Starve the bitterness, feed sweet fruits to the soul

Candace Cooksey

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” – Galatians 5:22-23 / New International Version

I bet there haven’t been five Ash Wednesdays in the last 25 or more that I haven’t gone to a special service, and I could bore you with the details as to why I didn’t last Wednesday, but I won’t – unless I get desperate.

And be warned, it’s getting late and the possibility looms large that I might get desperate. For now, though, the story is there was a scheduling difficulty. The spirit was willing, but the flesh was … well, the flesh was being a chauffeur / soccer grandmother and one thing was at one side of the city and the other on the other, and both were happening at the same time.

Wow. Looks like I got desperate after all. Sorry.

But now, the Lenten Season is here. It’s taken me years to understand well enough the time period of the season to ever be able to explain it. If you’re not there yet, maybe I can simplify. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the day after Fat Tuesday – or technically Mardi Gras – and is the 40 days (not counting Sundays) preceding Easter.

And Easter, of course, is not a fixed date on the calendar, but falls on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox.

Yes, I’m sure the ancients might have made it more confusing, but that’s not where I was going with this. Or couldn’t you tell?

Anyway, I, the chauffeur, was lamenting to the “chauffeuree” that the late running soccer practice had made us miss our respective Ash Wednesday services.

“I know,” she said. “And I haven’t decided what I’m going to give up for Lent.”

“You know,” I said, relating what our church Life Group has been studying, “giving up something for the Lent doesn’t have to be something you don’t want to give up, it can be something bad you need to give up – like hating someone or being mad, because when you ‘sacrifice’ the bad, good automatically replaces it.”

Then I told her, I’d been mad at some people for a long, long time. I always talk about what a good thing forgiveness is. She’s heard me say hundreds of times that forgiveness is the gift you can give yourself.

She’s heard me say dozens of times that not forgiving someone doesn’t hurt them or change the situation, it just bothers and hurts the person who can’t let it go.

I know how it works. I’ve felt the calm serenity – the freedom – that comes from letting it go, of forgiving, but instead of doing that, I’ve fed the anger and bitterness a daily dose of righteous indignation for a while now. It’s taken a lot of energy to do that, but I’ve been able to sacrifice whatever it takes to keep that energy going and the grudge rock solid.

And nothing changes or improves. I stay mad and the targets of my anger remain infuriatingly unfazed. So I have to work harder at staying mad.

We’ve talked about this a lot. She and I.

But stopped at the red light, it hit me how much I’ve talked, and how little I’ve done. Those people I’ve been so mad at may not deserve to be forgiven, but I don’t deserve to have them weighing me down, or, as my friend keeps saying, “giving them space in my life.”

After I dropped her, the sweet soccer player, off I came home and pulled out something I’d put together last spring. I’d found a sermon on forgiveness and adapted a list of 10 things that forgiveness isn’t.

Forgiveness isn’t approval of the wrong. It doesn’t enable the wrong-doer. It is not giving the wrong-doer your trust. It doesn’t deny the wrong. It doesn’t hinge on an apology. Forgiveness isn’t forgetting. It doesn’t mean the pain ceases. It’s not a one-time thing, it’s a process overall. It’s not neglecting or denying justice. Finally, it is not reconciliation.

Forgiveness takes one, repentance takes one. Reconciliation takes two.

Forgiveness is giving your soul permission to be free. It is a process, it surely is, but I have waited long enough. I’m giving up my hate and bitterness for Lent. It is time. The how of how I plan to do that isn’t a hard-fast plan, but the first step is to stop feeding the bitterness. For there is a feast of spiritual fruits – love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – I can feed me instead.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Candace Cooksey Fulton is a freelance writer, formerly of Brownwood, living now in San Angelo. She can be reached at