Releasing bitterness and finding peace.
by Audrey Hector
Angry, rebellious, and bitter. I hated my husband. I hated my job. I hated people. But most of all, I hated God. I teetered on the edge of insanity and fell deeper and deeper into the black hole of depression.
I wasn’t always this way. I began a personal relationship with Jesus Christ at age twelve during Vacation Bible School. I prayed and studied the Bible and carefully obeyed God’s commands. God was the center of my life until the abuse began.
Over several years, I was molested, beaten until blood was drawn, and belittled with condescending words and evil insinuations by people who claimed to love me family, adult friends, and other authority figures.
Embarrassment kept me from telling anyone; I didn’t think others would believe me, but instead thought they would blame or reject me.
I questioned God and His love for me. Why did He let the abuse happen? After all, I had been living the Christian life. When I needed Him, where was this God I had served? Had all my prayers for deliverance been in vain? Why hadn’t He protected me?
“Where are You, God?” I asked in desperation. I pled with Him to explain Himself and His failure to act. “Can I ever completely trust You again?” In my ignorance and determination to become solely dependent upon myself, I started drinking, smoking, and partying. I refused to go to church or pray. Sometimes I turned to God. Sure, I still prayed sporadically, but I fought to trust Someone who seemed untrustworthy.
Anger and distrust
Though I continued attending church, I lacked the peace I had when I first became a Christian. At times I asked God to forgive me for not releasing my bitterness toward my abusers. I begged Him to give me a heart that could completely trust Him in everything, especially when bad things happened. But when I remembered the powerlessness and confusion during the abuse, my trust in God’s love and His willingness to protect me diminished.
Anger became my constant companion. I was angry with the abusers because they violated my trusted relationships with them. I was angry with God because He let this happen to me. I was angry with myself because I obviously had done something to cause these things to happen. I even hated myself because I loved the perpetrators in spite of the abuse.
Anger eventually permeated every area of my life. I overreacted and attacked anyone who hurt me. I rejected love because I didn’t recognize it. I feared intimacy because that meant I had to give up control of my emotions and become transparent. I vowed never to trust anyone in authority over me and never to love anyone, fearful that they would take advantage of my feelings and hurt me as the abusers had.
To ensure my actions would never invite unwanted sexual advances from men, I stood in front of a mirror and practiced not showing emotion. I thought of jokes, sayings, or events that would ordinarily make me laugh or cry. Don’t show your emotions on your face, I commanded myself. I kept a cold, calculated stare regardless of my feelings.
After several years, my pride in wearing protective masks eventually turned to frustration. I struggled to love others and to foster relationships with the few people I thought deserved my trust. I had pushed everyone away even my husband. My anger became worse, and I lashed out at everyone who offended or disagreed with me.
When I finally needed someone to talk to, no one wanted to listen or help. The loneliness and pain eventually became unbearable.
Prayer and deliverance
While lying beside my bed one day, I remembered Psalm 107. I picked up my Bible and read the psalmist’s description of people at their wits’ end, crying to God for help. I realized I wasn’t the only one with deep hurt and depression. For the first time, I saw a solution to my problem. At my wits’ end, I cried out to God, as did the people the psalmist described, asking Him to deliver me from my distresses. I told Him, “Jesus said if I had the faith the size of a mustard seed, I could move a mountain. I don’t want to move a mountain, but I want You to restore my relationship with You.”
That day, God began to deliver me from the shackles of anger, distrust, and bitterness and to heal my broken heart. He sent people to tend to my hurts, and He placed women in my life to teach me how to love. They helped me understand that because sin is in the world and because people have a free will, horrible things happen. I began to see that the abuse wasn’t God’s fault after all.
One woman told me to read Psalm 139 every day. This scripture became my lifeline and a daily reminder that God knew my past, my present, and my future. He knew my strengths and weaknesses. He knew me before He formed me in my mother’s womb and knew how mean and self-destructive I’d been. Yet He loved me anyway. To my surprise, God had been with me through all the abuse. What grieved me also grieved Him.
It took several months for me to relinquish my hold on anger and bitterness. I asked God to forgive me and to give me a willingness to forgive every abuser.
I wrestled the most to forgive a family member for molesting me. Whenever the memories came to mind, I told God that I chose to forgive the person and asked Him to love that man through me. I repeated this process for several months. Though I didn’t feel as though I’d forgiven the man, I continued to confess that I had.
Breaking down the wall
One day I spoke with him on the phone. “Have you forgiven yourself for what you did to me?” I asked him.
Sheepishly, he answered, “No.” He sounded embarrassed and afraid, wondering what I would say next.
“You need to forgive yourself,” I said, “because I’ve already forgiven you. And you need to ask God to forgive you. He’s waiting and wanting to do this. God loves you, and so do I.”
The invisible wall between us fell as I broke free from the burden of negative emotions. In time, my feelings caught up with my confession, and I felt I had genuinely forgiven the man.
God poured love and compassion into my heart for someone whose actions had caused me so much pain. I discovered it truly is possible to love someone who has hurt you deeply.
Today God gives me opportunities as a lay counselor to help abuse victims one-on-one and to teach Bible studies for other abuse survivors. I speak at conferences and seminars to encourage the hurting to run to God so they will not suffer as long as I did.
The joy of helping others who have been through similar situations exceeds the suffering I experienced many years ago. Other than living with God for eternity without pain or tears, it doesn’t get any better than this!