If there is a “righteous” woundedness, just as there is a “righteous” anger (as I mentioned in Part I), where do we draw the line? After all, we saw these verses last time:
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:31-32).”
It says to “put away” bitterness. So when is my hurt, my woundedness, just a natural part of the healing process, and when is it bitterness? Some would say that anytime someone says, “I hurt,” that is an indication that he or she has not forgiven the offender, or at the very least has not forgiven “all the way.” I disagree.
Still, it is possible for us to hold on to our hurt, refusing to allow it to heal. The purpose of nursing a wound is to help the wound get better, but sometimes I have been guilty of nursing an emotional wound to keep it open: I’ll be you’ve done the same.
The difference between hurt and bitterness is illustrated for me by something my mom used to do sometimes when I fell down and got hurt as a child. If I tripped on the brick steps, for example, and scraped my leg, she would try to take my mind off the pain by saying, “Oh, that bad step! Let me spank that step! Bad step!” Now, she was just trying to lighten the situation, trying to get me to laugh and forget how badly my leg hurt at the moment. No harm done. But I have read many parenting books that urge parents not to do that sort of thing, because it may teach the child that anytime something bad happens, someone needs to be blamed for it.
(Aside: this is a huge problem sometimes in our house. If someone misplaces an item, it immediately becomes, “Who took my hairbrush!” or, worse yet, “Who stole my hairbrush?” It is hard to accept that sometimes we misplace things, and sometimes things just go missing. Why must we automatically assume that someone has taken something from us?)
I knew my mom was only joking when she would pretend to spank the brick step. But what if I didn’t? There’s a big difference between crying because my leg hurts and being angry at a brick step for hurting me, between “Ow, I really wish my leg didn’t hurt anymore,” and “I really hope someone makes that step pay for what he did to me!”
That’s where hurt becomes bitterness: when we insist on blaiming, when we want the offender to “get what’s coming to him.” (Please note this does not mean we should not be concerned with justice. But we can seek justice without harboring hatred.) If you skin your knee on the bricks, it is going to hurt. But spanking the step is not going to make your knee get better. If forgiveness is accepting the hurt upon ourselves, we reason, wouldn’t it make us feel better to throw the hurt back at the one who has hurt us? “Revenge is a dish best served cold,” they say.
That may be satisfying in the movies, but in real life it never works that way. Our bitterness, our refusing to let go, only eats away at us. In the long run, it hurts us far worse than we can imagine. When we forgive, yes, we hurt for a while, but we heal. Bitterness and grudge-bearing are the best ways to assure that those wounds will never heal.