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Default BITTERNESS: Weeding Out the Poisonous Root

BY JIM HENRY
Bitterness is that hateful, spiteful sourness in the heart that creeps in when you have been, or think you have been, maliciously wronged. I looked up the word in a dictionary, and it was defined as a sharpness affecting the taste, the feelings, or the mind. It comes from an old English word that meant "sharpness to the taste."
If you've ever had a difficult experience with someone who made you mad, and you resented it, held on to it--you know how bad it tasted spiritually, and in your mind it raised hateful feelings and thoughts. That is bitterness, and God's Word has something to say about it.

RECOGNIZING BITTERNESS
How does bitterness show itself?--In at least three ways.
One kind of bitterness is directed against God. You can become bitter against God in the loss of a loved one, when a friend swindles you out of money, when the boss passes you over for a promotion you really deserved and gives it to someone else, or when your husband walks off and leaves you for another woman.
You are angry, and you say, "Lord, if You love me so much, why did this happen? If You answer prayer, why didn't You answer mine? Either You are not powerful enough, or You didn't care enough. Either way, I am angry with You!"
A second kind of bitterness is against other people. It can be there in a child who decides to rebel against his parents, to run away from home because he believes they are unfair to him. It can be there in a wife who says, "I'll have a nervous breakdown if my husband keeps treating me like this, and I'll get even with him."
It might be a person who says, "OK, if I forgive them for what they did to me, that wouldn't be fair. They don't deserve to be forgiven. I'm going to carry this a little longer and maybe somehow along the way they'll see what it has done to me, and something will happen to them."
You and I cannot afford the luxury of holding on to bitterness and resentment against others, because it only becomes the root of other problems.
Your bitterness can also be directed against yourself, and show itself in an inability to forgive yourself, even though God has forgiven you. You carry that load until you say, "I deserved it, but I'm strong enough to take it, and I'll just carry this thing and deal with it myself." Self-centered pride latches onto your heart and you refuse the forgiveness of God and others.
This can also cause you to live in self-pity. You say, "OK, I deserve this. God's trying to punish me. I shouldn't have done this or that, and now I deserve what I'm getting, and I'm just going to have to be a martyr and carry it." So you trudge along in life nursing bitter resentment and a grudge against God or someone else. You carry it until you make life miserable for yourself and everyone around you. Why? Because you never dealt with your bitterness. The Bible says, "Watch out for such bitterness!" ("Look diligently"--Heb.12:15.)

BITTERNESS BEGINS UNSEEN
Not only am I to "look diligently" for bitterness, but because it may be unseen, I may not be aware of it; and being unaware of it, I may be especially liable to its danger.
Look what the Scripture says: "See to it that no one misses the grace of God, that no bitter root grows up..." Now, where is a root? Usually under the ground. You don't see it, but it's there. I have some weeds in my yard, growing through everything--even bricks! There are roots down there somewhere. They cause weeds to grow, whether there's shade or sunshine--I can't get rid of them. I don't see the roots, but the evidence is everywhere.
Bitterness can be an unseen enemy, growing like a tumor in your mind and in your spirit. The Bible says we should look out for it. Just because we don't see it, doesn't mean it's not there.
Bitterness is the unharvested fruit of anger, and in time it will show itself. As Numbers 32:23 says, "Be sure that your sin will find you out."

BITTERNESS SPRINGS UP & CAUSES TROUBLE
The Bible warns that the root of bitterness will spring up, and when it does, what does it do? Cause good things to happen? No! Cause joy? No! Cause love? No! Cause peace? No! "See to it...that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble!"
Bitterness, improperly handled, causes trouble--and it does so in at least two ways.
First, it causes physical problems. In his book "None of These Diseases," S. I. McMillan says, "Anger, unhandled, will show itself in at least 50 diseases."
Dr. Norman Wright, a professor of psychology at Biola University and a Christian writer, agrees with McMillan. God has constructed us, says Dr. Wright, with a tube about 30 feet long that begins at our throat and runs to our rectum (the alimentary canal). That long tube, disturbed by bitterness and anger, produces things like colitis, diarrhea and ulcers. (Editor's note: Of course, such ailments often result from many other causes besides bitterness or anger.) When we are angry and do not handle it properly, there are physical consequences.
Bitterness can also show itself in our mental condition. Bitterness is really displaced anger. We can be angry at other things, other people and other objects, not knowing it comes from bitterness. All our energy and mind are set in an anger-mode, and we're affected mentally. There is no joy, no creativity, no positive power flowing through our lives, because there is resentment there.
We are also affected spiritually when bitterness is not resolved. How? By an inability to accept God's Love. It can cause you to doubt your relationship to God. Ray Burke has written a book called Anger--Diffusing the Bomb, and in it he says that each time he dealt with those who doubted God's Love for them, somewhere along the line he discovered they harboured bitterness against God, themselves, or someone else. When this bitterness was dealt with and resolved, their ability to accept God's Love and forgiveness returned.

HOW DO WE OVERCOME BITTERNESS?
The good news is, anyone can overcome a bitter spirit. God encourages us to deal with it. He says in Ephesians 4:31, "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger..."
The Bible is so practical and clear that if we take what God teaches us about overcoming bitterness and apply it, we can be free of the bondage of bitterness.

BITTERNESS TOWARD GOD
Begin by dealing with any bitterness toward God. The following steps may help.
First, trust God's wisdom. This doesn't mean you should believe that everything that happens on Earth is good. Sin is in the World. Satan is still the prince of the air. Yet I must believe that God allows things to happen that He may not like, and which we may not like. But in His wisdom, somewhere down the line, God will turn it around for good for His children, according to His promise in Romans 8:28.
Second, I have to ask God what He's trying to teach me through this. The Bible says we're the disciples of Jesus. What is a disciple?--A learner. The Bible says the Father is the teacher, and we are disciples. We are learners. The experiences of life are teaching experiences. Sometimes we are so anxious to get to our destination that we forget how much joy can be ours along the way. When bitterness comes and you are tempted to be angry with God, ask Him what He is trying to teach you.
Third, apply one of God's promises to your situation.
Fourth, reject self-pity. Have you ever been a victim of the "Poor Me Syndrome"? Perhaps you know someone else who always seems to be saying, "Poor me, just look what's happened to me." No one likes being around such a sad-sack for very long, because it's no fun. So don't get into that syndrome.
Fifth, put time into proper perspective. Every difficult experience you may be dealing with now, circumstances that tend to make you angry and bitter, will in time pass away.
Sixth, be quick to give thanks. I've learned a little chorus recently, and I start singing it almost from the time I wake up in the morning: "It's amazing what praising can do." The song goes:
It doesn't matter when things go wrong,
Jesus fills my heart with a song.
It's amazing what praising can do.
You can't be bitter against God and praise Him at the same time. You can't be blessing Him while you're also shaking your fist at Him. So the Bible says, "In all things, give thanks."--1Th.5:18. Learn to give thanks unto the Lord and praise His Name, and it's really amazing what praising can do.

