in a healthy way.
The wounds we carry from others bring about a tricky paradox. We
want need to protect ourselves from further harm, but also want need to move forward from a situation. Holding on to anger—which at some point turns into bitterness—absolutely stands in the way of simplicity and living whole-heartedly, which is why I bring it up.
Bitterness is a poison that interferes with a journey toward wholeness, peace, and the freedom of living a life full of goodness. It takes up more space in your heart and mind than any other thing, and demands that you reject good things in life in order to nurture the bitterness. Most often, we feel justified for feeling bitter toward those who have wronged us, and the truth is, you may absolutely be justified…but that doesn’t mean that bitterness isn’t keeping you from things that you don’t realize you are missing. Forgiveness must happen if you want freedom for yourself. It has nothing to do with letting the other party off the hook and everything to do with freeing you from the grip that anger has on you.
What I mean when I talk about or engage with forgiveness? Forgiveness means I acknowledge the deep pain that I feel, and I take action that will not allow my anger to keep wounding me in ever-increasing ways as it hangs around. Anger is like a worm that eats away a lettuce leaf. It damages more and more of the plant the longer it is allowed to stay there. Forgiveness is like plucking the worm off the plant and guarding against it’s return. It doesn’t change or dismiss the damage that was done, but it takes away the thing that would have otherwise continued to eat you up from the inside and make room for hope, healing, joy, and many other lovely things.
Forgiveness is first for the person who is offering it. When you pluck the worm off of the lettuce leaf, you aren’t saying to the worm (or to the person who put the worm there), “What has been done to me is ok” or “I will just pretend that I was not hurt as deeply as I was.” You’re just saying, “This anger and bitterness does not belong here anymore,” and you fling that worm far away from you.
What comes next? I would say, set healthy boundaries. Find the support you need to heal, which may include some combination of prayer, professional counseling, and the support of the community around you. Forgiveness really has very little to do with the other party, until/unless that party comes around hoping to restore relationship. They may never do that. If they do, you can choose where your boundaries lie and what you will engage. Forgiveness doesn’t mean a relationship is repaired, it only means that the anger toward the person who hurt you can no longer control you. It means there is potential to repair disconnection and broken trust, if both parties are working toward that.
Forgiveness is the very thing that scoops up the terrible stuff on the inside of us, and sets it outside the door of our hearts. Does that mean we don’t feel the hurt anymore? Most likely we’ll still be feeling it, but acknowledging pain and carrying bitterness are two different things. Honestly acknowledging our pain and forgiving others are two ways of participating in our own healing process. It makes it possible for us able to move toward wholeness, having cut loose the cords that kept us enslaved to bitterness, opening us to God’s tender care in our inward-most places.
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Colossians 3:13
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