Staying Bitter or Moving On
By Heather Riggleman
"Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." - Ephesians 4:31-32
“You can keep looking back and let the anger of what your husband said or how he acted or what he did fill you with bitterness, or you can move forward. It’s a choice. And believe me, I’ve been there and have seen it destroy marriages,” my best friend said, straining to move a huge tote. Christine called me to see if I would help her look for big red metal candlesticks she swore was in her garage. She had separated from her husband for nearly a year before they reconciled. If anyone knew anything about marriage, hard choices and what I was facing, it was her.
I couldn’t fathom letting go of the past. Within it lay the wreckage of a war-torn heart from broken promises, short words, and deep wounds inflicted by my husband’s careless actions. I knew he wasn’t the only one to blame, I was guilty of the same things too but somehow his offenses seemed worse. That’s the thing about bitterness. Bitterness can be difficult to diagnose in our own lives because it distorts our perceptions.
Later that week, we took our family vacation in Idaho Springs, Colorado. As we wandered the streets, a corner shop caught my eye. We looked at the trinkets, river rock and fool’s gold. Bracelets and necklaces made of silver were framed under glass until one piece of silver caught my eye.
The store owner saw it, too.
“You’re ready to leave the past and face forward, I know it,” he said.
He measured my thumb before sliding on the silver ring. It wrapped around, its tip pointing one direction, the engraved feathers pointing the opposite.
Then he said something that made my heart freeze.
“Arrows are shot from the past. They’re pulled from the past, and then they launch moving forward with agility and precision into the future. There’s no looking back,” he said as he gently held my hand and looked me in the eye.
Startled, I wondered if he could see my secrets, my regrets and hurts. I whispered some sort of thank you as my husband paid for the ring and ushered us out of the store.
The shop owner’s words stayed with me and rolled around in my head that night. How could he say something that hit the inner recesses of my heart? Call it a sales ploy, but I wondered if it was more of a divine intervention.
The Bible says in Ephesians 4:31-32 to get rid of all bitterness, to put it away from us. Bitterness begins like a small infection that enters the body through a wound. The wound may be small, however, left untreated it can have devastating consequences. It can destroy your faith, your trust in the Lord and destroy your marriage. It may begin as a critical word, a misunderstanding, a heated argument or assuming the intentions of your spouse. It’s dangerous to assume we know the inward motivation of our spouse—often this is where we get wounded.
When a wound is not dealt with Biblically, disappointment sets in. The by-product is then anger festering in our hearts. Then the scars of unforgiveness harden our hearts.
How do you know if you’re dealing with bitterness? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Are you cold toward your spouse?
- When thinking about a specific situation (or conversation) does your joy evaporate?
- Do you secretly wish for vindication or retribution?
- Do you wish your spouse could experience the pain you have experienced?
- Do you harbor unforgiveness?
The good news is that no follower of Jesus Christ has to be bitter. No matter the offense, pain, or injustice, you can experience healing in your marriage. It may take time, counseling, or visiting with your pastor.
The ring still circles on my finger and I’m reminded to move forward, to keep my eye on the target of Christ in all things, but especially my marriage. It’s a reminder of the challenges, negative feelings and how life may try to hold me back. But once I release the feelings of hurt, unforgiveness and bitterness—it launches me straight ahead toward the abundant joy to be had.
Heather Riggleman calls Nebraska home (Hey, it’s not for everyone) with her three kids and husband of 20 years. She writes to bring bold truths to marriage, career, mental health, depression, faith, relationships, celebration and heartache. Heather is a former national award-winning journalist and is the author of Mama Needs a Time Out and Let’s Talk About Prayer. Her work has been featured on Proverbs 31 Ministries, MOPS, Today's Christian Woman and Focus On the Family. You can find her at heatherriggleman.com.
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Originally published Friday, 20 October 2023.