BITTERNESS TOWARD YOURSELF
Many times we get angry with ourselves. It shows up in many forms--we feel rejected, we wallow in self-pity, our self-image is poor.
It may be because of some sin or failure of yesteryear, something that, if we had it to do all over again, we wouldn't do for a million dollars; but we did do it, and we're having trouble forgiving ourselves.
How do I deal with that?
I begin by confessing my sin to the Lord, and believing His promise: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness"--1Jn.1:9. Then once I know God has forgiven me, I can forgive myself.

BITTERNESS TOWARD OTHERS
How do you deal with bitterness against others? One thing you must do is to keep your anger temporary. In Ephesians 4:26 God tells us we should not let the sun go down on our anger. If you're mad at somebody today, you should get it settled before the sun goes down. If it goes down and you don't deal with it, it will simmer all night, and tomorrow there's a good chance you'll be twice as angry and bitter about it as you are today. Washington Irving said that a tart temper is the only thing that doesn't mellow with age. So deal with your anger before the sun goes down. Keep a short account.
Another crucial area is the tongue. The Bible reminds us that though the tongue is a little instrument, it causes a lot of problems. You can't get into trouble for something you didn't say. That's why it's so often best to mentally stamp "N.C." on things you hear or observe. Do you know what that is? "No Comment." You can keep out of trouble that way. Watch your words. A sharp tongue is a tool that grows keener with use. Watch it.
We can also pursue peace. "Make every effort to live in peace with all men."--Heb.12:14. "Seek peace and pursue it."--1Pet.3:11. We must chase after peace, like a dog after a fox! Go for it! In Philippians 4:5 we are commanded, "Let your gentleness be evident to all." Be gentle--not to most people, or to some, but to all of them. Live gently. Pursue peace.
Also, if you know someone is harbouring anger, hurt or bitterness towards you because of some wrongdoing on your part, you can take the positive step of initiating reconciliation. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus says that if you come to Him with your offering in hand, and then remember that a brother has something against you, leave your offering, go to your brother, and make your offering after you're reconciled with your brother. So the Lord not only tells us to go to others when we're bitter or unforgiving towards them, but He covers both angles and also tells us to go to those who are bitter or angry towards us.
There's something else: Forgive and forget. How can you forget something negative that's stuck in your mind? The Bible says God remembers our sins no more. So how can God forget something when He is omniscient? How can He know everything and still forget? Here's the secret: When you forgive and forget, the forgetting means that you, like God, don't hold that wrongdoing to the offender's account. God forgets the charge against us; He remembers it no more. Oh, He knows about it, just as you do, but He will never bring it up again. That's what we are to do. Don't fish in the pond of history. Leave it there.
Sometimes we are like the man who came running into the office of a marriage counsellor. "Sir, you've got to do something about my wife. Hurry! She's historical, she's historical!" The counsellor said, "Now, wait a minute. You mean she's hysterical." He said, "No! She's historical! She's bringing up everything from the past!"
Some people can go back and reel off in chronological order everything that a person has done against them during their entire relationship. If you forgive a person, forget their offences and never bring them up again. Don't dwell in the past and don't let the past dwell in you.
Robert E. Lee, after the Civil War, visited a home in Kentucky. The lady of the house pointed to a limbless, battered tree trunk standing on the front lawn, and said, "Before the Union army came through here, that was a beautiful, magnificent magnolia tree. Then they blasted it with their artillery, and that's all that's left. What do you think about that?"
She expected the general to sympathize with her and criticize the Union Army. But instead, he looked at her and said one sentence: "Cut it down and forget it."

HOW ABOUT YOU?
Do you have some trees of bitterness standing in your life? Bitterness toward God? Toward others? Toward yourself? Cut them down and forget them.
Resolve to deal with your bitter spirit. "Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you."--Eph.4:31-32.
Hurt and Bitterness--BY BILL GOTHARD
Hurt has got to be one of our major problems today. You can get hurt so badly that you cut yourself off from feeling altogether. I've met girls who've said, "Hey, I've been hurt too many times. I'm never going to love anybody again. Forget it." So you get hard and cynical. That's one way people deal with pain--they just withdraw themselves so that they won't be hurt again. But when you come to Jesus, God heals your heart and He takes the cynicism out of your life. You can once again open your heart to others and love again.
Even Christians can get hurt. It's not wrong to be hurt, but the way you deal with your hurt makes all the difference in the World. Being hurt is a big enough problem in itself, but if that hurt is not handled in the right way, bitterness will set in. In the end it is bitterness, not "being hurt," that will destroy you.

RECOGNIZING BITTERNESS
It is really not that complicated to recognize bitterness. Let's think of some of the characteristics of an extremely bitter person:
1. They show a lack of concern for others. A bitter person cares very little about anybody else.
2. They're sensitive and touchy. For instance, if a bitter person walks into a room where two other people are talking, and those people get quieter as he walks in, the bitter person thinks, "They're talking about me."
3. They become very possessive with just a few friends, and rarely ever have any really close friends. They also have an unnatural fear of losing their friends.
4. They tend to avoid meeting new people.
5. They show little or no gratitude at all.
6. They will usually speak words of empty flattery or harsh criticism.
7. They hold grudges against people, often for a long time. They find it extremely difficult to forgive.
8. They often have a stubborn or sulking attitude.
9. They are usually unwilling to share or help anybody.
10. They end up experiencing mood extremes--very high and happy one minute, and the next thing you know, they're so low they can reach up and touch bottom.
(Editor's note: Although these symptoms often indicate bitternesses, they can also result from other causes as well.)

BITTERNESS: THE SEED OF HELL
One of the bad things about bitterness is that it doesn't stop. It keeps getting worse. It may only start as a little seed of hurt, but then it grows and festers into a very dangerous thing. Many people can be hurt by one person's bitterness. (See Heb.12:15.)

THE "FILING CABINET OF YOUR MIND"
In bitterness, you focus on what that "horrible person" has done to you. You make a filing cabinet with their name on it, saying, "Rotten Things This Person Has Done To Me." Now this is a big filing cabinet, and every time that person does even the smallest thing that hurts or bothers you, you file it in with the rest of the hurts. Usually we have more than one filing cabinet.
One of the causes of continual or persistent bitterness is that we try to balance out the guilt with blame. We say, "Well, I'm wrong, but they're worse. I have a good reason to be bitter. You don't know what they did to me!" That's how we try to ease our conscience.
Many people use bitterness for revenge. That's why we hold on to it sometimes. "I'll show you, and you're really going to be sorry." But who is sorry first? You're the one who's killing yourself! You are not only hurt spiritually and emotionally, but physically as well. Bitterness and resentment often bring on all sorts of medical problems, such as ulcers and high blood pressure. People who carry deep bitterness around can't even enjoy a great meal. They sit down to eat, but all they can think of is the person who hurt them--they might as well be eating cardboard.

