Friday, 10 March 2017 12:34

Beating Bitterness

Written by  Victor Parachin
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Recently a convicted felon wrote advice an columnist lamenting he was “on a one-way trip down a road that leads nowhere.” The man said he felt hopeless about his future behind bars and signed his name “Inmate on a Dead End.” A few weeks later another reader of the column wrote to say: “I want ‘Inmate’ to know that one is never beyond hope. Prison may be the best thing that ever happened to him - it was for my husband.” She signed off as “Proud Wife in New Jersey.”

 

That proud wife explained her husband is “living proof that you don’t have to be stuck on a dead end.” As an 18 year old he made some unfortunate decisions, got mixed up with drugs and the wrong group. As a result he was tried on 15 counts of armed robbery and convicted on two of them. The youth was sentenced to prison for fifteen years. He too gave up hope for ever having a different life. After two years into his sentence, the man realized that self-pity and hopelessness were not helpful. He gave up drugs and began taking classes offered at the prison. After six years of model behavior he was released on parole. That was when his future wife met him. “After getting to know this man and finding out who he once was, compared to who he has become in the past 10 years, I cannot say enough about how proud I am of him. In the four years since his release, he has ended his parole and is completing his college degree. We have gotten married and just purchased our first home. These are accomplishments he never believed possible when he was first locked up.”

 

The lesson from that inmate’s transformation is a basic one: he chose not to indulge in the emotional poison of bitterness about himself, his life, his circumstances.

 

Whenever we make poor decisions, commit costly errors, or become the object of gossip, slander and betrayal, we must be careful not to become bitter. Bitter people are at war with the world because they are convinced that life is cheating them. Their negativity only intensifies their hostility and anger.

 

On the other hand, a healthy attitude leads to a healthier outcome. “It all depends on how we look at things, and not how they are in themselves,” noted Carl Jung. Likewise, John Milton wrote: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.” For that reason, the bible commands us: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage anger, harsh words . . . as well as all types of malicious behavior.” (Ephesians 4:31, New Living Translation). Here are some ways to beat bitterness.

 

Recognize and respond to helpers. Even if those closest to you have abandoned you and you are left feeling completely deserted, understand that there are others who will come into your life bringing the gifts of hope and help. Recognize and respond to helpers when they appear. Consider the life of Patricia Cornwell, the best selling author of medical thrillers such as The Last Precinct. She grew up in the tiny town of Montreat, North Carolina. She painfully recalls the Christmas of her ninth year. Her mother, a single parent, was struggling to take care of Patricia and her two brothers, aged 6 and 10. As Christmas approached, there was no family money for gifts or food or heating oil. In complete despair, the mother walked her three children to the place where Ruth and Billy Graham lived. The mother did not know the Graham’s personally. There Patricia’s mother handed Ruth a note saying she was giving the three children to the Grahams. Within hours, the mother was checked into a hospital where she remained for several months.

 

Ruth Graham greeted the children warmly and fed them a meal of spaghetti. Of course, she could not keep the children and they were placed into a foster home. As Patricia continued to live and grow up in Montreat, she would see Ruth Graham from time to time “but it wasn’t until I was 19 and had dropped out of college that she and I became friends. At the time, I had a severe eating disorder, was depressed and believed I was utterly worthless,” Cornwell explains. Gently Ruth Graham “began to bring me back to life by making me feel I must be special...she encouraged my writing and told me I was talented. When I returned to college, she visited me, sent money and wrote to me. If any single person in this world made a difference in my life she did.” The lesson: while Ruth Graham was undoubtedly a powerful aid for the young Cornwall, it was only because Cornwall recognized and responded to a helper sent her way. Her life and story could have turned out completely differently had she chosen to ignore Ruth Graham’s overtures.

 

Seek strength in faith. No matter what has happened to you, no matter how great the crisis, no matter what has come crashing into your life, remember that God will never abandon you. The Bible says: “Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord is the one who goes before you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:8). Tap into your faith and trust in God to protect and preserve you. Focus upon encouraging, faith building, bitterness destroying scriptures such as these:

 

“Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience god’s peace which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus”(Philippians 4:6-7).

 

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed and broken. We are perplexed, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us”(2 Corinthians 4:8-9).

 

Respond proactively to a crisis. When life delivers an unsettling blow, you don’t have to be a passive victim. Be proactive when you are impacted by a decision or an event. When you do so, you become instrumental in creating another opportunity. Consider this lesson learned by television star and karate champion Chuck Norris. When he was young, his family moved to Southern California from the small prairie town of Wilson, Oklahoma. Shortly after arriving in the new state, the father abandoned the family. They lived off government aid until Norris’ mother landed at job at an aircraft plant where she worked from three until midnight. “With no money for baby-sitters, I rushed home from school every day to care for my two younger brothers,” Norris recalls.

 

By the time he was 16, his mother remarried and his baby sitting job ended. So he found a job packing groceries at a market in Gardena, a Los Angeles suburb. “I thought everything was fine, until the end of the first day, when the manager told me not to return. I wasn’t sacking fast enough,” Norris explains. A painfully shy youth, he surprised even himself when he blurted out, “Let me come back tomorrow and try one more time. I know I’ll do better,” he pleaded. The manager agreed and Norris returned doing better. The manager retained Norris as an employee. “That moment when I spoke up is burned in my memory, and so is the lesson: If you want to accomplish anything in life, you can’t just sit back and hope it will happen. You’ve got to make it happen.”

 

Take an honest look at yourself. Do some self examination. Ask yourself these kinds of hard questions:

 

• What actions did I take or fail to take which contribute my dilemma?

• Am I guilty of blaming others for something which was my fault?

• What can I learn from this experience?

• What steps can I now take to emerge better, not bitter from this?

• Have I been a good listener?

• Did I respond appropriately to criticism and warnings?

• Can I ask others for feedback and will I listen carefully?

• What spiritual lessons can I learn from this experience?

 

Extend compassion toward those who have hurt you or disappointed you. The pain of betrayal, rejection, abandonment by a friend or colleague cuts deeply into our psyche. It’s easy to dislike and even hate the person who has wounded us. Yet, beating bitterness means forgiving and extending compassion toward such individuals. Here is a simple exercise or spiritual meditation which can free us to do this. It involves three steps: First, hold in your mind the image of a person you love very much and who loves you back. Think how you wish only the best for that person - good health, contentment and to be free of suffering. Secondly, hold in your mind the image of a person toward whom you have neutral feelings. Extend the same feelings of love, warmth and compassion toward them for a few moments. Thirdly, place in your mind the person who has hurt you. Expand your feelings of warmth and compassion to include that individual. Try to think of that person the same way you do about the person you love.

 

Finally, reprogram your thinking. Change your thoughts and your words concerning your situation. Rather than saying This is the worst thing that could have happened to me, try saying it this way: This is painful, stressful and difficult, but I am confident that I will overcome and be better for the experience. Changing your thoughts and words will prevent you from becoming paralyzed by the situation.

 

Victor Parachin is a writer and a pastor.

 

 

Last modified on Friday, 10 March 2017 12:50
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