I have a book recommendation, okay, about cancer. Walter Wangerin's Letters from the Land of Cancer, a brief book I started reading last night, gets it right, is honest without being saccharine.
The Book of Common Prayer offers a two-year schedule of texts for daily reading. The psalms do not change from year to year, however, so I have the chance to come upon them often. They become like old friends I visit; some mornings I can feel myself sighing in relief as I check the listing—ah, back to Psalm 37 or to Psalm 62.
One such old friend is Psalm 73, which continually challenges me with its assertion in verse 25, “And having [God], I desire nothing upon earth”—who can live up to that? But this morning, as sometimes happens, I saw a verse that has only been inserted since the last time I read it. Verse 21 says, “When my mind became embittered, I was sorely wounded in my heart.” Well, no wonder I hadn’t noticed it; it’s translated differently in the King James Version, which is the love language of my childhood. “Thus my heart was grieved, and I was pricked in my reins” is vivid, but grief and bitterness aren’t exactly synonyms in my mind.
The more pressing issue is my recent bout of bitterness, so that the word jumped out of the text in the same the way that the highlighted yellow vocabulary words do from the pages of the textbooks I work with. The Bible gets it right once again, I thought—most of the pains of my heart begin in my mind.
I can nurse a tiny hurt, magnifying it over and over, so it multiplies faster than mold. It grows all out of proportion to the original event and overshadows any good thing that may have happened. And I’ve just discovered that it has the same regenerative properties as starfish arms—I can lop it off, refuse this bitterness, and it will grow back with the least encouragement. This tendency goes beyond my natural sensitivity; I fear it’s rooted in pride, in the refusal to admit that my own wrong may have contributed to any given situation over which I’ve permitted my mind to become embittered.
So that’s where it begins. In my mind. Not the event, not the words, not the slight, but what my mind makes of it. Surely I have learned this lesson before! Now I have a chance to learn it again. I can spare my heart untold woundedness by refusing to embark on a construction project in my mind, by not bringing in all the equipment needed to erect a temple to my preciousness. This does not mean being a doormat. It means not dramatizing every situation so that I become some sort of Little Nell, beset by Snidely Whiplash at every turn. It means honestly evaluating the situation and then letting it go, refusing the further pain of an embittered mind. It means reading on in the psalm to the comfort offered two verses later: “Yet I am always with you, you hold me by my right hand.” In that place of security, the slings and arrows don’t matter.