My parents gave me the chore of weeding our garden as a kid, which I wasn’t very fond of. It was a constant, grueling battle between me and the weeds. If I didn’t do my job properly the nasty intruders would eventually choke out and kill the fruit we intended to grow.
The Bible has a similar warning against bad roots. Hebrews 12:15 says, “Watch out that no bitterness takes root among you, for as it springs up it causes deep trouble, hurting many in their spiritual lives.”
If you’ve been hurt deeply by someone else, this is much easier said than done. I’ve been abused, molested, raped, conned, cheated on, lied to, slandered and mocked. I also raised my 21-year-old son without a dime of child support. Those things wounded me deeply and hurt for many years. However, God repeatedly pushed me to forgive. The closer I grew to Him, the more I found peace and freedom from the torment that consumed me. Then I began to live in victory, rather than as a victim.
However, was forgiveness enough? From time to time I still find myself thinking, “Why have they gotten away with their crimes? It’s not right. I wish they’d get what they deserve!”
Bitterness is like a weed. It has roots that grow fast and strong, which attempt to choke out the good fruit in my life. If I entertain vengeful thoughts for long, my heart starts racing and I become angry all over again. I was thinking about this a few days ago as I was driving to a prison in South Georgia to encourage inmates. God keeps using my experiences to help others who are hurting, which is amazing. But He has a funny way of always teaching me something too. There’s no doubt I had a divine appointment that day…and not just for the inmate’s benefit.
As I began to share the hope of Christ with an older woman in the prison yard, our conversation took a turn I didn’t expect. She looked at me through sunken dark eyes that were riddled with grief and began to confess her crimes. I hadn’t asked her about them. She just thought that telling me the horrendous details would prove that my message of forgiveness wasn’t meant for her.
She explained how her family, friends and even other inmates had rejected her, because of what she had done. Over twenty years of her life, so far, had been behind bars for multiple counts of child molestation and statutory rape. My heart began beating so hard I could hear each thump in my ears as I recalled my own traumatic experiences. Fortunately, the Holy Spirit intervened and reminded me that her confession didn’t change the message that He sent me to share with her. So, I took a deep breath and began to explain how Christ had already paid the penalty for the things she had done. Despite her crimes, He wanted a relationship with her. Despite what the world thought, He loved her.
After talking for several minutes she accepted His gift of salvation. It was awesome to watch her pained expression transform into a smile as tears ran down her wrinkled face. In that moment, my understanding of God’s grace and mercy moved to a whole new level. I was completely overwhelmed when I realized how much God also loves those who hurt me. Tears rolled down my face as well.
Later, as if that wasn’t enough for me to think about, another inmate approached me. She desperately begged me to pray for her, because she was being released soon. She was a recovering meth addict and wasn’t sure what to do once she was released. I began encouraging her to find a church home and an accountability group to help her from entering the same lifestyle again. Then she pulled a small photo out of her shirt to show me. It was her young son. She explained how he, as well as the rest of her family, were all brutally murdered. Gasping for air, she described her relentless feelings of loneliness, anger and a preoccupation for revenge. I was stunned. All I could think to say was a simple truth from God’s Word that came to mind.
Romans 12:17-21 says, “Never pay back evil for evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honest.Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible. Never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God, for he has said that he will repay those who deserve it. Instead, feed your enemy if he is hungry. If he is thirsty give him something to drink and you will be “heaping coals of fire on his head.” Don’t let evil get the upper hand, but conquer evil by doing good.”
As I continued talking with her, the same words resonated deep in my own soul. While God was using me to encourage her, He also convicted me in the same regard. My problems seemed trite and insignificant at that moment. Instead of wishing my assailants would get what they deserved, I felt humbled and thankful for all God had done to rescue and restore me.
Besides…God didn’t give me what I deserved either. For that, I am eternally grateful. And gratefulness seems to be the best tool to uproot those nasty bitterness weeds.