Overcoming Bitterness in 10 Not So Easy Steps


Ravello, ItalyWhat does it take to overcome betrayal and a broken relationship in a Godly way? Is it possible to do it without additional regret and pain? And is it possible to not just recover but actually thrive?

A few years ago, after sharing my own sad saga, I was asked, “How did you not become bitter?” The question was asked because the person needed to know for themselves how to avoid bitterness. Yet their question also revealed the truth that I was indeed not bitter. Despite the betrayal and attack I had endured, I was free. So how did I find freedom?

Below are the 10 not-so-easy steps I took to overcome bitterness. By the grace of God, I made some good choices that set me up to heal and eventually to thrive. Understand, however, the process of recovery was almost harder than the breaking of the relationship. There is no magic pill and nothing fast about it, but a joyful future is possible if you are willing to do the hard and often painful work.

1. Honesty is mandatory.
Complete honesty with yourself is the foundation of relational and emotional recovery. Even the smallest of subterfuges and white lies will derail you from healing. Until you are willing to be brutally honest you cannot begin. Something to note about honesty: it is like an onion. Just when you think you are as honest as you possibly can be, you find another layer that needs to be unpeeled and exposed. Yet with each layer uncovered, God gives you the strength to see the next. It is painful to be honest with and about ourselves, but there is no other alternative if healing is the goal. Can’t be done. You should also know that once the honesty stops, so does the healing.

2. You are responsible for your sins.
We all sin. In a broken relationship, there will always be mistakes you made and issues you brought to the situation. They are there in stable relationships! So own up to them. Until we take responsibility for ourselves, we won’t be able to move forward either on our own or in a new relationship. That “stuff” from that other relationship comes with you into a new one, unless you deal with it and repent of it. Deal with your crap because no one else will.

3. You are NOT responsible for other people’s sins.
Just as we need to own our own sins, we cannot nor should we take responsibility for other people’s issues. In the Book of Job, his friends tried to lay certain sins at his feet, but he kept denying they were his. He was innocent, at least of what they said. It wasn’t until God spoke the truth, naming his real sins, that Job owned them. Own your sins, not what someone else thinks you did. This is part of honesty too.

4. Integrity is more important than reputation.
It sucks when people think you are the one who broke the relationship and didn’t want to make it work. It especially sucks when it is an outright lie. My situation was a little unique since there were facts I was unaware of at the time. I was clueless why the relationship had disintegrated as it had, though I could see some blamed me. It hurt so badly, yet all I could do was trust God to defend me and my reputation. God knew. My close friends and family knew. Everyone else was either told a lie, allowed to believe a lie, or chose to speculate a lie.

Then as now, the most important thing is that WE know the truth – for good or bad – and we know God knows the truth. Integrity is what we know to be true about ourselves and live up to it; reputation is what others think they know about us. Integrity is more important than reputation. Let God defend your reputation; you protect your integrity. God will honor it.

5. Lies must be denounced calmly, respectfully and by living out the truth.
When presented with a lie, I spoke the truth. I didn’t fly off the handle, breakdown in tears or scream, though I really, really wanted to sometimes. I spoke the truth simply and then let the other person be outraged on my behalf. When possible I confronted the lies with words, but most often words were not possible, especially since I refused to go on the offensive. Instead I let my life reveal the truth. I gave myself over to the deepest desires of my heart which were to care for the least of these. In nursing homes, homeless shelters, mission trips and inner city ministries, I was able to live out the life God had called me to. The truth was revealed more through actions than through words.

6. Kindness is the greatest vengeance – and it’s God approved!
Whenever I felt a deep urge to yell, confront, or bite back, which was often, I remembered Romans 12:17-20.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

When tempted to be mean, my “wicked” response was to be nice. I visualized the coals falling with each grace-filled word I said. It was rather fun. Over time the kindness had its own reward because it helped me not become bitter. My actions were able to influence my thinking. Despite how hard it was, and how I sometimes failed, I do not regret being kind to the one who broke my heart. Not one regret.

