Beating BitternessChanging your thoughts and words will prevent you from becoming paralyzed by a situation.
Recently a convicted felon wrote to a columnist for advice, 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 wrote, “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.”
The proud wife explained that her husband is “living proof that you don’t have to be stuck on a dead end.” At eighteen years old, he made unfortunate decisions and got mixed up with drugs and the wrong group. As a result, he was tried on fifteen counts of armed robbery and convicted on two. He 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 in prison. After six years of model behavior, he was released on parole. That was when he met his future wife.
“After getting to know this man and finding out who he once was, compared to who he has become in the past ten years, I cannot say enough about how proud I am of him. In the four years since his release, he ended his parole and is completing his college degree. We got married and just purchased our first home. These are accomplishments he never believed possible when he was first locked up.”
The lesson from the inmate’s transformation is a basic one. He chose not to indulge in the emotional poison of bitterness about himself, his life, or his circumstances.
Whenever we make poor decisions, commit costly errors, or become the object of gossip, slander, or 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 NLT). Here are four ways to beat bitterness.
1. Seek Strength in Faith
No matter what has happened, 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 will personally go ahead of you. He will be with you; he will neither fail you nor abandon you” (Deuteronomy 31:8 NLT). Tap into your faith and trust in God to protect and preserve you.
2. 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, his father abandoned the family. They lived off government aid until Norris’ mother landed a job at an aircraft plant where she worked from three until midnight. “With no money for babysitters, I rushed home from school every day to care for my two younger brothers,” Norris recalls.
By the time he was sixteen, his mother remarried, and his babysitting job ended. 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.”
3. 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 to 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?
Taking an honest look at yourself opens the way for you to let go of the past and move forward.
4. Extend Compassion Toward Those Who Hurt or Disappoint You
The pain of betrayal, rejection, or 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 and who loves you back. Think of how you wish only the best for that person – good health, contentment, and to be free of suffering. Second, imagine a person with whom you have neutral feelings. Extend the same feelings of love, warmth, and compassion toward them for a few moments. Third, picture 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.
To beat bitterness, 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 a situation.
This article was originally published in October 2019.