How to Take a Hurt (Bitter Root) to Jesus

Bobby G. Bodenhamer, D.Min.   Edited by L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.

A Story

Samuel came to me for help. Two years prior to this he had broken things off with his girlfriend that he had dated for five years. She had even wore his engagement ring and without question, Samuel loved her dearly. What brought him into my office that day? The day before, he learned of her engagement to another man. And that triggered a flood of grief that rolled in over his soul. He became so distraught, in fact, that he had to leave work.

After questioning and some therapy, underneath those surface issues Samuel's real grief came out. Namely, he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and then, against his objections, she aborted the baby. Samuel had gone with her to support her during the procedure. But now his grief felt overwhelming.

I asked Samuel, "What do you do inside your head to feel this grief and guilt from the abortion?" Then, through questioning, we discovered that he made a picture of himself and his girlfriend in the abortion room. He saw this disliked image as if very close and down to his right.

Now I knew that Samuel deeply loved and respected Jesus, so I asked Samuel to get an image of Jesus that represented Him in all of His love, forgiveness and acceptance. As he did, he saw Jesus on the screen of his mind as if straight up and in front of him. This big, bright clear picture of Jesus loomed before him--obviously an important value in his life. I then directed Samuel to point toward that image of Jesus with one of his fingers. He pointed to Jesus with his right index finger. As he did I then directed him to point his left index finger toward the image of him and his girlfriend in the abortion room. Though he didn't know why I wanted him to do this, Samuel did it.

After establishing the location of each of these images and pointing to them with his index fingers, I next directed Samuel to continue to hold his head in the same position that he held it when he made that internal picture of Jesus. The next step involved asking him to "move' his image of him and his girlfriend by just using just his eyes. "Just mentally take that image over there of you and her, which your left hand points to, and move it here where you see Jesus and give that old disliked and painful image of that younger you and her to Jesus." In doing this, Samuel shifted his internal image that made up his memory about his younger self and his girlfriend. He shifted it so that he now saw it in the exact same position as the image he had of Jesus.

Now while Samuel made this shift, I said, "Jesus loves you, Samuel. He desires more than anything else to forgive you and receive you unto Himself, both you and your girlfriend. So allow yourself to begin to let that old image of you and your girlfriend take the exact form as the image you have of Jesus . . . so that you see it at the same distance, in the same location, with the same amount of brightness and focus, with the same amount of color... And as you give your thoughts, these memories, and how you represent them to Jesus as you give yourself to Jesus, you can begin to forgive yourself fully, can't you?" As Samuel followed the words and made the internal shifts, I could see noticeable changes occur in his breathing and in his face.

Then, I directed Samuel to welcome an image of his baby into his mind.... Immediately, Samuel got this image and as he did, he began to cry. Validating his grief, I asked him to in like manner, point to your internal location of the baby. He located the baby in his mind down low and to his right.

I then asked Samuel to move his finger as he shifted the image of his aborted child into the presence of Jesus. As he did this, I encouraged him with the words, "Jesus says, 'Suffer little children to come unto me for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven.' And now you can give your baby to Jesus as you put him in the same location, distance, brightness, focus and color of you have of your internal representations of Jesus, can't you?"

As Samuel moved the image of his aborted child into the presence of Christ he sobbed heavily. While he experienced the healing power of the Holy Spirit, I remained quiet to allow God to do his mighty work of healing in Samuel.

After awhile, Samuel became more quiet and so I asked, "Now, where do you see your baby?" Immediately, Samuel eyes looked straight up. He pointed toward the location where previously he had located his representations of Jesus. He said, "I see him with Jesus." And sure enough, Samuel had the glow of God on his face.

Just How Does a Person "Put the Past Behind"?

  How long this all of this therapy take? Two hours. More recently, I received a thank you note from Samuel informing me that he feels so much better and has finally gotten on with his life in a healthy and godly way. Nor does this represent an exceptional case. With Christian after Christian, I have seen the joy of bringing good resolution to old hurts and clung to resentments.

For twenty years as a minister, I would encourage hurting people to "Give your hurts to Jesus." To that invitation, many would ask, "Preacher Bob, I don't know how. I want to. I just don't know how." And true enough, they really did not know how.

At that time I would answer them with a catch-all kind of response, "Just do it by faith." And while that sounded good at one level, at another I knew that it really did not provide anybody a step-by-step procedure for how to do it. Now, thanks to the knowledge I have obtained from Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), I now know how to direct them to both literally and actually "give their hurts to Jesus."

The scripture that molds my thinking on that arises from the book of Hebrews. There the writer warned:

"See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many." (12:15).

What comprises these "bitter roots?" They consist of traumatic experiences of pain, distress, disappointment, guilt, etc. That starts the seed of bitterness growing. And without a good resolution to that trauma, once afflicted, the bitter memories and how we represent those memories in our minds-and-bodies can keep a person continually torn up with that pain as much as if the person continued to go through that experience. And so it grows like a poisonous root. And as it does it makes toxic and bitter more and more facets of the person's life

Samuel's guilt and grief arose from a very bitter root that had long driven his behavior. Grief, guilt, bitterness, low self-esteem, co-dependency, sexual compulsions, eating disorders, etc., indicate bitter roots at work in people's lives. These pains almost always hark back to some specific event, interaction, or hurt and then continue to grow and take on a life of their own by the way we internally represent them ("as a man thinks in his heart...." so he increasingly becomes!).