7. Forgiveness must be given freely and often. Forgiveness does not absolve us from the consequences nor does it mean trust is restored. Forgiveness allows us to move forward. If we have been honest with ourselves, then we need to ask forgiveness from God and from ourselves for the things we did wrong. We will probably even have to go to the person who had wronged us to ask forgiveness of them knowing they may never reciprocate. It’s what is required of those who want to walk as Jesus walked. Taking the first step is painful, but only the brave will find freedom.

We must also grant forgiveness to the person who hurt us so deeply. Betrayal and abandonment have a way of hitting us where we are most vulnerable, especially those of us who have a ’til death do us part’ mentality. The pain and anger rise up when we least expect it. No matter how many times we might forgive, it is necessary to forgive again – and again – and again. Until the rage and anger no longer rise up. Until that bitter taste no longer comes with the very thought of the person who hurt us. This could take years, and probably will. Yet each time rage flairs, forgive. Forgiveness is the road to freedom.

What happens, though, if the person who hurt us doesn’t ask or seek forgiveness?

8. Forgiveness is your responsibility, not theirs.
Granting forgiveness, and even asking for it, is our responsibility. If we want to be forgiven ourselves, we must forgive. The Bible is very clear here. Yet demanding to be asked for forgiveness is not something we can expect, though it would be nice. Think of it this way, you are giving a great gift to someone, but they are unwilling to reach out for it. You know this gift would save their life, yet still they resist taking it. All you can do is place it before them and walk away. You are no longer burdened with carrying this gift around and can move forward with life. Give forgiveness for your sake. Ask forgiveness for your sake. But do not feel guilty or hurt if they never seek it or acknowledge it. That’s their problem, not yours.

9. It’s not about you.
Until my life blew up, I didn’t understand David’s statement in Psalm 51, “against you, and you alone, O God, have I sinned.” Um…hello, David…what about Uriah and Bathsheba? Only when I was ripped apart did I see that the sin was not against me but against God. And ONLY God. I was simply collateral damage. Of course, collateral damage can still kill you, but I was not the real target. Once I realized that, I also realized that Jesus had suffered for this very reason. He knew what I was going through because he was experiencing the exact same betrayal. As I read the passion of Christ over and over again, I knew that my pain was only a small portion of what Jesus felt. See Jesus took on all the betrayal in all the world over all time upon himself. In fact, he even took my betrayal upon himself. Still he loved and forgave me. I found great comfort in sharing my sorrow and grief with the only one who could really know it.

10. In time you will know who God made you to be.
In the end, if you are honest and you give yourself time, you will find the beautiful, powerful, grace-filled person God made you to be. His child, born of God and co-heir with Christ. Nothing can take that away from us. We are his and that is what makes us who we are, not our sins, betrayals or hurts. Our identity is grounded and made whole in Him, when once it was shattered and broken.

I wouldn’t wish what happened to me on anyone, but I cannot deny the beauty that has come from it.

How can I be bitter when I’ve received so much?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. Genesis 50:20


Full Surrender


Serenity PrayerIt has become abundantly clear that I have no control over most things in my life. Whatever semblance of control I thought I once had is now completely thrown out the window. This is the risk of pursuing God and his call with one’s whole heart.

Of course, when one fully surrenders (or thinks they have fully surrendered), it is often not clear how much more there is yet to give. When I started this journey of living in mission, I thought I had fully surrendered everything. I gave away most of my furniture, gave up the security of a “regular” job, gave up the likelihood of having a family. These things paled in comparison to what I knew God was calling me into. I don’t see this as particularly brave or even risky; it is simply what one does when pursuing God. Or at least should be.

Yet the journey of the last three years has shown me just how much I want to control things and situations. Yes, I was trusting God to provide financially, but when (not if) it was withheld for some reason, I became demanding and frustrated. Obviously, I still wanted control. I could name time after time, for various reasons, I demanded of God. I won’t bore you with the whiny play-by-play. Suffice it to say, I’ve been on an emotional roller coaster trying to sort out the vast array of uncontrollable things in my life. Quite frankly, I’m exhausted from it all.

