Escaping The Prison Of Bitterness And Self-Pity

I’m not going to lie; the first stretch of my life was pretty rough. And I’d bank pretty heavily on the fact that maybe yours was, too. I think we tend to believe there are “privileged” people out there who get a smooth, easy ride through this world – you know, “born with a silver spoon in their mouth.” But my Bible paints a picture of a world so utterly broken that nobody gets through it unscathed. Some people’s journeys in this fallen world start out similar to mine and are plagued by wounds like divorce, drug addiction, feeling rejected by those you love, and tortuous inner confusion about who and what you are. Some people’s journeys appear to start out a bit smoother. Their families are intact. Their relationships with their parents and others seem healthy. But when you dig under the surface a little bit you’re sure to find that these “silver-spooners” have had their own share of troubles. Whatever our various roads may look like, one thing is sure – they’re all paved in crap. And as we all know too well, this crap inflicts deep damage upon our souls.

I have a tendency to want to appear strong in front of others (who doesn’t?), so sometimes when my past comes up in conversation with friends, I’ll quickly shrug off their concern and say something like, “Yeah, I mean, things weren’t ideal – but I got through them and turned out not to be too messed up!” But the truth is that I am in so much denial when I put on a smile and pretend the things I went through as a kid weren’t tools that Satan gladly wielded to mold certain complexes, sin patterns, and emotional deficiencies in my life.

I emerged from my troubled adolescence a very jaded and insecure person. The sharp-edged forms of brokenness in my early life carved sin-shaped holes in my heart into which sexual addiction and substance abuse settled into just fine. I drowned in my sins during the first few years of adulthood . . . but not involuntarily or in a way that absolves me of guilt. I gladly chose the throes of iniquity. My heart was damaged and rather than bringing it to the God who heals, I sought to comfort in sinful pleasure. Only I am to blame for that – nobody else. Thankfully, God intervened in my destruction. Jesus graciously ripped my old heart out and replaced it with a new one – a new heart carved with G0d-shaped holes into which divine grace and love settled into just fine.

HOWEVER . . . even after having my deepest need (to be reconciled to God) satisfied, the scars of my past remained. I still had emotional issues. I still had relational issues. White-hot anger still surfaced regularly as I continued to walk in jealousy of others who, in my mind, had an easier road than I did. I would still say things like, “Well my life was like this and that growing up, and this and that happened to me and this and that is why my life sucks now.” Bitterness reigned – and it negatively affected almost every relationship I had.

And then one day a friend bravely – at the risk of having me blow up in his face – told me, “Matt, everyone’s been through stuff. Your stuff was horrible. Really, it was. But you’re here. You’re alive. And not only that, you’re alive in Christ! You have so much to be thankful for. You can’t continue to let your past define you and dictate your emotions. You’ve got to bring your brokenness to Jesus and let him work in those areas of your heart.”

Though my initial reaction to these words was a sigh accompanied by a roll of the eyes, I knew my friend was right on the money. I didn’t choose to go through the things that I went through growing up, and I didn’t volunteer to suffer the effects those things had on me. However, as a redeemed son of God filled with his Holy Spirit, I did have a choice now in how I dealt with my deeply rooted brokenness. My emotions needed to be reigned in by the truths of the gospel. And it was high time I started allowing that to happen.

I decided that when I would sense anger, jealousy, or bitterness rising up in me that I would try – no matter how justified I felt in feeling that way – to go straight to Jesus with these feelings rather than nurturing them. This daily exercise of surrendering my brokenness to Christ started about 3.5 years ago – and it is a process I am still in and probably will remain in until my dying breath.

Here’s a little glimpse into what the daily grapple to “surrender” looks like, for me:

  • Whenever I begin to grow jealous of others who I believe “had it easy,” I seek the Lord. He reminds me that even though they may have (but probably hadn’t) had it easier than I did, how in the world could I be unsettled over someone not having gone through the same crap I had? When it comes down to it, it’s like I am wishing my misfortunes upon them, and that is not “loving your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39) or “do[ing] to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
  • Whenever I begin to grow bitter about aspects of my past and current life, I seek the Lord. He reminds me that I deserve much worse than anything I’ve been through. My past is filled with troubles, but when I view them in light of my rejection of and rebellion against God, I can see how gracious God has actually been to me. Though there were very dark places in the first 18 years of my life, there were also very good and sweet places. I experienced many blessings that I did not merit. My life has been far better than I deserve.
  • Whenever I begin to grow angry with others who I feel have done me wrong, I seek the Lord. He reminds me that though I definitely did God wrong, and he was intensely angry with me over my sin, he chose to mercifully forgive me. If I really believe God’s grace overflows toward me, then my life as a Christian should be overflowing with grace toward others. Jesus demands me to forgive others, just as he has forgiven me.

Over time, as I’ve continued to submit my jealousy and anger to Jesus, the bitter tone of my soul has greatly dissipated. Seeking to cultivate a heart that is thankful for the many blessings I do have, rather than resentful over the things I do not, has brought great healing to my soul. Forgiving people who sin against me, just as the God whom I sin against abundantly forgives me, has lifted a massive load off of my shoulders. As I continue to [imperfectly] let my brokenness propel me toward Christ, rather than into self-pity or bitterness, my overall emotional state has radically shifted. I see myself walking in more gratitude, peace, and contentment. And I see how this is allowing me to flourish in my relationships with others rather than draining the life out of them like a leech.

As Christians, we don’t have to let our crappy past dictate our current life. We have a God who is gladly in the business of redemption. He desires to enter into our brokenness and mold us into people who radiate with the glory of his love and grace. But we’ve got to surrender ourselves to that process.

If you’re stuck in the trenches of anger, bitterness, and self-pity and see them robbing you emotionally, spiritually, and relationally, I beg you to give them over to Jesus. Day by day, submit your heart to his good rule. Soak yourself in his Word and spend ample time with him in prayer over these things. He will bring healing and he will bring change.

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