Bitterness is an expression of pain. People who feel bitter have been wounded at some point in their lives. When they talk about their bitter feelings, it may sound ugly and hateful.
I read a series of threads on this issue, and almost all of them recommended staying away from such people. But, what are you to do if you have to counsel a person with this issue?
The complexity can be daunting. Allow them to spew out their bitterness (as long as it’s not directed at you); it can be therapeutic. Every once in a while, you can sympathize with a statement that you find true. You can also say, “I can understand how you felt/feel!”. If something has clearly happened to them that was someone else’s fault, you can acknowledge that, too (this is a little tricky because perceptions are not always reality). It is a good idea to assume the positive about others instead of the negative, and a counselor can be drawn into the negativity.
After that individual has exhausted their bitter expression, and they appear more relaxed, they might be receptive to the gospel. It depends who they are.
If they enjoy ‘wallowing’ in the bitter feelings, it may be a source of their identity, meaning and purpose in life. In truth, all humans have a penchant to enjoy negative feelings. If this is the case, you won’t make much ground in counseling such people. All you can do is love them and pray for them. In my church, I can continue to feed them communion and tell them that Christ is their mercy.
If they seem open to your input, then you have an opportunity to tell them … the gospel. I think some counselors want such people to alter their behavior without addressing the emotional issues. This is a mistake. To give a law, command or demand is to add a wound to a wounded person. This is the ministry of death.
Instead, the opened person wants to hear that they have not been treated well. The wound they have is real. The savior they have is a real savior for real wounds. In fact, the Greek word in the New Testament for ‘save’ is also ‘heal’. He alone is the great physician.
Sometimes, he uses human hands, like psychologists or psychiatrists to treat ‘soul wounds’. At other times, we can bear each other’s wounds and take them in ‘pair prayer’ to the Lord. It might take a while to overcome, but it is only the Gospel of the Christ wounded for us that will heal those wounded by the world. Starting over is only possible at the hands of the Re-creator, Jesus Christ.
This is the ministry of reconciliation.