Before leaving for a week-long girls’ getaway, I tidied up my desk, put away files, and scrubbed down all the surfaces of my office. There’s just something about coming back to a clean workspace that makes me oh-so-happy.
So, I was more than a little shocked when I returned to my desk after that vacation, and a sickening smell struck me. Honestly, the aroma was wretched.
Looking around, I saw all the evidence of the thorough cleaning I’d done before going on my trip. Nothing was out of place. Even my trash bin was empty. But as I leaned closer to turn on my computer, I realized the odor was coming from behind it. Hidden behind the monitor was a coffee mug that had been simmering next to a hot computer for over a week.
I should note that I drank my coffee with more milk than with actual coffee back then. Lifting the lid, I found the source of the smell. The milk had turned sour, and I discovered chunky, green mold grew on the surface. Gag!
Holding my nose, I took the offending cup to the office kitchen and poured the clumpy contents down the drain. As I ran water into the cup to clean it out, I sensed Jesus was using this moment to illustrate the condition of my heart.
My life was much like the state of my office. On the outside, everything looked tidy: I went to church, had Christian friends, and even listened to praise and worship music. Still, something hidden had festered for a long time and was causing quite a stink.
You see, about a year before this incident is when I had trusted Jesus as my Savior and surrendered my life to follow Him. I was a single woman in my mid-twenties, so the decision to follow Christ came with numerous behavioral changes.
Gone was the girl who lived like a character from Sex and the City. Now I was a woman who spent her time in Bible study rather than chasing boys in bars. In addition, how I talked, dressed, and the men whom I dated undoubtedly changed. Like my office, I had done a pretty good job cleaning up the outside, but there was still something hidden that needed a cleansing that only God could accomplish.
The gross, molded milk in my coffee mug was a picture of the bitterness that resided in my heart. If you’d gotten close to me during that season, you would have encountered unhealed wounds that had been festering for years.
I had anger and unforgiveness in my heart due to abuse I’d experienced as a little girl. And though my external behaviors had changed, deep in my heart, there was still a girl that desperately needed the healing touch of Jesus, the Great Physician.
Following this revelation, the Lord orchestrated events that catapulted me on a journey of inner healing. Of course, “inner healing” means different things to different people. I define it as the power of God to heal the wounds of our past and replace the bitterness and pain with His love and grace.
My healing journey began by recognizing the bitter roots of unforgiveness residing in my heart. As the author of Hebrews tells us:
“See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.” (Hebrews 12:15)
My life was once a walking billboard for this verse. Like the smell emanating from my coffee mug, the proverbial stench from my unhealed heart was unmistakable. As the scripture says, it “caused trouble and defiled many.”
I struggled with anger and jealousy. I often experienced fears of abandonment or rejection and projected those expectations onto others. I was quick to push people away before they could get close. I was super critical of myself and others. I closed my heart to the love people tried to show me in self-protection. I was plagued by insecurity. These relational problems were merely the bitter fruit of a bitter root of unforgiveness in my heart.
Bitter roots are places in our hearts where resentment and unforgiveness have taken hold. As a result, the overflow of our lives is not the beautiful fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, etc.). Instead, we exhibit the fruit of bitterness (anger, resentment, suspicion, and jealousy… just to name a few!)
Friends, the Lord loves us too much to let us stay in an unhealthy state. After all, He came to set the captives free! When first revealing His identity as the long-awaited Messiah, Jesus described His ministry with these words:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free.” Luke 4:18
Not only did Jesus come to set us free from sin and death, but He wants us free from the pain, shame, and insecurities that holds us captive. Jesus wants to make us whole so that we can fulfill our destiny and live for His glory.
In my journey towards wholeness, I discovered the power of God to set a captive free! One of the most crucial steps in my healing was digging up the bitter roots from the soil of my heart through the act of forgiveness.
How to Forgive and Experience Freedom from Bitter Roots
The following steps are helpful to getting to the root of bitterness and experiencing the freedom that Jesus longs to give us. I recommend grabbing your Bible and a prayer journal and sitting alone with God to process through the following:
Begin with prayer. Remember, we worship Jehovah Rapha, the God who Heals. Start by asking Him to do a work of healing in your heart.
Pray: Father God, I come to you as my Healer. You are Jehovah Rapha. Please pour out your Spirit to heal me and make me whole.
Then as you sit in God’s Presence, acknowledge and talk to the Lord about any “bitter fruit” you see in your life. (For example: confess your uncontrolled anger, addictions, irrational jealousy, crippling fears of rejection or abandonment, or any other “bitter fruit” that comes to mind.)
Pray: Lord, I come before your throne of grace and ask for mercy. I pray for healing of my heart and soul of bitter fruit of _____________________. (name the behavior or sinful action that comes to mind.
Next, ask the Lord to show you the root of this bitterness. (examples: unforgiveness towards a parent, sibling, teacher, friend, coach, or even a stranger.) Be prepared for memories to come to mind. Write down the memories or the circumstances that caused the pain. We must face the hurt and the hate to experience freedom. I recommend making a list of the ways you were hurt.
Pray: Holy Spirit, please bring to mind any hurts I’m still carrying and who I need to forgive.
The next step is vital. We must forgive the one(s) who wounded us. Neil Anderson says we must, “Decide to forgive. Forgiveness is a conscious choice to let the other person off the hook and free yourself from the past.”
Forgiveness is not a feeling, and it does not mean forgetting the offense. Instead, forgiveness means releasing the debt we feel owed. When we forgive, we hand the person and the hurt to Jesus and ask Him to carry the burden.
As you pray, imagine you are handing that person or event to the Lord for Him to carry. I like to hold my palms up towards to Heaven as I surrender the person to Jesus. The ancient meaning of “forgive” means to cancel a debt. As you release the person to God, imagine that you are handing the debt you feel owed to Him.
Pray: Father God, I forgive ___(name)___ for ___(specifically identify every remembered pain)__. I release them to you. I release the debt I feel owed by ______(name)___________ and I give you this burden to carry. I pray you would cleanse my heart of any bitterness and fill me with your love.
Finally, tear up the list of wrongs. This symbolic act shows you are not carrying the offense with you anymore.
Pray: Lord, I pray for the fruit of the Holy Spirit to be evident in my life. I pray for your love, joy, and peace to fill me. I pray for your patience, gentleness, faithful and self-control to be evident in my life.
Friends, healing and forgiveness is a process. I’ve walked through these steps of forgiveness numerous times. Sometimes, new memories surface and I must release the person again to the Lord. Other times, I’ll notice some area of bitter fruit and I’ll ask the Lord to show me the root.
It’s been nearly twenty years since I discovered that disgusting coffee cup that led me down the path of inner healing. Ask anyone who knew me then and they will gladly tell you that I am not the same women I was before. God delivered me from bitterness, anger, resentment, and the chronic insecurities that plagued me. I am who I am today because Jesus sets the captives free! And He can do the same for you!
Copyright ©Marian Jordan Ellis. 2022