“Let it go! Let it go! Can’t hold it back anymore . . .” Those of you who have young children have probably heard this song belted out on any number of occasions. I know a few years back we went on a camping trip with my husband’s family and my son and his cousin sang that song over and over and over . . . at the top of their lungs. They had a wonderful time, although some of the other campers in the campground might not have appreciated their musical talents.
Many times in my life something has happened that disturbs me and I think to myself, “Just let it go.” Inevitably that song pops into mind, and although it has nothing at all to do with the situation it makes me smile. Then I remember that holding on to a grudge, a perceived injustice or an angry memory is simply a lot of effort and counterproductive to my Christian walk. Instead, I should just smile and let it go.
I just want you all to know that I am writing this article to myself. I hope you can benefit from it too, but I was lecturing myself on this very issue this morning while I was running. I have a tendency to hold on to things, whether it be toxic guilt or perceived slights. I struggle with letting go, and I find that if I don’t the bitterness feeds upon itself. If someone does something that sets me off I will dwell upon it and it grows larger and larger until it sends me into a dark place that is hard to leave.
In the book of Acts we read about a man known as Simon the sorcerer. He had converted to Christianity, and when he saw how the apostles could transfer the gift of the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands, he tried to buy this ability. Peter’s response was, “Your money perish with you, because you thought that the gift of God could be purchased with money! You have neither part nor portion in this matter, for your heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this your wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” Acts 8:20-23
The part of this verse that I would like to focus upon is bitterness. Bitterness is anger or resentment, usually in relationship to perceptions of how one has been treated. It is sparked by the behavior of others, takes root in your own heart, and grows as you feed it. As it grows, it produces intense antagonism and hostility and causes those around you to draw away or even possibly respond negatively, which fuels the bitterness even more.
Simon’s heart was “poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity.” Bitterness is a sin, and separates us from God. One article I read pointed out that the problem with bitterness is that it refuses reconciliation. When we are holding on to a feeling of resentment toward an individual, the lastthing we want to do is spend time with them or be friendly with them. Unfortunately, until we reconcile with the offender, we are separated from God. Our bitterness is keeping us from reconciling with Him, and that has everlasting consequences.
Ephesians 4:31 tells us to put away bitterness. That is easier said than done, right sisters? How can we put it away? First of all, we need to recognize when we’re hanging on to bitterness. When we dwell on wrongs that have been committed, find ourselves being short with those around us, or imagine confrontations in which we “show them,” we know we are feeding the beast.
Once I recognize I am harboring bitterness in my heart, I need to uproot it and eliminate it. Bitterness is a negative energy, feeding on hateful, hurtful thoughts and musings. To remove it from my heart I need to repent and replace those negative emotions with positive emotions. For example, when I start imagining those conversations in which I really give them a piece of my mind, I stop and turn my thoughts to something useful; praying for a friend who is going through a difficult time is a wonderful way to do this. Maybe I could work on a Bible study. Maybe I could call a sister to encourage her. Or, I could sit with my children and write out cards to those on the prayer list.
Whatever you do, realize that the hole left behind by the bitterness needs to be filled with something positive. If you do not, you will be like the man who had the unclean spirit removed in Matthew 13:43-45. When the evil spirit returned he found the man’s heart “empty, swept, and put in order.” Then he went and brought back with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and the last state of that man was worse than the first. Let it go, then fill that hole with things that are true, noble, just, pure, lovely and virtuous, Philippians 4:8. Do not allow the bitterness and resentment to return once you have cleaned it out.
In Matthew 16:23 Jesus “turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but of the things of men.” Let us not be mindful of the things of men, but let those things go and instead be mindful of the things of God. Only then can we experience the joy of living in Christ.
By Fern Boyle
Fern Boyle is a homeschooling mom of six kids who lives in Enid, Oklahoma. Her husband, Doug, is an elder in the church of Christ at Garriott Road, and a pilot in the military, having served in both the Marine Corps and Air Force. Their time traveling from coast to coast has blessed them with friends in the church all across the country as well as many opportunities to grow as Christians. Fern enjoys running, hiking, reading and teaching ladies Bible class. She used to have other hobbies but then she had more kids. Her children are what she loves most, however, watching them grow and develop into wonderful young men and women.