Wounded hearts can experience powerful emotions. A heart-wrenching letter sent to our ministry from a boy turned man turned church deacon vividly illustrates how intense those emotions can be and the long-lasting, far-reaching effects they can have over time. It also shows the extraordinary lengths wounded people will sometimes go to in an effort to deal with the pain.

My daddy left us when I was two. I wanted a daddy so bad. I hated him for leaving me. I hated him so much, I wanted him to die and go to hell.

I grew up in the mountains. There is a lot of superstition in the mountains. They said if you drove a nail in a tree and spoke the name of a person while driving the nail that person would die.

There was a big pine tree near where I grew up. I went to that pine tree day after day driving nails and speaking the name of my daddy. I do not know how many nails I drove in that tree, but my daddy did not die. I hated him so much.

The hatred I carried for my daddy wrecked my first marriage, and is threatening my second. I am a shell of a person; I do not have any close personal relationships.

As I’ve worked on this book, I’ve carried a great burden for readers who resemble the man who wrote that letter. Hatred and bitterness are destroying their lives and  relationships—and they know it. But for whatever reason they’ve never been willing, or felt able, to release that bitterness and forgive their offenders.

I’ve also been burdened for another group that I suspect is much larger—those who don’t think of themselves as bitter, unforgiving people. They aren’t hammering nails into trees wishing people dead—but if they would let the Spirit of God open them up, they would discover seeds of bitterness that have taken root in their hearts.

In our therapeutic culture, it’s widely acceptable to acknowledge that we’ve been “hurt” or “wounded”—words that focus on the wrong that has been done to us. But it’s a lot harder to admit that we’ve let that hurt escalate (or descend, to use a better word) into unforgiveness or bitterness—which puts responsibility on our shoulders.

Our society has become so riddled with rancor and bitterness we almost consider it a normal response to life. Every day in America, tens of thousands of new lawsuits are filed—millions a year! And those who don’t let their bitterness lead them into litigation or erupt into violent crimes and addictions are often saddled with more subtle forms of expression: silent distrust, insecurity, illogical fears, sullen indifference, compulsive agitation and restlessness.

How can you know if hurt has turned to bitterness in your life? You may be like the young Georgia woman who wrote to tell me about the bitterness she had finally come to grips with in her heart over her parents’ divorce. “People have always told  me,” she said, “how ‘sweet’ I am and that I’m always smiling. But I think deep down I’ve been bitter and angry about a lot of things. And now that I see it, I want it out of me.”

But often we can’t see it, even when it’s there. How can you tell? For starters, see if you relate to any of these statements:

  • I often replay in my mind the incident(s) that hurt me.
  • When I think of a particular person or situation, I still feel angry.
  • I try hard not to think about the person, event, or circumstance that caused me so much pain.
  • I have a subtle, secret desire to see this person pay for what he or she did to me.
  • Deep in my heart, I wouldn’t mind if something bad happened to the person(s) who hurt me.
  • I often find myself telling others how this person has hurt me.
  • A lot of my conversations revolve around this situation.
  • Whenever his or her name comes up, I am more likely to say something negative than something positive about him or her.

These kinds of thoughts reveal pockets of resentment and unforgiveness in our hearts. They allow us to see something in ourselves we never thought we’d become.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss and Lawrence Kimbrough, Choosing Forgiveness: Your Journey to Freedom (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2008).

We have just released a new Bible Study based on Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s book, Choosing Forgiveness.

These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.

Sessions Include:

Choosing Forgiveness, Lesson #1
What Happens When We Refuse?

Choosing Forgiveness, Lesson #2
The Promise of Forgiveness

Choosing Forgiveness, Lesson #3
The Art of Forgiveness

Choosing Forgiveness, Lesson #4
What True Forgiveness Is — And Isn’t

Choosing Forgiveness, Lesson #5
Returning a Blessing