I've heard that bitterness is like drinking poison and hoping the other person will die. In the end, it really ends up hurting you more than the person you feel spite towards. And generally, a lot of the other people around you as well. Before I say anything more on this, though, I do want to vindicate that it is important to recognize that whatever has caused this resentment, or rather, what you "perceive to be the cause" of it, is probably very valid. Legitimately hurtful things do happen.
But that's not how the root of a grudge begins to grow.
The real thing that ends up affecting everything is the proximity of the offender. Mark Driscoll explains this in detail in one of his sermons from The Peasant Princess sermon series (I highly highly recommend checking out the podcast free on Itunes...the sermon is "My Dove"). He explains that it's not about whether or not if what happened to you is a big deal. It's about whether or not the person who did it is deeply loved by you. A total stranger could break into your home and steal all of your stuff, and you'd be very frustrated, but not bitter because it's not personal. Bitterness stems from the idea that this person whom you love and trust has betrayed you. And this does great, deep, profound damage. But so does an unforgiving heart.
Hebrews 12:15 says, "See to it...that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." The Lord knows how these bullets ends up affecting many people, and usually, more than one person ends up getting shot in the crossfire because of it. He also commands in Ephesians 4:31-32 to "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you." The forgiveness of a sinner is not contingent upon their repentance. It's contingent on Jesus' character. No one has been sinned against more than the Lord...but He has not gone to malice. He is a God of forgiveness. When we practice forgiveness, we are showing something of the Lord's love to others. Just as He has shown it to us.
Doesn't mean that any of this is easy. I am in the midst of sorting all this out myself - forgiveness has been confusing to me in the past, but I think the Lord is starting to help me understand it more. He is being so faithful. Here are some lists that really helped me identify the station of my heart and where to go from there. Hopefully it will help you too if you are questioning what forgiveness looks like in your life.
Clues that you are harboring bitterness:
1. Do you continually replay a past hurt over and over? Does that one moment when the hurt happened cycle over itself again and again in your mind?
2. Is there someone you try to avoid? Their calls...seeing them?
3. Is there someone you quickly go to anger with? They always get the short fuse from you?
4. Is there someone you verbally malign? Do you talk trash about them or speak ill of them?
Here's what forgiveness is not:
1. It is not approving of the sin. In fact it's validating that it is so bad that Jesus had to die for it.
2. It is not excusing. "Oh, that's your personality." It's not about repenting of your first-bornness or your Irishness or your extravertedness, etc.
3. It's not denying it. "Oh you didn't sin against me...it's okay..." etc.
4. It's not overlooking it. "Oh I'll just choose to look the other way," etc.
5. It's not forgetting. Jesus doesn't come with a side of amnesia. You still remember things. But you choose to not hold it against them.
6. It's not diminishing.
7. It's not pretending. There needs to be real-life forgiveness.
Here is what forgiveness is:
1. Loving in spite of what they've said and done. Because that's how God loves us.
2. It's choosing not to punish.
3. It's choosing not to keep a record of wrongs. It's not keeping every sin ever committed against you in a pile like rocks and every time you feel like picking one up and throwing it you feel free. Not forgiveness.
4. It's choosing to give mercy.
5. It is often a reoccurring event. You don't just forgive someone and move on always. Sometimes the hurt keeps coming back. Sometimes you have to get up each morning and start the day with forgiveness. I forgive you, I forgive you, it hurts like crazy, but I forgive you.
6. It can be reconciliation, but not always. Just because they've sinned against you doesn't mean you automatically need to take them back. Especially if it's a dangerous situation. There needs to be some fruit in keeping with repentence...not just worldly sorrow.
7. It can help trust come into the picture again. But it is not an immediate restoration of full trust. Trust takes time. And a lot of it sometimes.
I feel like my heart is growing something little and new and green right now. But it's just a baby plant. I don't think I've been in this place for a very long time. I've been praying awhile for this, and He is now granting it! I know that it is no merit of my own that has brought me here, but His grace alone. Not that I am doing this perfectly, but I have an ounce of this little thing within my spirit that belongs to Him. Thank you Father.