(Note: A downloadable PDF copy of this lesson is available on the last page.)
What is the key to mental health? How do you achieve and maintain peace of mind? Must you be at the mercy of your circumstances? Is it inevitable that a chance meeting can plunge you into the depths of despair?
Jerome Weller was a happy, successful man–he thought. Then by meeting someone he hadn’t seen for 12 years he was, as if by magic, transported backward in time. Even though he sat at his expensive desk in his plush office, with the words “General Manager” on his door and several secretaries at his call, in his mind he was back in Trenton, a bitter, sweating, aching, confused young man who had been fired as the reward for working hard and living a clean life. He was reliving those days in which he lost his car and house and underwent the humiliating experience of moving in with his parents because he was broke. Sitting there now in air-conditioned comfort, this man who ran eight plants and directed the work of hundreds of men had only one thought–-revenge.
But the Bible commands, “Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine; I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Rom. 12:17-19).
Mr. Weller knew about these verses. We had also discussed Jesus’ words: “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matt. 5:44).
Were these thoughts a challenge to Mr. Weller? Not at first. They were in the Bible, to be sure, and Mr. Weller was a sincere and consistent Bible student. But right at that time these ideas were most unpalatable. To fire his old opponent was a thought that gave him much pleasure. Revenge, vengeance, evil for evil, success, a plush office, money, power–-these had not changed his vengeful heart.
He had nearly forgotten the lean years more than a decade ago. But now they came flooding back, and he had to choose to forgive or retaliate. The decision was up to him. It was his reaction to the past that would tip the balance.
He could not control some of the events of his life. He was the victim of someone’s decision 12 years before, no question of that. Now it appeared he was again a victim, this time of a personnel director’s decision to hire the one who had wronged him. Suddenly, there the man was, and successful, happy Mr. Weller was plunged into the depths of bitterness and hate.
It appears that circumstances and people dictated Mr. WeIler’s problem. But he was the one who did the reacting. His problem was within himself. Would he forgive or get even? It was obvious that the decision to retaliate would not be the key to his peace of mind. Since we know the outcome of his case, we recognize that the key to peace was his receiving from the Lord the power to forgive.
Peacemakers or Flame-Fanners?
Mr. Weller illustrates the struggle men go through to find peace. Bitterness, hatred, and revenge are natural responses to troublesome people and events. But how much better it is to think in terms of making peace, rather than planning someone’s destruction. Christ said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matt. 5:9).
Who would think Mr. Weller weak if he forgave the engineer who had wronged him? To forgive is a mark of maturity. And spiritual maturity brings peace, as the psalmist indicated: “Mark the blameless [mature] man, and observe the upright; for the future of that man is peace” (Ps. 37:37).
Do not avenge yourselves; live peaceably with all men; love, bless, forgive. These words place the responsibility for your decision squarely on your own shoulders. This is the essence of good mental health–-it depends on you. You reap the results of your own decisions, your own reactions.
To get out of the gloomy pit of despair, bitterness, hostility, jealousy, and the accompanying aches, pains, and misery, you must take personal responsibility for your own character, no matter what someone else does–-or did. If a man is miserable, it is his choice. His woe is not the result of his background, or the people around him, or his environment, but of a choice, either deliberate or vague, to continue in the direction that he has been heading.
Mr. Weller could have chosen either to forgive or to seek revenge. His misery or peace was due to his choice, which came from within, just as sickness is within a man. A person may have caught cold because he entered the company of persons who had colds. The reason for his cold can be explained. But since he caught a cold, he must be treated for his own cold, no matter how he got it.
So it is with unhappiness. No matter the origin (and the unhappy person can usually explain how he got that way), it is now his responsibility and his alone to take proper steps to correct the condition that is causing his unhappiness. But it should be mentioned here that understanding alone, without changing one’s course, is a dead-end street.