The responses I received from my Jan. 28 article on bitterness allowed me to see Jesus working in hurting lives. Individuals, deeply wounded by broken relationships, wrote to share their burdens of anger that had caused them to move away from God. They had recognized themselves in my description of the embittered woman and did not like what they saw. Other people I met on the street spoke of how much they needed that article and how far they had to go to get right with the Lord. "Not far at all," I reminded them. And that's the beauty of our Creator. He is but a prayer away.
The Old Testament's beleaguered Job understood the depth of this despair. Several times he refers to his "bitterness of soul," but what does he mean? Bitterness corrupts our faith and relationship with God by focusing on how His children have hurt us. And that's the problem. It always becomes about the "other" person's sin and not our response to their behavior.
Several years ago I was speaking in Arizona. For the plane ride there, my mother gave me a magazine to read. Now I can count on one hand the number of secular magazines I have read in the past few years, but this was an exception. One of the articles was about a woman who had started an anti-gun campaign, following the drive-by shooting of her son. It was a heart-breaking story, one that made me question if I could have been so unselfish.
After my first session speaking that Friday evening, a young woman asked if she could talk to me privately. She shared her story: her 16-year-old son had been walking home from a party late one evening when several drunk men drove by; one pulled out his revolver and shot her son. As it turned out, COPS was filming in the area and arrived at the scene alongside the paramedics. They were able to get footage of CPR being administered to this young man as well as the arrival of the parents shortly thereafter. I listened intently and then told Debbie about the article I had just read. She asked the name of the woman, so I returned to my room to get the magazine. When I opened it to the right page, I saw a picture of the mother with her name written underneath: Debbie Parnham. It was the same person.
We sat on the altar steps, Debbie sharing her pain and how God had brought her out of her despair to where she was that day. We spoke of bitterness and how it insidiously pollutes from the inside out. "Bitterness of soul." Debbie understood. She continued with her story.
Following the trial and sentencing, Debbie cried out to God to direct her steps. It soon became obvious that she needed to confront the murderer in person and that is what she did. This grieving mother set up an appointment to meet the one who had shot her son, but instead of lashing out at him, she led him to the Lord.
I'm not sure I would have been able to do that and I told Debbie so. She reminded me that it was not she who had performed this work; it was God and it was He who subsequently had opened doors internationally for her to speak about gangs and guns. To her, even the COPS filming was of God because she uses the footage from that show as her introduction when she speaks.
If you are one who suffers "bitterness of soul" and you blame others instead of yourself, I ask you to take a few moments and ask God to turn your bitterness to blessing. Your God is the same as Debbie's and He longs to do in your life what He did in hers.