Yes, a person can love Jesus and live as a devout Christian and still have bitter roots of hurt and ugliness continue to control one's emotions, states, and behaviors. For that very reason, the Hebrew writer wrote that we "see to it" that we don't miss out on the grace of God due to some poisoning, toxifying bitter root. These bitter roots, for the most part, work unconsciously within us and so often require therapeutic assistance in uncovering and resolving them. But, once uncovered, the procedure I used with Samuel, and described below, will work miracles in the life of hurting Christians. I encourage you therefore to read the following carefully. Read it several times using yourself as the experimental subject. In it you will learn how to "take a bitter root to Jesus" so that no bitter root will block your full experience of God's grace.

How the Brain Codes Memories

We often hear people use metaphorical phrases as the following: "I feel pretty dull today?" "I hear you loud and clear." We all use such metaphorical sayings. Until the discoveries of NLP, we considered them as "just metaphors," and didn't give them any importance other than the beauty of expression. However, NLP suggests that we take such as literal descriptions of the speaker's internal representations (images) for how that person codes reality. In other words, what we say may indicate what the brain represents literally. And in NLP, we consider mental codings as the most basic component of brain functioning in the same way the Bible asserts that "as we think" so we become (Proverbs 23:7).

In human brains, we process information in three primary ways: through pictures, sounds, and feelings. In other words, the modes of awareness by which God has enabled us to see, hear and feel the world also function as our internal modes for "mapping out" or representing that world. So when the Bible speaks about "the eyes of our heart" (Eph. 1:18) it speaks about our internal vision. And from the field of the neuro-sciences, we now know that our Creator has built us with a visual cortex for processing sights, images, pictures, etc. on the inside, an auditory cortex for processing internal sounds, tones, voices, noise, etc., and a motor cortex for processing internal sensations, feelings, or kinesthetics.

We use these sensory specific modes (seeing, hearing, feeling) to "re-present" to ourselves the facts of the world, hence our "representational systems." We also use words as a way of "thinking" and representing, although words operate at a higher or meta-level of processing information above ("meta") the sensory levels.

When the brain received information through the eyes, it records it in what we experience as internal pictures. When the brain receives information through the ears, the brain record it as sounds and when it receives it kinesthetically (in sensations) it gets stored as a feeling. This information then shows up as our sensory representations and describes the components of our "thoughts." To provide you some hands-on experience with this understanding, do the following.

1) What do you find "pleasant?" Recall a pleasant experience you have had. You do have a picture of it, don't you? Good, now check for the following qualities or properties of your visual picture and write them down:

You have now accessed and identified facets of your visual images that, for the most part, remain unconscious. It describes your internal coding of information--how you represent things to yourself. Excellent. Now for step two.

2) Next, what do you think of as an unpleasant memory? As you allow an image of an unpleasant memory to come to mind, you can again, note the visual components that make it up, and write down the mental codings of that memory. Go through the same list as above.

3) Once you have done that, then notice the distinctions between how you mentally code the pleasant and the unpleasant memories. You will find differences. How your brain codes those differences creates the difference that you feel and recognize.

4) The next step involves shifting your unpleasant memory so that it takes on the same location as your pleasant memory. As you shift the unpleasant memory to the same location as the pleasant memory, allow all of the other mental codings of the unpleasant memory (size, brightness, closeness, etc.) to become similar to your pleasant memory. In other words, you will signal your brain (so to speak) to represent the unpleasant memory with how you represent the pleasant memory. Once you have done that, take a moment and experience it fully... Even though the content of the unpleasant memory remains the same, I think that you will notice that your feelings about that memory becoming, strangely, more pleasant, do you not? How can that occur?

It occurs because the human brain determines the parameters of our experiences by these mental codings and most importantly by the higher word meanings we give those codings. In moving the content of the unpleasant memory into the codings that you code something that you have placed the meaning to as being pleasant, you "activate" the higher level meaning of pleasant. Now, if you choose to not to make that unpleasant memory mean pleasant, your brain will automatically switch it back into the codings of an  unpleasant memory. 

The word meaning determines the codings and not vice versa. When you give an image that you have placed the meaning to of hurt, guilt, anger, etc. into the codings of an image that you have given the meanings of our Lord to like love, forgiveness, total acceptance, etc then that old bitter root will change to the meaning you have given to the codings of your image of Jesus. You have activated a higher level frame of reference or image that has the higher meanings of Jesus. And, it will stay that way if you are ready to let the hurt go.

As our brain codes and represents experiences, it generates emotions and beliefs. Regardless of your theological persuasion, this suggests that we should literally interpret Proverbs 23:7a, "For as he thinks within himself, so he is." In this passage the proverbial writer expressed a universal truth about how human brains process information (memories, beliefs, etc.). And, these mental codings with the higher level word meanings, in turn, determine our behavior.

