The Powerful Practice That Protects Your Heart From Bitterness

by Elizabeth Laing Thompson October 19, 2023
“But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:44-45a (NLT)

I could feel bitterness trying to sink its jagged claws into my heart. It called to me, its voice silky smooth and oh so enticing: You have every right to feel resentful. Her behavior is sinful, inexcusable — and she claimed to be your friend! Come on. Give in. Feed your hurt with hatred.

My conscience prickled with a warning from the Holy Spirit: If I let bitterness take hold, it would spread inside me like an invisible sickness. Corroding my heart. Making me cynical. Even tainting my healthy friendships with suspicion and mistrust.

Desperate for help resisting this temptation, I opened my Bible. God guided me to Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard the law that says, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that?” (Matthew 5:43-46a, NLT).

I’d always thought of Jesus’ command to pray for our enemies as a godly to-do — an act of obedience, surrender and trust in God — but what if there is more to Jesus’ command than just saying the right words? What if prayer is also intended to help our hearts? Would praying for the friend who hurt me actually help me overcome bitterness?

I decided to try it. At first, my prayers were stiff and a bit reluctant; I had to choke out the words. But day after day, I persisted in prayer: Lord, be with her. Heal whatever hurt is driving her to act this way. Show her a different way. Please bring healing to both of our hearts.

I don’t know what happened in my former friend’s heart because of those prayers, but I do know what happened in mine: My heart stayed soft and open. Even though my friend had sinned against me, God enabled me to reject bitterness and choose forgiveness. I never got to have a reconciliation conversation with that friend, but even so, God healed my hurt and protected my heart. Jesus’ way worked.

Obeying Jesus’ command taught me several powerful truths we experience when we pray for people who have hurt us:

  1. Prayer shields our hearts from bitterness. It gives us a verbal outlet for our pain, a way to begin releasing our resentment to God. It prevents righteous anger and real hurt from twisting into damaging bitterness.
  1. Prayer humbles us. It reminds us that even when we have been hurt, we are imperfect and need grace too. It may even help us to consider the conflict from the other person’s perspective.
  1. Prayer helps us resist the temptation to seek revenge. It reminds us that God loves justice and that we can trust Him to defend and protect us.
  1. Prayer gives us peace while we wait for resolution. Praying strengthens our relationship with God during our relational conflict. We trust that God is working even when we can’t see or understand all He is doing.

If you’re embroiled in a conflict, wrestling with bitterness, or feeling hurt or confused by a strained relationship, Jesus’ encouragement to pray for your enemy may provide the protection your heart needs. You can pray about your situation, and pray for the person with whom you are in conflict, every day — even multiple times a day.

Feeling wounded by a friend’s refusal to accept your apology? You can pray about that.
Feeling afraid she may hurt more people if she doesn’t change? You can pray about that.
Longing to attempt reconciliation but not sure the other person will even speak to you? You can pray about that.

We can pray about all of it. God welcomes our requests, and He longs to help His children find forgiveness and unity (John 17:20-23).

It takes time, but when we commit to persistently praying for those who offend us, we give God the chance to work on their hearts — and ours.

Father, thank You for caring about my relationships. Please give me wisdom, and help me find righteous resolutions to conflicts. Please protect my heart from cynicism and bitterness, and empower me to forgive as You forgive. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.


Elizabeth Laing Thompson’s new book, When a Friendship Falls Apart: Finding God’s Path for Healing, Forgiveness, and (Maybe) Help Letting Go, helps you navigate the pain of a broken friendship. The book was just released on October 17 — get your copy today!



Today Elizabeth is giving away five free copies of her new book! Head over to Instagram to enter!


Luke 23:33-34a, “When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing’” (NLT).

How has prayer protected your heart when you’ve been hurt? Share your thoughts in the comments.

© 2023 by Elizabeth Laing Thompson. All rights reserved.

What We Believe

If your life feels too overwhelming, click here for our care and counseling resources.

Join the Conversation