Does your child cling to anger and become bitter? Teach kids how to overcome bitterness by understanding God’s character, trusting in His plan, and choosing forgiveness. Read more.
I didn’t know I was bitter. All I knew was that when she reached out to hug me, I didn’t want to give her a hug. I didn’t know I was bitter. But I was twisting anything she said—even in kindness—into an insult or cutting criticism. I didn’t know I was bitter, and yet I was constantly angry at her for no reason at all. I didn’t know I was bitter, yet when I told God, “I don’t want this anymore,” I felt a burden lifted from my heart, soul, and shoulders.
My relationship with my Granny was always good, but when she moved in with my brother, my parents, and me, it quickly changed. She was critical of my dad who did nothing but selflessly serve her constantly. She was grumpy and rude when I had college friends over, and their laughter was too loud. Despite all her family was doing to care for her, she continually complained about the smallest things. I knew she loved me, but it often didn’t feel like it.
I had no idea at the time that I was holding those hurts deep in my heart, nursing them into a festering wound of bitterness. But when I finally realized what was going on and let God take that hurt from me, I was able to let go and overcome the bitterness I had towards my Granny. Through God’s strength, I was able to show her real, sincere love until she passed away a year later. But this only happened once I had finally realized the truth about bitterness.
The Truth Your Kids Need to Know About Bitterness
Bitterness Halts Spiritual Growth
One problem bitterness causes in our lives is that it messes up our relationship with God! Bitterness grows in our hearts and becomes the thing we are listening to instead of the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). But a heart full of bitterness shows up in angry outbursts, hateful words, impatience, pouting, rudeness, and a host of other issues.
When we hold onto the ways others have hurt us and give in to the desires of our sin nature, we won’t be growing spiritually! Instead, we will be stuck in patterns of sin that take intentional work and submission to the Spirit to overcome. Just like tripping and falling down the stairs, the path to bitterness is sometimes accidental and even faster than we realize. But climbing back up those stairs by repairing our relationship with God and relationships with others takes intentional, effort-filled steps.
Bitterness Strangles Forgiveness
Bitterness also strangles forgiveness in our hearts! Like weeds that grow up and choke out the flowers in a poorly-kept garden, bitterness grows rapidly in our hearts. Maybe you’ve heard your kids say they won’t forgive a sibling or friend because they aren’t sorry or don’t seem sorry. Sometimes it even seems more “fair” not to forgive the ones who have hurt us. Our idea of justice can get really messed up by thinking this way! Instead of trusting God, who has promised to repay evil and enact vengeance for us (Romans 12:19), we want to get that justice ourselves. If we forgave that person, we would be letting go of our idea of justice, and we would overcome bitterness. Most of the time, we just don’t want to do that.
Friend, there is danger here! Matthew 6:15 clearly states that if we won’t forgive, God won’t forgive us. Wow! Jesus Himself said that when we aren’t forgiving others, we cannot expect to be right with God. Withholding forgiveness is sin. When we hold on to our sin, it is impossible to be in a right relationship with God.
That is a sobering thought, and it reminds us of something. When we refuse to forgive, we are acting like we have never received God’s forgiveness. God actually tells us in His Word that every Christian MUST forgive because we ourselves have been forgiven. As sinners from birth, we have rebelled and sinned against an infinitely Holy God. Yet this God has forgiven our sins and made us His children! How can we, who have been forgiven so much, withhold forgiveness from others?
Bitterness Keeps Your Focus Fixed on Yourself
In addition to keeping us from growing and forgiving, bitterness keeps us focused on ourselves. We can’t stop thinking of how others have hurt us, our feelings about it, and the ways we want to get back at them or see justice done. The problem here is that our focus gets so small and narrow that we often miss the ways God is taking these hard things and using them for good in our lives! While we’re focused on our pain, the goodness and promises of God don’t catch our attention. We forget we have a loving Father Who is tenderly caring for us, knows our pain, and wants to heal our wounds so He can be glorified in our lives!
This self-focused state also keeps us from seeing the needs of those around us. We’re so caught up in our problems and pain that we don’t see or hear the needs of others. Maybe for your kids, it’s helping a friend who is going through hard things in their family or even listening to a friend who has been hurt too. By focusing on the needs of others, they can start to overcome bitterness and learn to trust God to use the hard things in life for good. What if the hurts our kids felt could be opportunities for them to share the healing and compassion of their Heavenly Father with the people around them who are also hurting?
Bitterness Ignores the Promises God Has Made
Finally, bitterness also causes us to ignore the promises God has made to us in His Word! Instead of trusting Him to bring justice, we try to take it into our own hands. Rather than rejoicing in His promise to make all things beautiful in His own timing (Ecclesiastes 3:11), we worry about our plans.
But our God is so kind! He has promised that no matter what happens, NOTHING and NO ONE can separate us from His great love for us (Romans 8:38-39)! Not only that, but He has also promised that when we come to Him for forgiveness, we will never be turned away. He will forgive us as many times as we ask (1 John 1:9). How can we stay bitter when we take God at His Word and rest in His promises?
The struggle with bitterness is hard—especially if you don’t know what you’re fighting against! So, to help your kids learn to forgive and overcome bitterness, we have written Letting Go: Choosing Forgiveness Over Bitterness. This Bible study will help your kids identify bitterness, learn how to fight it, and discover the truth in God’s Word that will help them overcome it. Your kids don’t have to be defeated by the hurts and bitterness in their hearts. With God’s help, they can learn to forgive others and overcome the enemy of bitterness.
Letting Go: Choosing Forgiveness Over Bitterness is part of our Heavy Feelings Series which looks at fear, anger, grief, bitterness, and life’s struggles through the lens of the Bible. It teaches kids and teens how to process their emotions and give them to God. Each Bible study in the series focuses on a different feeling, and they all work together to provide families with the foundation they need to face the trials of this life. Our family Bible studies are designed for different age levels with appropriate lessons for each age. Together the studies consist of a key truth, key Scripture, and central theme that allows the whole family to work together.
Ever since she was a little girl, listening delightedly as her mom read books and poetry out loud to her, Jessica has been enraptured by the power of words. When she is not reading or scribbling down poems of her own, Jessica can most likely be found hiking with her husband or trying out new recipes. She has yet to discover at what point plants, journals, and coffee mugs become *excessive,* but is sure she can still find room for one or two more. Through her bachelor’s degree in English Literature, opportunities to write for various small publications, and experience as a Staff Writer for Not Consumed Ministries, Jessica has grown in her passion for writing and desire to share that passion with others. As she seeks to show the goodness and beauty of God in her calling as a writer-wife-homemaker, Jessica hopes to encourage you in your relationships with family, friends, and most importantly, in your relationship with Christ.