In understanding this model, let's review the difference between two basic levels of thought. The first level we call the level of the Primary State. The Primary States of consciousness define those everyday states of consciousness wherein we experience thought-and-feelings "about" something in the world "beyond" or "outside" our nervous system. In these states our thoughts relate to things "out there" and our bodies experience the primary emotions like fear-anger, relaxation-tension, glad-mad, attraction-aversion, etc.

The second level of thought refers to those abstract states of thought that Michael calls Meta-states. Meta-states of consciousness define those thoughts about thoughts, feelings about feelings and states about states. Here our thoughts-and-emotions relate to and "about" the world "inside" ourselves. We can hate our hatred and minimize and/or eliminate our hatred. We can bring faith to bear on fear and eliminate fear. Thus, as Gregory Bateson has said, higher level thoughts modulate lower level thoughts (Steps to an Ecology of Mind). By the process of Meta-stating ourselves, that is, bringing one thought to bear on another thought, we can increase a state as fearing our fear, minimize a state or even eliminate a state. When we really get tired of hating someone or something and then start hating our hatred, we may hate our old hatred right out of existence. What happens when you bring forgiveness to bear on your bitterness? What happens when you bring forgiveness to bear on your guilt? What happens when you bring appreciation to bear on frustration? Anger? Guilt? Sadness? Try it, you might like it.

Now, when we take an old image of hurt, bitterness, pain, etc to Jesus, we move that old image from some lower level to a much higher level namely, Jesus. You can bring Jesus to bear on the problem or you can move the image "up" to Jesus. Either way, you are activating a higher level frame that eliminates the bitter root. And, always, higher levels modulate or change lower levels. And, Jesus sure does change lower level hurts, doesn't He?  He lives in your mind and heart at a much higher level than those old hurts from years ago. And, by moving that image of hurt into the codings of Jesus, you activate that higher level meaning you have given to Jesus and he "evaporates" away the hurt for "Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world."

You have just experienced a brief course on the art of "running your own brain"--that bio-computer between your ears that creates your subjective realities. When people program mechanical computers, they have to know the "programming language." Well, the programming language that God built into the human brain ingenuously uses the sensory system of the senses that he built into the body and the transcendental system he built into the mind--words. How true indeed that he has marvelously and wonderfully made us (Psalm 139:14). And those higher level word meanings we have given to Jesus will evaporate any bitter root for He is GREATER!

Taking a Bitter Root to Jesus

All of our negative memories come coded in some unique mental codings of each person. Christians who have "Jesus" (their images, understandings, representations of Jesus) coded in their minds have their own unique system of making that internal representation.

1) First, take one of your fingers (or if you use this to assist someone else to make these transformations of the heart, they have them take one of their fingers) and point to where you see yourself (and/or someone else) in the painful memory or "bitter root." You will point to that memory and identify its location. Now, point with the other hand at the location of Jesus.

2) Next, only move your eyes, but not your head, so that you move the image of the hurt or the "bitter root" so that it shifts to the same location that you have of Jesus. As you do this, move your hand as you make this shift. As you move the image of the hurt into the same location of Jesus, turn the image of the hurt into the same codings that you have for Jesus. As you do, say something like this to yourself, "Now, as I give this person to Jesus, I will notice how Jesus receives that person unto Himself fully and completely. And I allow that person in my mind to begin to look just like Jesus in terms of having the same location, brightness, color, etc."

De-Briefing The Process

I regularly observe people undergo tremendous spiritual changes through this process. People have said such things as: "That five year old girl (or boy) in me just got saved." Or, "I have been trying for years to give that person to the Lord. Now, I have done it." This neurological procedure allows a client to give their "bitter roots" to Jesus. When a Christian makes this transition--hatred and bitterness disappear. How can one hold bitterness and hatred when they see the formerly hated person with Jesus? God has blessed this procedure magnificently. How joyous to observe people once they have given old "bitter roots" to Jesus!

Several factors take place in this procedure. First, you utilize the healing power of the Holy Spirit, i.e., Jesus indwelling the Christian. Second, the truth of the Word of God, and the individual Christian's belief in that Word, become actualized as you quote pertinent passages that direct yourself or another to give the "bitter root" to Jesus. The techniques of NLP simply provide the conduits for the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

Third, you utilize not only your belief in the Lord, but also all the resources gathered from having lived a life of faith. Often I have clients share with me how the Holy Spirit will bring to their memory specific spiritual experiences or passages of scripture during this procedure.

Fourth, you cooperate with God's creative process as you work with the neurological processes of the human mind in directing yourself to change the mental codings and word meanings of the "bitter root" into the mental codings of Jesus and higher level word meanings you have about Jesus.

Fifth, by placing the content of a bitter root image into the image of Jesus/God, one is meta-stating the lower image of the hurt with the higher frame of the image of Jesus/God. The more powerful (meta-level) structure of the image of Jesus/God will modulate/change/over power the image of the hurt.  A person who holds faith in the Lord Jesus cannot hold any kind of a bitter root in His presence.  The Lord will win every time.

1997-2002  Bobby G. Bodenhamer, D.Min.  Edited by L. Michael Hall, Ph.D. All rights reserved.