GETTING OUT OF THE BITTERNESS TRAP
The Lord's Prayer says, "God, You forgive me the way I forgive others." The thing that causes hurt to develop into bitterness is failing to respond to the help God can give at that time of being hurt. To forgive someone doesn't mean pretending you're not hurt. That isn't Christianity--that's insanity. You need to be honest with yourself and admit that you've really been hurt. But how do we overcome our hurts? Here are some basic steps.
Pray, and ask God to forgive you for your bitterness and unforgiving spirit. This is not a complicated thing, but it may be costly. You may need a bit of time on your own. Take time to actually write a list of how you have hurt God and others, and let the Lord break you. Ask God's forgiveness for these things one by one.--And when you get finished, take the list and rip it up. It's a good feeling. Burn it if you like.
Destroy your files. Remember that list of things that others have done to hurt you? Open the filing cabinets of your mind, take out all the files, and get rid of them. Tear up your list and burn it. You must release it all to God. Forgiveness is opening the filing cabinet before God and clearing the debts. "I'm not going to hold this against them anymore. I'm not even going to keep a record of it." No record. That's what God does with you. Do you want Him to remember and recall all the debts He has cleared you of? Of course not, so you do the same. The Bible says, "For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions."--Mat.6:14,15. It's a choice you must make in response to God's offer of forgiveness to you. What will you do?

FORGIVENESS--It Does Make a Difference--BY CHARLES STANLEY
FORGIVENESS AND FREEDOM
Forgiveness is "the act of setting someone free from an obligation to you that is a result of a wrong done against you." For example, a debt is forgiven when you free your debtor of his obligation to pay back what he owes you.
Forgiveness, then, involves three elements: Injury, a debt resulting from the injury, and a cancellation of the debt. All three elements are essential if forgiveness is to take place. I believe most people who suffer from an unforgiving spirit do not know that unforgiveness is the root of their problem.
A person who has an unforgiving spirit is always the real loser, much more so than the one against whom the grudge is held. Unforgiveness, by its very nature, prevents individuals from following through on many of the specifics of the Christian life and practically necessitates that they walk by the flesh rather than by the Spirit.
The destructive nature of an unforgiving spirit is such that it is not limited to one relationship. Resentment and other negative feelings spill over into other relationships. This is the second reason a person with an unforgiving spirit loses out in life.
Unfortunately, people are rarely aware when hostility from one relationship affects their ability to get along with others. So they try and try--unsuccessfully--to work out their differences with others, never recognizing the real source of the problem. Once they tire of trying to change, they excuse their insensitivity as part of their personality and expect people to "work around" them, emotionally speaking. They develop a take-me-or-leave-me attitude, and in the process they hurt people they love the most.
The third reason a person with an unforgiving spirit loses out in life is closely tied to the other reasons. When a person is wronged in some way, whether in marriage, business, friendship, or some other relationship, a feeling of rejection occurs.
There is a fourth reason an unforgiving spirit can devastate a life. Since the person with the unforgiving spirit is usually waiting for the other person to make restitution, a great deal of time may go by. During this time, fleshly patterns of behaviour and incorrect thought processes develop. Even after an unforgiving spirit is corrected, the side effects can take years to deal with, especially in the area of relationships. (Editor's note:--Except by a miracle of God.)
The irony of the situation is this: By refusing to forgive and by waiting for restitution to be made, individuals allow their personal growth and development to hinge on the decision of others they dislike to begin with. They allow themselves to be held hostage. They say, "If he apologises." "If she comes back to me." "If he rehires me." "If they invite me." They play the game of waiting for others to make the first move. In the meantime they allow an unforgiving spirit to weave its way into the total fabric of their lives.
Holding on to hurt is like grabbing a rattlesnake by the tail: You are going to be bitten. As the poison of bitterness works its way through the many facets of your personality, death will occur--death that is more far-reaching than your physical death, for it has the potential to destroy those around you as well. (Editor's note: Realizing this, how damaging bitterness is to those who harbor it, should help compel us to apologize to those we have wronged or offended, thus making it easier for them to forgive us and let go of any ill feelings.)

FORGIVENESS AND CONFESSION
If we are already forgiven, then why does the Bible teach we are to confess our sins? What is the role of confession?
The Greek word we use for confess means "to agree with." When we confess our sins to our Heavenly Father, we are agreeing with Him. We are agreeing with His attitude about sin; that is, sin is against Him, it is destructive to His purpose for our lives, and it carries with it consequences that will prove painful.
Confession also implies that we are assuming responsibility for our actions. We are not blaming our actions on others.
Confession is essential. In confession, we experience release from guilt, tension, pressure, and emotional stress resulting from our sins. Failure to confess our sins ensures the continuation of those unnecessary negative feelings.

FORGIVING OTHERS
Forgiveness is something that each of us has had to deal with in one way or another. If we refuse to deal with the bitterness and resentments that put us in bondage, we cannot have the fellowship with our Father that we are supposed to have.
The first idea we need to clear up is this: Is justifying, understanding or explaining away someone's behaviour the same as forgiving him? I can certainly understand that "my brother" was under a lot of stress when he raised his voice to me in front of my customers, but does that mean I have forgiven him? Certainly not. Understanding someone's situation is part of the forgiveness process, but only a part.
Another mistaken idea we have picked up is that time heals all wounds. I think that is one of the most misused clichs I've heard. The passage of time does not automatically lead to forgiveness.
Finally, another misconception says that to forgive others, we must go to them personally and confess our forgiveness. Confessing our forgiveness to someone who has not first solicited our forgiveness sometimes causes more problems than it solves.
(Editor's note: While this may be true, that it is not always necessary or edifying to confess our forgiveness to those who have wronged us and have not solicited our forgiveness, we cannot say that this is a hard and fast rule or policy. Because "we are members one of another" (Eph.4:25b), and are "our brother's keeper" (Gen.4:9), Christian love often compels us to humbly and honestly go to others and ask them to forgive us for holding hurt feelings or bitterness towards them. Otherwise, in their being unaware that they've wronged us, they may continue to hurt not only us, but others as well.
(Then there are cases when we may have hurt or bitter feelings towards somebody for something we think they've wrongly done to us, when the fact of the matter is we've misunderstood or perhaps even imagined their supposed wrong-doing. By going to them to confess your forgiveness for having bad feelings towards them over some incident, you may clear up some misunderstanding and discover that they never actually wronged you after all. So again, the potential benefits of confessing our forgiveness to others--whether it's solicited or not--seem to outweigh any negative considerations.)
Forgiveness is a much more involved issue than just putting time between us and the event or saying some words in a prayer. It is a process that involves understanding our own forgiveness and how that applies to those who have hurt us.
Forgiveness is an act of the will that involves five steps:
1. We Are Forgiven. First, we must recognize that we have been totally forgiven by God. Once we understand the depth of our sin and the distance it put between us and God, and once we get a glimpse of the sacrifice God made to restore fellowship with us, we should not hesitate to get involved in the process of forgiving others.
2. Forgive the Debt. The second step is to release the person from the debt we think is owed us for the offense. This must be a mental, an emotional, and sometimes even a physical release. It involves mentally bundling up all our hostile feelings and surrendering them to Christ.
We can accomplish this in one of two ways: Either by meeting face-to-face or by using a substitute, possibly sharing all this with someone.
3. Accept Others. The third step is to accept others as they are and release them from any responsibility to meet our needs. Certain people can make or break your day depending on the amount of attention they pay you. (Editor's note: Of course, this depends on whether you're looking to them or to the Lord for your happiness.) When we decide as an act of the will to forgive, we absolve others of any responsibility to meet our needs.
4. View Others as Tools of Growth. Fourth, we must view those we have forgiven as tools in our lives to aid us in our growth in and understanding of the grace of God.
Joseph of old certainly understood this principle. After all his brothers did to him, he was able to forgive them. He saw them as the instruments of God to get him to Egypt and to be in such a position of power that he could save his family when famine destroyed all the crops.
5. Make Reconciliation. The last thing we must do is to make reconciliation with those from whom we have been estranged. This will vary from situation to situation. Regardless of how we go about it, we must do what we can to restore fellowship with those who hurt us. Once our forgiveness is complete, reconciliation will be much easier.
After completing the five steps in forgiveness, we should pray this simple prayer:
Lord, I forgive (name of person) for (name the specifics). I take the authority over the Enemy, and in the Name of Jesus Christ and by the power of His Holy Spirit, I take back the ground I have allowed Satan to gain in my life because of my attitude toward (the person), and I give this ground back to Jesus Christ.
Remember, that forgiveness is for our benefit. The other person's behaviour may never change. It is up to God, not us, to change that person. It is our responsibility to be set free from the pressure and weight of an unforgiving attitude.
Several things will occur once the forgiveness process is complete. First, our negative feelings will disappear. We will not feel the way we used to feel when we run into these people on the street or in the office. Harsh feelings may be replaced by feelings of love, concern, pity, or empathy, but not resentment.
Second, we will find it much easier to accept the people who have hurt us without feeling the need to change them; we will be willing to take them just the way they are. We will understand more why they acted and continue to act the way they do.
Third, our concern about the needs of the other individuals will outweigh our concerns about what they did to us. We will be able to concentrate on them, not on ourselves or our needs.
Whatever our pain, whatever our situation, we cannot afford to hold on to an unforgiving spirit another day. We must get involved with the process of forgiving others and find out what it means to be really free!