I don’t want to stay on the roller coaster, and God does not want me to either. Instead he is turning up the heat, so that the impurities in my life are skimmed away and thrown into the pit. Tuesday was a day for the crude to rise and for God to clear it off. It feels good to be rid of it, though I’m sure more will rise under the unmitigated heat.

What I choose to do now is examine my heart to see if there is anything that I have yet to surrender to God. Do I have an idol, a sacred cow, an Isaac that I am holding on to? It doesn’t matter the things I have given up already. What matters are the things I am yet unwilling to give over, to sacrifice, even if they were gifts from God himself.

God gave Abraham his son Isaac. Indeed, it was through Isaac that the promise to the world would be fulfilled. Yet God tested Abraham. Would Abraham hold on to Isaac or would he trust God to provide a way to save him? Abraham passed the test, and Isaac was saved.

I want to pass that test too.

Nothing that I have – no possessions, no relationships, no reputation – is mine. All of it belongs to God. In giving away all things, I entrust the control of those things to God. I entrust MYSELF to God. All I am responsible for is doing the thing right before me and to surrender myself to God fully.

So with the Lenten season here, I will be surrendering, however God directs, everything that I possess. Nothing is withheld because I know that whatever of this world I do possess is nothing in comparison to what I have in Christ. Nothing.

Being OK with Dependence


God is wanting to rebuild my foundation. From the beginning of my life, the basic premise with which I have operated has had flaws. Serious flaws. I know why the flaws are there, but now they are getting in the way of what God is really wanting to do in and through me.

It won’t come as a surprise that I am an independent person. Yes, I hear the chuckles from those who know me. You can laugh because it is a “mild” understatement, although in recent years it hasn’t been as abrasive in its expression (thank God). Yet while not abrasive, my independence is built upon a faulty premise. This premise is that if I want or need anything I must supply it myself. Not only do I need to supply it myself, I can’t ask anyone for help or to supply it for me. And that is a lie straight from the pit of hell.

I have lived and believed this for so long that I hardly know how to change. In fact, I really don’t know how to change. So I’ve asked for some help. I know this hyper-independence is a lie. I know God wants me to be fully dependent upon him not just in words but in heart. I know that I want to be ok with being dependent. That is a very scary thing for someone like me to say (this too is a “mild” understatement). Yet knowing in my head what I want is only the first step. Now I need help breaking that stronghold and living out Godly dependence.

I’m excited for the freedom that awaits the other side of this ill-founded independence. I’m excited to see what God will be able to do once that wall is gone. In the meantime, I surrender daily to God’s plan and will. As you are led, please pray with and for me as God opens my life in new and amazing ways.

Out of Frustration


Having frustrations is natural. It’s a part of this world and our human nature to want things to be different than they are. Frustration can lead to some pretty horrific things, though. Despair, hopelessness, anger, bitterness, fighting, warring, murder and deception are all possible outcomes to unfettered frustration. Yet frustration can also lead us to huge breakthroughs in life.

If we do not give into our frustration, if we persevere no matter what obstacles stand in our way, if we hold tight to the leading and direction of the Holy Spirit despite how things currently are, we will see God work in amazing ways. Our frustration leads to greater faith and determination to see the journey through.

Frustration can also highlight areas that God is wanting to bring change to. The fact that I have three friends that are homeless, people I’m in relationship with, frustrates me to no end. It is this kind of frustration that will produce redemptive action. If we have frustration about an injustice, and yet do nothing, we double the judgment and condemnation we will one day receive. But if we let this frustration prompt us to make changes in our work places, our churches, our families, our nations or our societies, then we will have won a huge victory for Christ and ourselves.

Even my financial frustration makes me dig in deeper to find a solution that honors the call of God, to dare yet again to move out in faith. To do otherwise would let Satan win. And I will not do that.

