A young woman asked me to meet with her recently to help her learn how to deal with bitterness. She had suffered harm at the hands of a fellow believer in the form of hurtful accusations and outright hypocrisy. Though months had gone by she found that bitterness toward this person kept creeping back into her thinking.

I could relate. Several years back I found myself in a similar situation when my integrity was called into question unjustly by a fellow believer. I had always thought that the enemies Jesus commanded me to love were people I labeled as such, either because they were unbelievers or because they drove me crazy. I believed an enemy was someone I chose. Most days I didn't have anyone on that list. Suddenly I found myself confronted with the truth that my enemy could choose me, out of the blue, as I went about my life - that despite my best efforts to live at peace with all men, someone could still choose to walk in enmity toward me. And that someone could even be a believer. This was a new kind of hurt for me, the kind that tempted me to drink deeply of bitterness.

Here is what I wanted during that time: I wanted my adversary to be brought to justice. I wanted my side of the story to be heard and my hurt to be acknowledged. I wanted to be vindicated in front of those who had heard my integrity questioned – not tomorrow or next year – today.

That’s not what happened. Because God is better to me than I deserve, no opportunity came for any of those wants to be met. And in that season of wormwood and gall He taught me truths I would otherwise never have sought. Here are a few bitterness-barring realizations I learned to cling to:

Realization 1: God knows the real story. Every justification I wanted to raise was already known to God. Every misconception I wanted to correct was not misconceived by God. He knew both sides of the story perfectly, and more importantly He knew the truth that lay somewhere between. My sense of urgency to clear my name was misplaced and self-reliant. So instead of fighting to make my side of the story known, I learned to let my words be few. And I asked God to show me where I had shaded the truth to mollify my hurt or downplay my own sin.

Realization 2: God sees the heart of my adversary. God sees my heart. As my hurt blossomed I began to take comfort in the knowledge that, if God’s word can be trusted, one day my adversary’s sin would be called to light. I found peace in knowing justice would eventually be served, even if not in this lifetime. It took awhile for me to realize that on that day my own sin would also be fully revealed. We can all rely on the Just Judge to do His job. One day my adversary’s sin will be known, and so will mine. On that day I will cling to the mercy of my Savior. I will beg for it, though I do not deserve it. If I do less than this for my adversary I am a hypocrite of the highest order. So instead of taking comfort that justice would be served, I began praying for my enemy to receive mercy.

Realization 3: I have caused hurt as well. I may have done nothing to deserve this particular hurt, but I have certainly caused similar hurt (known and unknown) for others. So instead of feeling superior to my adversary, I began to develop empathy for them. And I began asking God to show me my own sins against others.

There is only one person who has ever suffered unjustly in the purest sense, and that is Christ. The rest of us may indeed be wronged by another, but never without the guilt of having caused harm ourselves at some point in our lives. So when we suffer unjustly, insofar as that is humanly possible, we can be instructed by the way in which Christ endured. When falsely accused and convicted by his own people, he remained silent. 1 Peter 2 says he “continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” When at last he did speak (after the unjust verdict had been passed) it was to cry out not against, but on behalf of his oppressors.