FORGIVING OURSELVES
People frequently say, "I know that God has forgiven me. And I'm sure that I have forgiven those who wronged me. But I still have no peace in my heart. Something is not quite right." Oftentimes this disquietude can be an unforgiving spirit directed toward ourselves, not directed toward God for what He has done, nor directed toward others for what they have done. But there will be no peace in our hearts until we forgive ourselves for the wrongs that we have committed.
The first consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we punish ourselves on an ongoing basis. How do we do that? We replay our sins continually. Satan initiates it, and we foolishly follow.
We spiritually incarcerate ourselves despite the fact that no place in the Bible does God say He has forgiven us of "all our sins except..." Jesus paid it all. Jesus bore in His body the price for all our sins. No exceptions.
The second consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we live under a cloud of uncertainty. We do not accept our forgiveness by God; we exist under an abiding question mark. If we never forgive ourselves, we can never be confident that God has forgiven us--and we bear the weight of this guilt.
The third consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we develop a sense of unworthiness. Because we are guilty, we also feel unworthy. This sense of unworthiness hinders our prayer life, our intimate relationship with God, and our service for Him.
The fourth consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we attempt to overcome our guilt by compulsive behaviour and excesses in our lives. We try to escape from the incessant self-pronouncements of guilt. Some of us invest huge amounts of energy into work--we work harder, faster, longer.
The fifth consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we develop a false sense of humility when we feel permanently judged guilty and sentenced by God. We wear but a facade of humility when we declare ourselves so unworthy to serve God. And our "humble face" serves as a mask to keep us from seeing our true face.
The sixth consequence of a self-directed unforgiving spirit is that we deprive ourselves of things God wants us to enjoy. Self-deprivation is the opposite of compulsive behaviour and excesses. We do not achieve a state of forgiveness by arbitrarily abstaining from enjoyable things in our lives. God does not ask us to deprive ourselves in order to "deserve" forgiveness.
How do we forgive ourselves? Regardless of how long we have been in bondage, we can be free if we follow four Biblical steps.
1) Recognize the Problem. We must come to grips with the fact that we still hold ourselves in bondage. "Lord, I realize I haven't forgiven myself and am in bondage because of it."
2) Repent of Sin. We must repent of sin for which we cannot forgive ourselves. And we must thank Him for His forgiveness as we confess our sin to Him. "I thank You, Jesus, for forgiving me for holding myself in bondage, for keeping myself from You, and for limiting Your use of me."
3) Reaffirm Trust. We must reaffirm our trust in the testimony of Scripture: "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us." (Psa.103:12) "Lord, I reaffirm my trust and my faith in the Word of God."
4) Confess Freedom and Choose to Receive It. We must confess our freedom and choose to receive it freely. "Lord Jesus, on the basis of Your Word, by an act of my will, in faith, I here and now forgive myself because You have already forgiven me. I accept my forgiveness and I choose from this moment to be freed of all which I have held against myself. Please confirm my freedom to me by the power and presence of Your Holy Spirit."
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Forgiveness is liberating, but it is also sometimes painful. It is liberating because we are freed from the heavy load of guilt, bitterness, and anger we have harbored within. It is painful because it is difficult to have to face ourselves, God and others with our failures. It seems easier to blame others and go on defending our position of being right, even though we continue to hurt. But the poison of an unforgiving spirit that permeates our entire lives, separating us from God and friends, can never be adequately defended. It is devastating to our spiritual and emotional well-being and to our physical health.
Are you still unable to forgive someone who hurt you deeply and you still bear the scars? How long will you remain a prisoner to your own unforgiving spirit? Jesus can give you the power to forgive, to be healed, and to be set free to live your life to the fullest!
Overcoming the Effects of Past Hurts--BY JOHN WIMBER
INNER HEALING
Emotional and psychological hurts linger in the form of bad memories (thoughts of hurtful experiences from the past) and barriers to personal growth. They may even lead us into various forms of sin, emotional problems and physical illnesses.
Emotional and psychological hurts, including bad memories, are caused both by our sin and by our being sinned against. The healing of these past hurts restores the inward (unseen and unseeable) part of men and women, as opposed to purely physical, visible or outward healing. Therefore, the healing of past hurts is commonly called "inner healing."
According to author David Seamands, inner healing is "ministering to and praying for damaged emotions and unhealed memories."