Clearly I can be stubborn. (Yes, I can hear some of you laughing). I like to call it tenacious and committed. In fact, for me, once I make a commitment, I stick to it come hell or high water. This means I am often slow to make said commitment. Even as a teen I waited an entire year to be baptized, not because I didn’t believe, but because I wanted to see my faith lived out in my life.

Personal relationships are exactly the same way. Once committed, I’m in it for the long haul. Of course, I can only speak for myself and not the other person. This is one reason why my personal mantra has become “When in doubt, don’t.” If I have any question, doubt or unease with a situation or relationship, I know I need to wait until the question, doubt or unease is gone. Usually it is there for a very good reason. Anytime I have overridden those doubts, I have paid the price.

With living in mission, taking the harder road, denying myself creature comforts and personal pleasures, it is all part of the commitment I made when I set forth on this adventure. The fact that it has been a long few years without significant relief does make it a bit more challenging. Yet it is about perseverance. It’s about seeing God’s call through, walking or running the race to the very end.

I’m on a journey. Right now I have hit a particularly hard climb on this already rising ground. But just as I say when I’m biking and hit a surprising hill or as I did when I first tried cross-country skiing, “Just keep going! Don’t get off. Keep going until the next sign post. Above all – Do. Not. Stop.”

So when I feel frustrated with anything I know to be God’s will, like now, I know to keep going. Look for the next sign post. Look toward the goal. In doing this my frustration turns to faith and I am renewed.

Why do you say, O Jacob,
and complain, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31 NIV

Tug O’ War


I am in a tug o’ war.

On the one side, I’m fighting to make more time for missional and community development. To make disciples who reach people on the edge of society. To form teenagers into healthy adults who live in mission every day of their lives. To inspire and train others to live in incarnational mission. To make it so that I spend more time with non-church people than with church people. To make space for my neighbors and their concerns. To strategically address the needs of the homeless, near homeless and those in substandard housing. To creatively address joblessness and other critical issues of the under-resourced.

On the other hand, I need to be financially stable and able to meet my obligations.

In 2009, the night before I was laid off, I prayed “God, I can’t work and do what I love at the same time.” He knew I meant that they can’t be two separate things. Yet here I am in the same quandary. This time, however, I am unwilling to sacrifice the call of God for money, though I know I need it.

For years, I looked for some sense of stability. When all personal stability except my job was ripped away, I held to what was firm. I worked in accounting at a Christian university and found meaning in it. That is until God brought me back to the world of the under-resourced, a world that was ignored by society and the church, a world where I found great joy and satisfaction.

Accounting for me is a skill. It is not a life. For others, they thrive in it, and thank God they do. For me, I can do it and do it well, but it does not wake me up in the morning. I do not dream about reconciling accounts to zero or to laying out financial policy. What I dream about is people coming into relationship with God. People finding hope and meaning and purpose. People moving out of subsistence and into health and wholeness. Those are my dreams. And they are not being realized. I hardly have time to dream.

I don’t have a solution. I need the funds to be independent of other work, but I am a horrible fundraiser. I say that and I’m afraid it is becoming an excuse. Yet for me it goes beyond my ability to raise money. It really is trusting God to open the doors. I tell everyone I meet what I’m doing (or trying to do). It is then up to them and to God to ask, “How can I help?”

Yet so often when people ask that question, they want to get involved in a project. The thing is that projects are NOT my objective. My objective is relationship and projects are only used either as a catalyst or a strategic help to relationships. To start from the position of doing things for someone is to start in the negative. It is about coming alongside people and getting to know their heart’s desire. So often they don’t see how God really fits into that, but he is there from the beginning. He is wanting to transform people’s lives both physically and spiritually. It isn’t just about getting to heaven but about bringing the kingdom of God here on earth. “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That is a real prayer and objective for me. It’s both/and, not either/or.

How then can you help me? Support me financially. Let me have more time to spend with my neighbors, with other community organizers, planning and dreaming of what will really bring transformation. It’s not about projects. It’s about people. People relating to one another. Help me do that and you will help bring the kingdom of God to this world.

