If I’m being honest, I would have to admit that I have become more closely acquainted with bitterness over the past few years than at any other time in my life. It has become difficult to see past hurts and cold shoulders, even unintentional ones…maybe especially unintentional ones. How could you not know? How could you not care to ask?

Bitterness has become like a magnet I struggle to pull off.  It feels involuntary, like gravity. Some days I feel like I have wrenched myself away from it only to discover that it exists like a shadow at high noon – intimately close – too close to be perceived.

Unlike humans, animals are creatures of simple feelings, bridled by instinct. They can feel happy, or scared, or hungry, but they can’t feel resentment – it is a complex emotion, multifaceted and labyrinthine. There is something a little “Alice in Wonderland” about it. It’s not logical and it’s not beneficial to survival and it’s certainly not good for my emotional or spiritual health.  So then why do I, why do so many of us hold so tightly to it?

Perhaps it acts as a shield, a fortress to guard an already-injured and vulnerable heart. Maybe when I’m not strong enough for the kind of conversations required, maybe then bitterness is a place of shelter while I regain that strength.  It seems that in these instances, bitterness is a temporary state, a “passing-through” on the journey. I wonder if that’s the difference? That a passing-through type of resentment may serve a purpose, but if I become stuck there, that’s where the long-term relational consequences start? When I allow resentment to linger, I make choices or develop habits that result in greater isolation, and the cycle continues.

I know what the bible says about bitterness. If it gains root, it becomes destructive. We are called to get rid of all bitterness (Ephesians 4:31). And yet the author of Lamentations says “I will remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall…yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning, great is your faithfulness.”

Does the remembering of my hurt redirect me to hope, like King David? Or is it preventing healing because I am lingering there for too long? I am taking baby steps, making small efforts (that feel herculean) to forgive. And over time, I suppose little added to little becomes much, and a task that feels insurmountable transfigures into that which is conceivable.

I’m not there yet. But I think my chrysalis is ready to split open.