DIAGNOSIS
Leading practitioners of inner healing have observed certain behavioral and emotional patterns that arise in people who have not adequately applied Christ's grace and forgiveness to the problems created by hurtful memories. The following characteristics are frequently found in people needing inner healing.
The burden of pain that we carry drains our energy from creative and productive activity and makes us feel unworthy, guilty, hopeless, broken and unforgivable.
This burden would be destructive enough if its effects went no further, but such is not the case. These negative feelings, now converted over a period of time into attitudes, begin to develop within us negative patterns of behavior, and our past begins to destroy our present. That which is so negative begins to want to destroy itself, and so we develop habits of self-destruction or habits of sin.
Some of the initial manifestations can be a judgmental spirit that is harsh and demanding on self and others, a strong perfectionist attitude demanding the impossible from self and others, a strong pattern of fearing future events, a sense of aloneness and abandonment whenever there are times of decision, a preoccupation with one's own guilt and a compulsive reaction to compete for position and success. Usually there is a constant expectation of growth or breakthrough to a new spiritual freedom, but it hasn't happened. It doesn't happen because the heart is hurting.
Inner healing is indicated whenever we become aware that we are held down in any way by the hurts of the past. Any unreasonable fear, anxiety, or compulsion caused by patterns built up in the past can be broken by prayer, provided the person is also doing his best to discipline his life in a Christian way. So many Christians are hindered in their lives by such things as a haunting sense of worthlessness, erratic fits of anger or depression, anxiety and unreasoning fears, and other problems which they would like to change, but find they cannot cope with on the basis of repentance and a decision to change.
A Christian, even one who is a recognized leader, may still have great need for inner healing. What are the things he or she may need to cope with? Here are a few: Poor self-dignity; self-hatred; feeling God doesn't love him or her; hatred of others; unforgiveness of self or others; self-aggrandizement; self-centeredness; bad temper; a critical attitude; embarrassment from a physical, emotional or mental handicap; loneliness; rejection; depression; persecution; divorce; false guilt; various sexual problems.
When the emotional and psychological effects of hurtful memories are not dealt with, physical problems like migraine headaches, sinus troubles, indigestion, nightmares, dizziness, and many other disturbances develop.
(Editor: Although the above "diagnosis" may very well indicate the need for inner healing from hurt or bitterness, other causes may also produce many of these symptoms.)

MEMORIES OF THE WAY WE WERE
It is impossible to correct wrong attitudes and emotions that result from past hurts without in some way affecting how we cope with the painful memories of those bad experiences. These attitudes and ways of thinking, so deeply embedded in our hearts, subconsciously hold us back from believing God's promises to us of peace, comfort and spiritual liberation from the past.
When we are held back by the guilt and pain coming from hurtful memories, we miss out on experiencing many spiritual blessings that God is more than ready and willing to give us. The broken heart is restored through release from the bondage to hurtful memories, a process that includes forgiveness and emotional reconstruction under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Many people cannot face their painful memories and suffer inevitable emotional trauma. They need the power of the Holy Spirit and the gift of faith to be able to face the past, thus freeing themselves to live fully in the present and the future. Understood in this way, the "healing of memories" is not the elimination of painful memories from our consciousness; it is God's Spirit taking away their sting and healing the resultant emotional damage.
Another way of thinking about the healing of bad memories is that though God does not eliminate the memories, He does reframe memories so they are no longer significant factors in how we feel, think and act. Their hurt recedes into the background. We may now think of ourselves as new creations in Christ, not as victims of past hurts--no matter how terrible or unjust those hurts may have been.

FORGIVENESS
The most essential ingredient in inner healing prayer, the kind of prayer that gets to the deeper memories and associated hurts and bitternesses that hold us back from true freedom in Christ, is the two-sided coin of repentance and forgiveness (both forgiving others and ourselves.)
The Parable of the unmerciful servant, found in Matthew 18:21-35, illustrates the importance of receiving and giving forgiveness. The occasion of the Parable was Peter's question about how many times we should forgive someone who has sinned against us. "Up to seven times?" Peter asked. Jesus answered, "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy times seven" (vs.21-22). Jesus introduced the Parable by saying there is no sin committed against us that we cannot forgive; then through the Parable He taught that we can always forgive others because God has already forgiven us far more than we will ever need to forgive someone else.
In the Parable a servant who owed ten thousand talents was brought before his king in order to settle accounts. The servant was unable to pay, so the king ordered that he, his wife and his children be sold into slavery. The servant then fell to his knees, asking for more time to repay the debt. Instead, the king "was moved with compassion, loosed him, and forgave him the debt" (vs.27). Ten thousand talents is equal to billions of dollars (the total Gross National Product of Palestine at that time was perhaps 1,000 talents!), an impossible sum for any individual to raise.
The Lord forgives unforgivable sins. The point is that when we have wronged God or someone else, we must learn to receive forgiveness, no matter how great our sins.
But there is more to this Parable. After the servant left the king, he went out and "found one of his fellow-servants who owed him a hundred pence" (denarii). (vs.28) A hundred denarii was only three months' salary, a paltry sum in comparison to the debt the king had forgiven. The first servant grabbed him and began to choke him. "Pay back what you owe me!" he demanded (vs.28). Then, when the debtor asked for time in order to repay the debt--the servant had no mercy and refused to forgive him and had him thrown into prison. When the king learned about this, he said, "You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow-servant just as I had on you?" The passage continues, "In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed." (vs.32-34)
The king was angry because the servant would not forgive as he had been forgiven. Notice that the hundred denarii debtor had not asked for forgiveness; he had asked only for time to pay the debt. Jesus was teaching that we should extend forgiveness (and that to those who do not even ask to be forgiven). Why? I believe it is because not showing mercy and forgiveness proves to be a crippling burden that leads to hostility (anger directed toward others), guilt (anger directed towards ourselves) and anxiety (fear without an appropriate object).
Finally, Jesus taught that unforgiveness will cause all types of personal torment on Earth--spiritual, mental, emotional, physical and social.
God has given us mercy, so we may extend it to others, and if we forgive others we will continue to experience God's forgiveness.
There is one last principle regarding forgiveness that is important to maintaining emotional health: Each Christian is responsible in every conflict to put things right by receiving or giving forgiveness. We have no right to withhold forgiveness or refuse to receive forgiveness, because God has extended His mercy to us.
In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus made it clear that if we have sinned against someone, we have the responsibility to apologise, ask for forgiveness, and, when necessary, make restitution.
Jesus also taught that if we have been sinned against, we have the responsibility to approach the offender and work it out. (See Mat.18:15.) Extending forgiveness is implicit to reconciliation in these situations.
Resentment Is My Problem--BY NORMAN VINCENT PEALE
Resentment can be a real problem. It not only makes you unhappy, but it can also make you ill. Physicians' tests indicate that resentment is often a pronounced factor in illness. As one doctor said of one of his patients, "He could be a well man if he got hate out of his heart."
The first step in eliminating resentment is to stop deluding yourself that your resentment is justified. Perhaps you have plenty of reason to be hurt, but resentment is never justified. In the last analysis, resentment will do you more damage if you keep it up than any hurt you are now experiencing.
Work with yourself until you truly and with all your heart want to let go of your resentment. Sometimes the masochistic element in human nature nurses a resentment with secret unhappy pleasure, just like you bite down on a painful tooth. Desire mental health so completely that you also want to be rid of your resentment.
Be honest with yourself. Ask yourself if your resentment is caused by a feeling of guilt for your own failures, which you have refused to admit and are rationalizing, thus blaming other people, through an active resentment, for your own deficiencies.
Pray it out. Just start praying and keep at it until you feel the resentment pass away. One man told me that he had to pray 167 prayers before his resentment was dissolved! But it passed, never to return. Perhaps this is why the Bible says, "Pray without ceasing." The process is a simple one. The heart and soul are so filled with prayers that there is no room left for resentment. Your prayers channel in the grace of Jesus Christ, which makes you clean inwardly.
One of the first prayers to offer is for the grace to pray for the person against whom your resentment is directed. This is important, for at the beginning of this process you may feel it hypocritical to pray for him or her. But if you pray for the grace to do so, you will be lifted to a new level of spiritual understanding and strength. On this higher level you can pray with sincerity.
Definitely, wholeheartedly, humbly and sincerely pray, mentioning the name of the one you resent. But do not only ask that you may forgive him. Pray for positive blessings to come to him. Send out a spiritual wish that he may experience a fullness and richness of life. Be very careful not to pray for his "improvement," for in so doing you may merely be criticizing him under the guise of holiness.
Start thinking kindly thoughts about this person and look for opportunities to express kindly sentiments concerning him.
Give him an opportunity to do you a favor. There is a curious law in human nature that we tend to like persons for whom we render a service, provided sincere appreciation is shown and a desire to reciprocate. I heard of two neighbors who were hostile. Something went wrong with the furnace of one. Grudgingly he called upon his belligerent neighbor for assistance, for the latter was a furnace expert. This gave the neighbor an opportunity to show his ability, and at the same time to feel the other's dependence. The first man was an excellent gardener. As Summer came, vegetables repaid the kindness. Friendship followed.
Develop the habit of looking for people's good points. Everybody has them.
How to Get Rid of Resentment--A Guideposts Spiritual Workshop for People Who Harbor Ill Will--BY JAMES A. STRINGHAM, M.D.
Alice was a middle-aged woman suffering from asthma, skin eruptions and other illnesses severe enough to put her in the hospital about four times a year.
Stella, a young schoolteacher, lived in a succession of boarding houses because landladies "don't like me." She had no friends among her fellow teachers and believed that her second-graders misbehaved in order to persecute her.
Jim had a history of ulcers and business failures.
These three patients--and dozens of others who have passed through my consulting room --so dissimilar on the surface, revealed in the course of therapy the identical underlying problem. Each had resentment he had not dismissed.
Resentment comes from two Latin words meaning "to feel again." When we resent, we allow the negative emotions we feel at the time of a hurt--a disappointment, a betrayal --to recur long after the event is over, flooding our systems with their poisons over and over again. Because of its effect on the human mind and body, it does not matter how "justified" the resentment is. In my 27 years as a practicing psychiatrist--and in the 15 years before that when I was a medical doctor--I have come to regard resentment as a cancer of the personality that is as deadly as any physical growth.
I have also seen this cancer healed, through a combined effort of self-understanding and faith in God. The three patients mentioned above have another thing in common. Each got rid of his resentment. They did not rise above it or force it back into its subconscious hiding place, but they were able to deal with it according to the principles outlined here.
Here are some techniques that have helped many to find freedom from resentment.
First ask yourself: Am I a resenter? Do I long to get even with anyone? Does the thought of certain past events make me boil inside?
Remember that resentment can be disguised, even from ourselves, especially when it is directed at someone for whom we also feel--or should feel--love. It is safer to get angry at a demanding boss than at the father who expected too much of us. Ask God to help you locate the roots of your feelings.