Ski & Other Kinds of Lessons


A few things I learned on my first foray into cross-country skiing: 1) Bend my knees. 2) I have a choice in how I respond to failure: I can either be impatient and mad or I can laugh at the adventure and keep going. 3) If I do fall backward going down hill, it’s often more fun to just stay there and slide. 4) Keep breathing on the down hills, nice and slow. Keep my eyes where I am going and not at my feet. 5) On the up hill, angle my skis in a V and use the side of the ski to help walk up. Use my poles.  6) Stretch and be flexible. 7) Standing still is when I most often fall.

I went skiing on Saturday and on Monday I found myself in an entirely different adventure, putting those same lessons into practice.

On Monday I could no longer receive messages or call out because I had no money to pay my phone bill. Due to the blizzard and three client cancellations, the funds I was planning to use were not there. My gas tank was getting low, oil change and plate renewal were needed, bills that don’t impact every day existence but are important were unpaid, a check from a sponsor for a conference was missing in the mail, and cat food would run out by Friday. What a sad and pathetic day Monday turned out to be. And on top of that I had a massive headache from it all thus keeping me from YBS (Youth Bible Study). Sad and pathetic.

The lesson of bend my knees was the first to be put into practice that Monday. My days are usually a constant stream of some kind of prayer, but this was a day of concerted prayer focus. “Search my heart, O God.” I needed to see if there was anything I had missed in the last two years as God brought me to this place. Did I miss some direction, some nudge? Did I keep the options open? Did I pursue opportunities? Did I make myself available? Once again, the answer to this was: I did what God wanted. Nothing was obviously missed. No opportunity was squandered. No nudge was ignored.  So then, I had to ask myself, do I trust God? And like Peter I concluded, “Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life. I believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” I trust that if he is guiding me then he is also in control of the circumstances and consequences, no matter how hard they may seem.

So, I have a choice to make in how to respond.  I can be angry and impatient or I can take it as the adventure it is. I’ll be honest that in most things, my initial reaction is to get impatient. That is my pride wanting to take control. My pride will always be my downfall so I must let it go. Falling in skiing is a part of learning, so you might as well laugh. In this case, I must move past wanting things to happen as I want them to.  So while laughing might not always be possible, resting on my butt and sliding might be the ticket. Let’s see where I land and on the ride down enjoy it. Once I confirmed again in my heart that I’d done as God has wanted, then it’s just a matter of watching where he is taking me allowing him to do it in his way.

Part of that enjoyment means taking deep breaths and letting the wind blow on the down hill. I must keep my eyes on where I’m heading rather than where I am. This is critical if I am to stay upright. In skiing and faith, this is excellent advice. On the downhills, I only fell on the blind curves where I could not see where I was going. Eventually I will learn to take those blind curves at full speed; I’m not there yet. Building faith takes time and it takes a few spills. Yet when we fall, we get back up and keep going. In my life, I must continue to build and pursue the mission God has given. Meeting people, building relationships, teaching and preaching, reading and learning, making plans and doing the work as laid out. I must keep my eyes on where I am going and not on where I am.

Sometimes there is an up hill that can’t be reach by momentum. I must reposition my feet, dig in and use my poles. In life, I think God’s greatest lesson for me is to let people help me. I’ve gotten much better in the last two years about asking for help, but it does not come easy. Raising support isn’t easy, but it is necessary and what God has called me to do. Letting people in to know my vulnerabilities and weaknesses is scary. It’s a loss of control (pride), loss of self-image (pride), loss of self-importance (pride), loss of self-sufficiency (pride). See a trend? My pride will be my downfall so I must get rid of it. (I said that already but it bears repeating). Once I do let people in, they respond with great support. Whether helping me to get up from a fall or to keep me from falling, they come through. If others choose to judge, that’s their problem. I’ve been judged before, and I’m sure it’ll happen again. I won’t lose sleep over it.  My friends are my poles. Bob is looking into some of my obligations. Deb is feeding the “pooch.” Through multiple hands gas and phone were covered by Tuesday. Everyone is offering food. Regular supporters are faithful to meet mission needs. Friends near and far are praying, offering love, encouragement and hugs. I have strong poles and right now I’m leaning on them.

