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How to Recognize (And Defeat!) Resentment and Bitterness

  • Aretha Grant
How to Recognize (And Defeat!) Resentment and Bitterness

A woman in the Bible called Naomi changed her name meaning, “my delight,” to Mara, meaning, “bitter” or “bitterness.” She changed her name because she felt, “...the Almighty, hath dealt very bitterly with me” (Ruth 1:20). Why did she feel this way? Because Naomi lost her entire world.

Naomi, along with her husband, Elimelech, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, moved to Moab because of a famine in their homeland. While they were in Moab, Elimelech died. Mahlon and Chilion married Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. Eventually, Mahlon and Chilion also died, leaving Naomi alone.

Naomi decided to move back home and told her daughters-in-law to return to their people. Orpah followed her mother-in-law’s advice, but Ruth chose to stay with Naomi. When Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem, Naomi told the people not to call her “my delight” anymore, but to call her “bitter,” explaining that the Lord had dealt bitterly with her. She lost her husband and her two sons, and she probably returned to Bethlehem without much, if any, money. I can see why Naomi felt the Lord had dealt “very bitterly” with her. I’ve felt that way about the Lord too.

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"I cried out to the Lord asking Him why..."

"I cried out to the Lord asking Him why..."

Bitterness, or what I liken to resentment, is an ugly, depressing emotion. I remember all too clearly the anger and resentment I felt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I cried out to the Lord asking Him why I had to be that “1 in 8 women” to be diagnosed. I wondered what I did wrong to deserve what I felt was a curse. I resented cancer. I resented healthy people. I resented everybody.

May I confess something to you?  I especially resented God because the very one who could have prevented me from developing cancer didn’t. We see Naomi experiencing the same type of emotions when she said, “I went out full, and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me?” (Ruth 1:21).

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From Bitterness to Delight

From Bitterness to Delight

I’m sure Naomi was angry about her husband’s and sons’ deaths when they lived in Moab. She returned to Bethlehem heartbroken and depressed. She resented her circumstances. Naomi probably wondered where God was and why He allowed the pain, disappointment, and loss she experienced in Moab.

Naomi’s feelings of bitterness were understandable when we look at them for a natural perspective. However, there was a more excellent plan in motion, of which Naomi knew nothing. God was planning to use Ruth to bring a King into the world. You see, Ruth eventually met a man named Boaz, whom Naomi was instrumental in helping Ruth marry. From Ruth’s and Boaz’s union would come Obed, who was the grandfather of David – King David. And David’s lineage includes Jesus Christ, our wonderful Lord and Savior!

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"...trust Him with the outcome."

"...trust Him with the outcome."

Resentment is the natural reaction to slights, real or perceived. Resentment is the result of the anger we feel when we haven’t been treated fairly. I’ve felt resentment, and I’m sure you’ve felt resentment as well. Maybe you’ve experienced some hardship and now have a difficult time shaking the subsequent anger that threatens to overtake you.

In God’s providence and wisdom, He sometimes allows afflictions into our lives that we’d never choose for ourselves or for others. We may never understand why He allows those things, but we can trust Him to deliver us in due season as we pray sincerely through the hardship and trust Him with the outcome.

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Recognizing Resentment

Recognizing Resentment

Resentment is a deep-seated emotion that we can carry for many years. So, how does one recognize resentment in her life?
 

  • We may feel anger toward someone or something and have a difficult time speaking nicely to them or about them.
  • We may even shun those who offended us.
  • We may become increasingly cynical about life, about others, and about ourselves.

Sometimes, we won’t recognize we’re carrying resentment until the Holy Spirit reveals it to us. And even then, we may attempt to deny or excuse it.

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Overcoming Resentment

Overcoming Resentment

There are a few things we can do to defeat resentment. After recognizing that you’re harboring resentment in your heart, admit it.
 

  • Don’t deny it.
  • Don’t be ashamed about it.

Acknowledging our feelings is a part of the healing process. 

Besides acknowledging our feelings, these four things are instrumental in being healed from resentment: prayer, fasting, counseling, and forgiveness. 

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1. Prayer

1. Prayer

Very simply, prayer is communication with God. Prayer softens the hardened heart that developed because of resentment. Prayer restores, maintains, and improves our relationship with the Lord. He is not offended when we cry out to Him and ask Him, “Why me, God?” He’s a big God. He can handle our faith as well as our faithlessness, doubt, and fear. Besides, Jesus was tempted like we are, but He didn’t sin.

“For we have not a high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

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2. Fasting

2. Fasting

Fasting from food, when combined with serious prayer, will help us defeat the temptation of resentment. We see the role of fasting for a variety of issues in scripture as Esther, Daniel, and Jesus all fasted. Fasting helps us keep our emotions in check. We do not have to let our emotions rule us. Yes, experience all the emotions. Just don’t let them rule you.

“Jesus answered, ‘It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’” (Luke 4:4).

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3. Counseling

3. Counseling

Some people will need counseling to help them defeat resentment. Resentment isn’t only being mad or angry. Resentment is the result of anger you’ve harbored for a long time. Don’t be ashamed of seeking counseling to defeat resentment. I believe counseling can be beneficial. My only recommendation is to choose a Christian therapist or counselor and combine prayer and fasting with any treatments they suggest.  

“Listen to advice and accept instruction, that you may gain wisdom in the future.” (Proverbs 19:20).

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4. Forgiveness

4. Forgiveness

Finally, you’re going to have to forgive the offender for their actions. You can pray, fast, and receive counseling, but if you don’t forgive, these things won’t be as effective as they can be. Forgiveness releases you from bondage.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:31-32).

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"God will fill you love, joy, and peace..."

"God will fill you love, joy, and peace..."

Resentment is a real emotion, one that even Christians experience. I know many Christians who’ve experienced resentment toward their parents, former spouses, children, and other Christians. When anger is left unchecked, it leads to bitterness or resentment. And that’s where we find Naomi in Scripture.

Naomi was angry about the things she endured and didn’t see any good resulting from her circumstances. Naomi said she left home full but returned empty. She returned home without her husband or sons. She was broken and hurting in the worst possible way. Naomi was resentful.

Some of us are broken and hurting because of what we’ve endured. We too are resentful. Fortunately for us, we serve an amazing God who desires to heal our hearts. Seek Him today and let Him heal you. You may feel you’re empty, but God will fill you love, joy, and peace, giving you an abundant life (John 10:10) overflowing with blessings.

Aretha Grant serves her local church as a bible teacher and elder.  She loves writing and is the author of Overcomer: 25 Keys to Walking Victoriously. Aretha resides in Hagerstown, MD with her husband and two youngest children. You can read Aretha’s blog at www.arethagrant.com.  

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