__________________
I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people -- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4
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Default Re: BITTERNESS: Weeding Out the Poisonous Root

If you discover more than one resentment, and most of us do, choose one for the purpose of this workshop. Later you can apply these same steps to the others.
1. Make a list of all the good qualities and strong points about the person you resent. Make it a subject of prayer.
2. Try to figure out why the person acted in the way you resent. Often this understanding is the first step toward forgiveness. Ask yourself if he or she was deliberately doing those things to hurt you. If you had been in his shoes, would you have acted differently under the circumstances?
3. Make a commitment somewhat like this: "Lord, I know that my reactions to this person are wrong because they violate Your law of love. What he has done is not the point. I want to change my feelings but I can't do it on my own steam. I turn myself and all these reactions over to You. Teach me to forgive as You forgive."
4. Do not attempt to go to the person with the good news of your forgiveness until resentment is purged from your heart. I recall a patient who was struggling to forgive her husband for an infidelity early in their marriage. One day she triumphantly brought me a carbon copy of a letter she had, unfortunately, already delivered to him. "Dear Alex," the note began. "I hereby forgive you for..." Then followed a lengthy list of Alex's shortcomings and mistakes. It was obvious, even to her as she reread it, that the letter expressed not so much forgiveness as a desire to hurt.
5. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you with love for this person. If you do this persistently and sincerely, you will find the hot, angry, vengeful thoughts gradually replaced by concern and caring--and your world will be a far better place.
I'm Still Learning to Forgive--BY CORRIE TEN BOOM
--The author of "The Hiding Place" remembers the day she learned the full meaning of "love your enemies."
It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a thin, light-haired man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947, and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.
It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favourite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander's mind, I liked to think that that's where forgiven sins were thrown. "When we confess our sins," I said, "God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever."
The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.
And that's when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: The huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister's frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!
Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbrck concentration camp where we were sent.
Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: "A fine message, Frulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!"
And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course--how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?
But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.
"You mentioned Ravensbrck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard in there." No, he did not remember me.
"But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Frulein,"--again the hand came out--"will you forgive me?"
And I stood there--I whose sins had every day to be forgiven--and could not. Betsie had died in that place--could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?
It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.
For I had to do it--I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: That we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in Heaven forgive your trespasses."
I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.
And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion--I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling."
And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.
"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"
For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's Love so intensely as I did then.
And having thus learned to forgive in this hardest of situations, I wish I could say I never again had difficulty in forgiving! I wish I could say that merciful and charitable thoughts just naturally flowed from me from then on. But they didn't. If there's one thing I've learned at 80 years of age, it's that I can't store up good feelings and behavior--but only draw them fresh from God each day.
Maybe I'm glad it's that way. For every time I go to Him, He teaches me something else. I recall the time, some 15 years ago, when some Christian friends whom I loved and trusted did something which hurt me. You would have thought that, having forgiven the Nazi guard, this would have been child's play. It wasn't. For weeks I seethed inside. But at last I asked God again to work His miracle in me. And again it happened: First the cold-blooded decision to obey, then the flood of joy and peace. I had forgiven my friends; I was restored to my Father.
Then why was I suddenly awake in the middle of the night, hashing over the whole affair again? My friends! I thought. People I loved! If it had been strangers, I wouldn't have minded so.
I sat up and switched on the light. "Father, I thought it was all forgiven! Please help me to do it!"
But the next night I woke up again. The negative thoughts returned. They'd talked so sweetly too! Never a hint of what they were planning. "Father!" I cried in alarm. "Help me!"
His help came in the form of a kindly pastor to whom I confessed my failure after two sleepless weeks. "Up in that church tower, " he said, nodding out the window, "is a bell which is rung by pulling on a rope. But you know what? After the sexton lets go of the rope, the bell keeps on swinging. First ding then dong. Slower and slower until there's a final dong and it stops.
"I believe the same thing is true of forgiveness. When we forgive someone, we take our hand off the rope. But if we've been tugging at our grievances for a long time, we mustn't be surprised if the old angry thoughts keep coming for a while. They're just the ding-dongs of the old bell slowing down."
And so it proved to be. There were a few more midnight reverberations, a couple of dings when the subject came up in my conversation. But the force--which was my willingness in the matter--had gone out of them. They came less and less often and at last stopped altogether. And so I discovered another secret of forgiveness: That we can trust God not only above our emotions, but also above our thoughts.
And still He had more to teach me, even in this single episode. Because many years later, in 1970, an American with whom I had shared the ding-dong principle came to visit me in Holland and met the people involved. "Aren't those the friends who let you down?" he asked as they left my apartment.
"Yes," I said a little smugly. "You can see it's all forgiven."
"By you, yes," he said. "But what about them? Have they accepted your forgiveness?"
"They say there's nothing to forgive! They deny it ever happened. But I can prove it!" I went eagerly to my desk. "I have it in black and white! I saved all their letters and I can show you where--"
"Corrie!" My friend slipped his arm through mine and gently closed the drawer. "Aren't you the one whose sins are at the bottom of the sea? And are the sins of your friends etched in black and white?"
For an anguishing moment I could not find my voice. "Jesus," I whispered at last, "Who takes all my sins away, forgive me for preserving the evidence against others all these years! Give me grace to burn all the blacks and whites as a sweet-smelling sacrifice to Your glory."
I did not go to sleep that night until I had gone through my desk and pulled out those letters--curling now with age--and fed them all into my little coal-burning grate. As the flames leaped and glowed, so did my heart. "Forgive us our trespasses," Jesus taught us to pray, "as we forgive those who trespass against us." In the ashes of those letters I was seeing yet another facet of His mercy.
When we bring our sins to Jesus, He not only forgives them, He makes them as if they had never been.
The Peace We Found in Forgiveness--BY JAY MECK
--This Pennsylvania farm couple turned heartbreak into a special kind of triumph
As I finished the milking that Friday afternoon in October, I was glad it was done early, for now I would have time to do some other chores before supper and we'd be able to make the pet parade at the New Holland Fair.
I knew how the boys yearned to see that parade, especially our youngest, little Nelson, seven, who'd be home from school any minute. I poked my head out of the barn door. No sign of Nelson yet, but I did see my wife Ruth coming out of the basement. She had been storing sweet potatoes for winter. Now she would be preparing an afternoon snack for Nelson, most likely that gingerbread he liked so much.
Putting away the milk pails, I thought how nice it was that as a farmer I could be at home during the day to enjoy my family. I loved it when Nelson bounded up our farm lane from school. He'd come back to the barn to tell me what happened that day, his freckled face beaming. Then he'd scurry over to the house to get a nibble from Ruth and dash back down the lane to wait for his older brother Johnny to come home from school. When Johnny appeared, Nelson never failed to say, "Ha-ha, I got home before you. What took you so long?" Then the two of them would race back up to the house.
Just then I heard someone running up the lane. Expecting Nelson, I came out of the barn only to be faced with his school-bus driver, Mike.
"Nelson's been hit by a car!" Mike yelled frantically. "Call an ambulance!"
My head suddenly felt light. Ruth yelled from the kitchen door that she would call one.
I tore off wildly down the lane to the road. My heart was racing like a tractor in the wrong gear. My mind was in a tailspin. Please, Lord, not Nelson! I thought. Who could have done this? Who?
