It was around 1990 I was pretty involved in buying real estate. I had bought a condo on the south side of Nashville called Paragon Mills. It was a foreclosure, and the profit was going to be pretty sweet. I held it a couple years to take full advantage of the capital gains tax vs. ordinary income. After advertising it for a couple months, a buyer surfaced, oddly enough, I knew him. We were by no means friends; he was just a local business person that had been very successful in his career (locals would know him if I used his real name). To protect the guilty, we will call him John.
To make a really long and complicated chain of events much shorter, I will just go straight to the bottom line.
He cheated me out of $40,000 using a technicality that was hidden deep in the contract, unknown to anyone but him.
At the closing he pointed his finger at me, laughed out loud and said, “I gotcha big boy.” Not only was I extremely embarrassed and mad, but he also did it in front of three other business associates. I was livid!!!! I had no recourse, no words, and no profit by the time we finished the closing.
He left the room laughing and applauding his own genius. He in his mind had outsmarted the room and capitalized on my oversight. I got an education that day on paying close attention to details.
I left the closing with more anger, frustration and distrust than I had ever experienced before. I was dealing with emotions that were very complex and honestly, frightening.
I wanted vengeance for the first time in my adult life. Something was welling up inside me that I could not explain or clearly articulate to anyone.
Only time would reveal that bitterness had set in, and it was painful. Every day was surrounded with thoughts of how I might get him back. I wanted him to feel the embarrassment and pain I was experiencing. Not a day went by that it didn't have a profound impact on other opportunities and many of my relationships. I became very skeptical of everyone and everything. I had developed a new way, almost overnight, of how I looked at everything, and I hated it. A distrust set in of others that had no knowledge of my experience with John and this did not seem fair to them at all. Bitterness became the filter by which I viewed future business, personal relationships, and opportunities.
I was ensnared emotionally and mentally, and I did not know how to shake it.
It was cancer, and it was consuming me.
A few years later, Bob, a lifelong friend, invited me to go with him and some friends to Buffalo Wyoming to hunt mule deer and antelope. It took me about a second to decide I wanted to go. Everyone was to meet at the appointed rest area on I40 West at 5:30 AM. Robin agreed to drop me off because I was riding with Bob. There was a total of 16 men riding in four SUV’s. I was pretty pumped for this much needed 10-day hunting trip. I showed up on time, kissed Robin, grabbed my suitcase and rifle and jumped out of the car. I was thinking how awesome this trip was going to be. The first person I saw was Bob, gave him a high five and told him how excited I was to be with him and the guys on this trip.
I could not believe who I saw next……Are you kidding me? There he was. The one man on the planet that I had grown to hate….John. You mean to tell me that I was going to be on a 10-day hunting vacation with a man that had humiliated, embarrassed and stole $40,000 from me two years earlier? I was at a total loss.
To keep down any conflict, I sucked it up and got in the Bronco. Oh my goodness, was this going to be a long trip? Neither of us spoke to each other the entire trip.
The ranch where we were hunting, was owned by a man named Mr. Zeezus and I can’t begin to tell you how beautiful it was. Opening morning I was sitting on top of a hill enjoying the sunrise when one of our guys below was walking to his spot. I looked with my binoculars and again was amazed. It was none other than John.
This is the moment I realized I had a severe problem.
I’m ashamed to admit this, especially in writing, but the truth is, I thought about shooting him. I seriously tried to think of a way that I could shoot him and claim that I thought it was a deer. I actually had both hands on my rifle thinking through the story line and how I was going to defend my actions.
I was rationalizing in my mind how it would have been justified. He should not have taken advantage of me, and he deserved everything I was about to do! Oh my, am I really thinking of doing this?
I was a successful, well respected, chairman of the deacons, at my local church and I was really about to commit murder over a business deal gone bad? What was I thinking? (Just a side note, I’m an excellent shot, I could have taken him. What saved him was the orange vest he was wearing. I could not figure out how to explain how I killed a deer wearing an orange hunting vest.) I was a wreck the rest of the day, for that matter, the rest of the trip.
This is what bitterness can do to us.
When left unchecked, it clouds our vision and controls our decision making.
All rational, moral, and healthy thoughts left my mind that day and I was consumed with a desire bathed in bitterness for ultimate revenge. This is not who I am or who Christ called me to be. This is not the man my wife married or the man my children look up to. This was a man controlled by a terrible business deal for over two years.
I was so glad ten days later when we finally were ready to leave. We were 60 miles west of Nashville, one hour away, when John’s SUV broke down on the side of the interstate. All four trucks stopped, and one of the guys said that his universal joint had broken.
Well, at first I prayed that an 18 wheel truck would run over him, and the trip would have ended well. And then, privately, I prayed, Lord I have to give this up.
I decided at that moment, right there on the side of the interstate to let this go.
I walked up to John, and for the first time in ten days spoke to him and said, “I have a Blazer at home I’m not using. If someone will take me to my house, I will get it and loan it to you until yours is repaired." He looked at me as though I just punched him in the nose. He asked "why?" I simply said, “because you need it.”
There was silence for a couple seconds, and then he accepted. No one else on the trip had any knowledge of what was going on but me and John. It was a very awkward and confusing moment, but we both knew.
Right there on the side of the interstate, I let two years of bitterness go. I had too; it was killing me. It was keeping me from living a meaningful life. I was captive in my mind. I decided that bitterness was no longer going to control me.
I made a choice for freedom inspite of what was done to me.
What I realized that day is I can’t control what happens to me, but I can control how I respond. I chose that day to be happy because happiness is a choice.
I want to help you eliminate bitterness. I want you to learn how to choose happiness and choose your response when things are done wrong to you. I hope that you learn these things quickly and not harbor the terrible feelings I stored up for over two years.
I understand that sometimes we hold onto bitter feelings for years, sometimes a good portion of our lives. Letting go of bitterness does not mean you condone what the person did to you. It does mean that you are taking steps to make your own life and heart healthy. It means you are making smart choices for yourself.
That bitterness that we hold onto for so long does not eat away at the other person proving their wrongs or proving our rights. It kills us and has the potential to damage all of our meaningful relationships. It adds a negative spirit and a cutting response to our tone, and it holds us down from accomplishing so many things.
Ready or not, let's make a choice for the better. Let's put bitterness down and move forward. Aren't you exhausted from it anyway? It is time.
Put these steps into practice and watch how much easier you can breathe and sleep at night:
1. Admit to yourself that you are bitter.
2. Get an accountability partner to help walk you through releasing the bitterness. It is worth it to be vulnerable and honest with another person.
3. Make the choice to move forward. You are making a choice either way, bitterness or happiness. Make the positive choice for your life.
4. Put a stake in the ground and declare a specified date and time that you dismissed the bitterness. This enables you to point to a very specific point and time that you can reflect on and refer to when you let this go. It's no longer lingering and elusive.
It's finished. The heavy weight on your back is gone. Now, pour all of that new energy into making meaningful relationships. You will be so glad you made the choice to eliminate bitterness.
Live on purpose,