With each fall skiing I felt my tendons stretch and my muscles pull. The snow provided cushion, but it was the process of falling and rising that put more pressure on my limbs. I know that if I had not had a strong, flexible body, I probably would have done some damage. So too is strength and flexibility necessary in faith. I am building faith muscle and being stretched constantly, all of which helps me with the next steps of mission and life. Always growing and always stretching. I consider this to be Olympic training.

One thing that took me by surprise is that I fell more times when I was simply trying to stand still than I did on the hills. This has particular importance in faith and mission. Standing still does not get you to the goal. Waiting on God is perhaps the greatest activity of all times, but we must always be active. We must keep going. Not give up. This is important to know in any kind of athletic endeavor, and it is more important in faith building.

Don’t give up. Keep moving. Persevere. That is the greatest lesson.



There is something cathartic about simply stating the truth of how one feels. I did that the other day. As I wrote and was able to articulate how I was feeling, I knew that those feelings were easing with each key stroke. Faith was returning even as I conveyed my great weakness.

Thinking of faith and weakness always makes me think about Elijah. He lived for three years by the miraculous provision of God, held off the rain during that time and then decimated all of Ahab and Jezebel’s prophets of Baal. Here was a man who lived in the power of God like few others have in all of history. He is a man whom I want to be like one day. Yet immediately after that great victory he fled in fear, praying, “I’ve had enough, Lord.” (I Kings 17-19) What did the Lord do? He fed him and gave him rest. He took care of him and brought him to the mountain of God. It was there that God spoke to him and gave him a new mission, with a vision for the future. Yes, God corrected some wrong perceptions, but what stands out most is God’s continued care for Elijah.

Just because God met every need does not mean it was easy for Elijah. Faith is an emotional, as well as mental and spiritual issue. God didn’t chastise Elijah for his fear or his feelings. If you look through the psalms there are continual cries to God for help, for deliverance, for vengeance, for mercy. God wants our emotions. He already knows what we are feeling and thinking, so to express it is not going to shock him. As I like to quote, “Better out than in!” It applies to all that is poisonous and needs to be expelled in order to maintain health. Keeping poisonous thoughts inside creates death and despair.

I needed to expose my weakness so that Satan could no longer use those as weapons against me. Satan loves to keep us bound and unable to live fully in the grace God has so freely given us. I don’t want anything to get in the way, so if I need to say I feel alone or talk about my confusion over finances, it’s worth it. It’s worth it not just because it works – I have my strength, equilibrium, right perspective and power back – but also because it irks Satan to no end! This is the greatest adventure I could have ever dreamed of: living in mission, completely by faith . . . and learning to live in the total freedom God has available to his children.

There is potential danger in being honest about one’s feelings. As mentioned in the previous post, I didn’t want people to feel pity for me. And I certainly did not want to feel any self-pity. (The bile is rising just mentioning it). Another danger is that people might think less of me. But who cares?! I certainly don’t! I’m far more concerned about God’s view of me than I am of anyone else’s. My family’s is probably the only opinion that matters, yet even then God still has the final say. Another real but serious-in-a-humorous-way danger is that all my single guy friends might hold back a bit of themselves from me. Don’t worry! God will pretty much need to bash me aside the ahead before I look at my friends in any other way but as friends. Any switch will not start with me, guaranteed. I value my male friendships near and far too much to mess with them. I learned that lesson the hard way decades ago and will not repeat the mistake. So you’re safe, and I need my friends.

Those potential dangers are worth it, though, because I have my equilibrium back. I know it was because people were praying. I also know it was because I released the pressure and confessed my weakness. My openness has prompted lots of discussion – both serious and incredibly humorous. The facts remain the same, but the emotions and thoughts are in balance. I can return to enjoying the adventure with its massive waves and gut-wrenching drops. There really is no other place I’d rather be . . . because I’m right where God wants me.

(But please keep praying). 🙂