When I reached the road I pushed my way through the crowd already gathered near the school bus. There on the blacktop of Highway 340 lay my son. I bent down and touched him softly. He didn't move. As I brushed back a fold in his hair, tears stung my eyes.
Just down the highway a car was pulled over and I saw the license plate--the orange and blue colours of New York.
The area where we live--the Dutch country of southeastern Pennsylvania--attracts a goodly number of tourists and some of them don't have a very good reputation among us natives.
I stood up over Nelson and in a choking voice asked, "Who hit him?"
There was a silence until finally a young dark-haired man and a woman who looked to be his wife stepped forward. They seemed frightened and dazed.
"He just ran out in front of us," the woman said, clutching tightly to the man's arm.
I walked over to them. I'm not a man of violence--in fact I've never so much as laid a finger on anyone. Yet my arms felt heavy and my hands tingled. I took a deep breath, unsure of what I should do. "Jay Meck's my name," I said finally.
The man flinched, but shook hands with me. Just then the ambulance pulled up and its driver urged Ruth and me to follow. As we drove away, I looked back to see the couple holding on to each other, staring after us.
On our way to Lancaster Hospital we passed an Amish family, preserved in tranquility in a horse and buggy. The New Yorkers, I thought, had intruded upon that kind of peacefulness. They had come here where they didn't belong.
At the emergency room, Dr. Snow, the man who delivered all our boys, met us immediately and said what I'd suspected all along. "Nelson's gone."
The next hours, even days, became a blur. We were besieged with cards and letters. Scores of friends and neighbors dropped by to help with the milking. They brought pies and casseroles. But even surrounded by all the sympathy, Ruth and I found we just couldn't keep little Nelson from our thoughts. He meant too much to us.
Nelson had come into our lives late, almost as if he were a special gift from God. Being the youngest, I suppose we held him precious and delighted in him more. But oh, how much there was to delight in! The Sunday-school librarian called him "Sunshine" because he always had a cheerful disposition and a smile that never seemed to go away. What was more extraordinary about our son was his understanding of Christianity. He had an uncanny sense of caring for others.
In school, for instance, he was the little guy who made friends with all the unfortunates--the cripples, the shy children, the outcasts. In the evenings when I'd go to his room to tuck him in, Nelson would be lying in bed with his hands folded. "Boy, Pop," he'd say, "there's sure a lot of people I've got to pray for tonight."
Like other small children, Nelson would squirm in church, but he would then startle Ruth and me by marching out after services and announcing, "I have Jesus in my heart." Later, he'd show me a sick bird he'd found and wanted to help or he'd bring a stranger to our home, some poor soul seeking farm work.
Though older, Bob, 18, and Johnny, 15, were extremely close to their brother. The following Tuesday, when the funeral was over and we were sitting in our kitchen, Johnny recalled Nelson's daily vigil at the lane after school. "I'll bet Nelson's up in Heaven right now and when I get there he'll say, `Ha-ha, Johnny, I got home before you. What took you so long?'"
Johnny's words tore into my heart. Ruth's and my grief was compounded when we discovered how senseless our son's death really was. Nelson didn't die through a car's mechanical failure or by natural causes. Perhaps we could have accepted that. No, Nelson died because someone had not stopped his car for a school bus that was unloading children.
Much to our dismay, the man turned out to be a New York City policeman, a person we thought would know the law about stopping for buses with blinking lights. But he hadn't. Both he and his wife had been taken to the police station here where he had then been arrested. After posting bond, trial was set for January 17, three months away.
Why, Ruth and I agonized, hadn't this man been more careful? Why couldn't he have waited? The whole thing was so pointless. The more we thought about it the more it filled us with anguish. And our friends' and neighbors' feelings only seemed to add fuel to our torment.
"I sure hope that guy gets all that's coming to him," a man told me one day in the hardware store.
"You're going to throw the book at him, aren't you?" another asked.
Even the school authorities, hoping to make a case out of stopping for school buses, urged us to press charges.
Ruth and I were beside ourselves. As Christians, we had received the Lord's reassurance that Nelson was now in eternal life. But how, we cried out, were we to deal with the man whose negligence caused so much heartache?
A few weeks after Nelson's funeral, an insurance adjustor called on us to clear up matters concerning the accident. He mentioned he had visited the New York couple shortly before.
"They seem broken up," he added.
They're broken up? I thought. What about all the tears we've shed?
Yet a certain curiosity--perhaps a desire for an explanation--led Ruth and me to ask if it would be possible for us to meet with them.
The insurance man looked at us oddly. "You really want to see them?"
"Yes," I said.
He agreed to act as intermediary, and to our surprise, the couple, whose names were Frank and Rose Ann, accepted our invitation to come for dinner the Monday before Thanksgiving.
As the day drew closer, I became more dubious. Could I really face them again? Why were we putting ourselves up to this?
Ruth and I prayed long and hard about it. Night after night we asked the Lord to provide us with His strength and guidance when they arrived.
When the day came--just a month-and-a-half after our son's death--I looked out the kitchen window to see a car coming up our lane through a light rain. My hand trembled as I reached for the kitchen door to let them in.
We gathered in the living room and the conversation was forced. After comparing country life to city life, everything we talked about seemed to be an outgrowth of the tragedy.
But in talking with them, I began to notice something strange. A feeling of compassion came over me.
Frank was a policeman who'd been on the force eight years. He had a spotless record, but the accident, he said, might cost him his job. As a member of the tactical force in a high crime area of Brooklyn, Frank put his life on the line for others every day. He worked hard at his job, certainly as hard as I did on the farm.
And Rose Ann, like Ruth, had three children at home. She had looked forward to their vacation last October--their first trip away from the city since their marriage. But now she was worried. The New York papers had printed an account of the accident and because of it, they were staying with Rose Ann's parents, fearful of facing their neighbors.
"I just don't know what's going to happen," Frank said. His eyes, like his wife's, seemed vacant. Both had lost a great deal of weight.
At dinner, we ate quietly. It was while we were having coffee that they noticed a picture that hung on the kitchen wall, a chalk drawing of Jesus and the lost sheep.
"Nelson loved to look at that," Ruth said. "His faith, like ours, was important." She went on to explain how she and I had grown up in a local church and how we both were long-time Sunday-school teachers at our Mennonite church.
"But it's more than a church," Ruth said. "You've really got to live out your beliefs every day."
Frank and Rose Ann nodded. After dinner we drove them around for a while, showing them a wax museum and a schoolhouse, sights they'd meant to see on their first trip here.
After they left, Ruth and I faced each other at the kitchen table. We had suffered, we knew, but surely not as much as that couple was suffering. And the strange thing was, I could now understand their suffering. Frank, like me, was human. Though he came from a different background--a big city that I didn't understand--he was a human being, with all the faults and frailties I had. He had made a mistake that anyone could have made. Jesus Christ was a man too--the Perfect Man--and through Him I could see that hatred or vengeance was not the way to handle that mistake--certainly not if Ruth and I professed to live out our faith every day.
Frank and Rose Ann, I could see now, were those lost sheep in the picture, and that's why they were brought back to our house. Only through Ruth's and my compassion--only through our employing the kind of love Jesus stood for--could we find peace and they find their way home.
Realising that, on January 17, at the trial, I did not press charges. Except for a traffic fine, Frank was free.
Ruth and I still correspond with the couple. We hope to visit them in New York City someday soon, for we want to see the city, see them again and meet their three children.
Though Nelson is gone, even in death he continues to teach us something about life. Not long ago I found a little pencil box of his. As I emptied it, a scrap of paper fell out. On it was "Jeremiah 33:3," a verse Nelson was to memorize for a skit. "Call unto Me and I will answer thee and show thee great and mighty things which thou knowest not."
I have to believe that Nelson, in his brief life, discovered some of those mighty things, especially the greatness of God's Love and how we must spread it around to others.
When Ruth and I called out to God, His message was just as powerful. No matter how deep the wound of sorrow is, forgiveness and faith in God will provide the strength to "occupy till Christ returns," (Luk.19:13) and the broken pieces of our lives will be made whole in Him.
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The Bible on Bitterness
DEFINITION OF BITTERNESS: Holding on to or showing feelings of intense (strong) animosity (hatred, anger), resentment or vindictiveness (wanting to get back at someone).--Other words that describe it are: Merciless, unforgiving, holding a grudge. Bitterness is also described as feelings resulting from something that is difficult to accept.

