The Prison of Bitterness

I know a fierce woman who has a hard exterior and spews continual criticisms. Her mouth drips with bitterness. Years before her husband was unfaithful. His betrayal introduced her to the cruel pain of rejection and marital infidelity. Although it has been more than thirty years now, her anger seems as fresh as if it happened today. For three decades she’s been living in a prison of bitterness built by her own unwillingness to forgive.

Her heart has grown twisted and toxic as she’s lived out the adage of “drinking poison in the hopes that her offender will die.”

Jesus paints a graphic picture of the results of unforgiveness in the parable of the wicked servant in Matthew 18. In the story, there is a servant who owed the king (representing the Heavenly Father) a debt that would take more than a lifetime to pay off. The servant begged for mercy and the gracious king forgave him the entire debt.

The forgiven (but wicked) servant then turned to a fellow slave who owed him a small amount of money and demanded immediate payment. Although the fellow slave begged for mercy and patience for time to repay the debt, rather than forgiving him and releasing him from the debt, the cruel servant (the one who’d been released from the huge debt he owed to the king) had this fellow slave thrown into a debtor’s prison (this is why he’s referred to in the story as the wicked servant).

When the king heard about his unwillingness to forgive a small amount (especially since the king had released him from his enormous debt) the king had the wicked servant thrown into prison where he was turned over to the torturers. Jesus then closes the parable with a stern warning to those who are unwilling to forgive.

The biblical standard of forgiveness seems impossible to keep . . . it is unbelievably high:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another . . . (notice the requirement) as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Forgiving each other; (notice the requirement) as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. (Colossians 3:13)

Whenever I quote these verses to myself, whenever I share them with a woman who is holding on to hurt, unwilling to let go and forgive, the effect is always the same. First there is the shocking realization that God’s standard requires me to respond in forgiveness to this person who has SO wronged me . . . and unbelievably . . . I’m to offer them the same type of forgiveness Jesus has shown to me?!

Then follows the reminder of how unworthy I am to receive forgiveness from a holy God, which brings me to the uncomfortable dilemma of whether I will place myself (figuratively and ironically, of course) above God by holding onto unforgiveness—or whether I, the undeserving forgiven wicked servant, will extend the same grace and forgiveness I’ve been shown.

Going through this exercise always takes me back to the cross . . .

and there I must release what I’m holding onto . . .

in order to embrace the cross . . .

pick it up . . .

and follow Him.

To the Death. Again.

The most important lesson I’ve learned in letting go of hurt is that: I cannot keep the biblical standard of forgiveness . . . without returning to the cross and relying on His grace. Going to the cross and focusing on the forgiveness I’ve been shown by a sinless Savior, gives me the only perspective for understanding and offering forgiveness.

In order to be set free from the prison of unforgiveness . . . I must die. I must die to anything I’m holding onto that prevents me from embracing the cross. I must die in order to live in the freedom that only comes from going to the cross with Christ.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)

Portions of this post are excerpts from Fierce Women: The Power of a Soft Warrior © 2012• Kimberly Wagner • Moody Publishers

Image courtesy of tiverylucky/

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