When I was young in marriage and in ministry, over forty years ago, my father gave me the greatest advice I have ever received.
It was during a time of great turmoil and upheaval and I felt betrayed and forgotten. In great distress, I unloaded all my pain to my father. He never interrupted me. He just looked at me and listened. When I finally finished, he said to me, “Jonathan, you have a choice here. You can be bitter or you can be better. It’s up to you.”
I made a choice that day to be better and that choice has helped me stay the course in life, marriage, and ministry.
The story is told of James Garfield, who was the twentieth president of the United States for only four months, when he was shot in the back on July 2, 1881, by a would-be assassin. He lived just under three more months.
You would think it was the shot that killed him. It wasn’t. You see, the bullet did not penetrate any vital organs. It got stuck behind his pancreas, but it was not a fatal injury. Back then, doctors weren’t concerned about germs; they did not even believe they existed because they couldn’t see them.
So minutes after President Garfield was shot, doctors pressed in around him to stick their fingers and push unsterilized instruments into his wound. They poked and prodded as far as they could in his body, hoping to find the bullet and remove it. They continued to do this for eighty days while President Garfield languished in the hospital. As we today would expect, this regular unsterilized digging worsened the president’s condition. He developed infections and eventually died.
I find it fascinating that President Garfield did not succumb to death because of the bullet wound. He died from the infections caused by doctors who kept probing the wound.
We tend to do the same with our own wounds. We probe. We replay the bad memories in our minds again and again in living color. We talk about them repeatedly to anyone who will listen. We think of ways we can get revenge.
We poke and prod at our open wounds. In the process, we become bitter. Hardened. And often, we withhold our love from those who need it most.
This is not how God wants us to live. This is not the abundant life that Jesus died for. He wants to give us a new beginning. A new story. A fresh start. He wants to heal what has been broken. He wants to reconcile what has been torn apart. This is about understanding biblical forgiveness and reconciliation.
The first healing God ever did on this planet that is recorded in the Bible was not of a human being. It was of bitter water.
In Exodus 15, we read how God led approximately two million Israelites from the salty Red Sea to the waters of Marah, which means “bitter” in Hebrew. God did not heal a disease or a broken bone. He healed bitterness. God knew if He could get the forgiveness released and the bitterness out, the healing would come. When you forgive, you release the power of healing.
Years ago I counseled a woman whose husband left her and their four kids for another woman. In a short period of time, a once vibrant woman, became angry, depressed and very bitter. I told her the first step to healing was to forgive him. As you can imagine my statement was not well received.
With tears in her eyes and anger in her voice she passionately responded,“But my husband doesn’t deserve to be forgiven!”
“I get that,” I said. “I mean, he did a terrible thing that has caused you and your children great pain. He definitely doesn’t deserve to be forgiven.” I paused for a second and asked her, “But do you?”
See, none of us deserve to be forgiven. None of us deserve the grace that God freely gives. None of us deserve the mercies He renews for us every morning. None of us deserve to be loved with an unconditional, unfailing, unstoppable love. We don’t deserve it, yet His love keeps pouring it on.
- Do you want to be right or reconciled?
- Do you want to continue being hurt or do you want to be healed?
- Do you want to keep being the victim or start being the victor?
I love these words written by the prophet Isaiah:
Moreover the light of the moon will be as the light of the sun, And the light of the sun will be sevenfold, As the light of seven days, In the day that the LORD binds up the bruise of His people And heals the stroke of their wound. Isaiah 30:26 (NKJV)
We all have a choice here - Let God heal your wounded places and your nights will become like days and your days will shine seven times brighter.
Bitterness is a heavy load to carry. Do you want to remain bitter your entire life or become better and enjoy the abundant life provided for you? The choice is yours. Once you make your choice that choice will control you and will affect and infect the people you love the most.
If you find yourself where I was some forty years ago, I want to give you the same advice my father gave me. You can be bitter or you can be better.