1. God's Word warns us against the dangers of bitterness.

Hebrews 12:15
Be on guard against it, because even a little root of bitterness can do much harm to you and others. Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled (contaminated).

Acts 8:22,23
Bitterness is a sin to be repented of. 22 Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. 23 For I perceive that thou art in the gall (wrath, anger, trial) of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

Colossians 3:19
Husbands (and all of God's children), love your wives (each other), and be not bitter against them.

James 3:14
Bitterness is nothing to be proud of. But if ye have bitter envying and strife in your hearts, glory not, and lie not against the Truth.

2. Do not carry or keep bitterness, but replace it with love, kindness and forgiveness.

Leviticus 19:18
Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear (carry or keep) any grudge (bitterness) against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the Lord.

Ephesians 4:31,32
31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour (shouting or crying), and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice (desire to do harm): 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.

Matthew 6:14,15
14 For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you: 15 But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

Matthew 18:23-35
In His parable of the unmerciful servant, Jesus made it clear that we will suffer if we refuse to sincerely forgive our brethren. 35 So likewise shall My Heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

1Peter 4:8
Even if someone has mistreated or "wronged" you, God's Love is love enough to forgive. And above all things have fervent love among yourselves: for love shall cover the multitude of sins.

3. If you allow bitterness a place in your heart, it will eventually come out of your mouth in murmuring and complaining.

Job 7:11
Job said, Therefore will I not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.

Romans 3:14b
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness. (See also

Matthew 12:34b.)
4. The Lord, in His Love, can deliver you from the sin of bitterness.

Isaiah 38:17
I had great bitterness: but Thou hast in love to my soul delivered it from the pit of corruption: for Thou hast cast all my sins behind Thy back.

5. Since bitterness stems from feelings of anger and an unforgiving attitude towards others, here are some more solutions from the Word on how to avoid it.

Ephesians 4:26b,27
26b Let not the sun go down upon your wrath (don't harbour anger over night); 27 Neither give place to the Devil.

Matthew 5:23,24
23 Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought (grievance) against thee (or vice versa); 24 Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.

Mark 11:25
And when ye stand praying, forgive, if ye have ought against any: that your Father also which is in Heaven may forgive you your trespasses.

Colossians 3:13
Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye.

Philippians 3:13
Bitterness is also caused by holding on to bad or angry feelings about someone or something that happened, but the Lord tells us to forget the things that are past: Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before.

Romans 12:2
God's Word often speaks of "renewing our minds," which implies letting go of the old; particularly any past grievances and bitternesses. And be not conformed to this World: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

Ephesians 4:23
And be renewed in the spirit of your mind.

Romans 8:28
Bitterness is also described as the feelings resulting from something that is difficult to accept; so it's important to always remember that the Lord has a good purpose in everything that He allows to happen to us. We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.
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I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people -- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 1 Timothy 2:1-4
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