Real Help for Real Living: Get the bird out of your head

by Rev. Tony Marciano

Recently, a special friend handed me an audio book entitled “Unbroken.” Over the next few days, God would use that book to get the “bird out of my head.” But first, let me set the context.

You and I will always have jerks in our life, people who will hurt us without any sense of guilt or need for fair game. Resentments develop when we want justice by inflicting pain back on the perpetrator.

Ultimately, we let someone live rent-fee in our head. A definition of forgiveness I borrowed from Dr. Archibald Hart says, “Forgiveness is giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.”

“Unbroken” is the story of the famous Olympic star Louis Zamperini. He served in the South Pacific during World War II on a B-24 airplane. After his plane went down in the ocean, he survived on a raft for 47 days (the record for raft survival was 24 days held by Eddie Rickenbacker during World War I).

After surviving, Louis was captured by the Japanese and became a prisoner of war for the next two years. At one camp, he was tortured daily by a camp leader (better known as “The Bird”) who decided Louis would be his No. 1 prisoner out of 600. He made an example out of him and beat him unmercifully each and every day.

At the end of the war, Louis returned home to southern California. While the war was officially over, in his mind, he was still a prisoner. “The Bird” tormented him in his sleep, giving him nightmares. He began to drink. He devised a plan to return to Japan and kill “The Bird.”

In September 1949, a young evangelist set up a huge tent in Los Angeles. What was to be a three-week crusade by Billy Graham was extended. Louis’ wife, Cynthia, heard Billy preach and had a “religious awakening,” begging Louis to go hear Billy.

He wanted nothing to do with religion, but after much prodding, Louis relented and went. The second time he heard Billy speak was life changing. Louis saw the evil in his heart. He didn’t walk out the back door as he did the first night. He went forward and became a Christian. The nightmares stopped. “The Bird” no longer lived in his head. The war was finally over for Louis Zamperini.

The next day he read the Bible that was shipped back to his family when he was reported dead.

Let me quote from “Unbroken.”

“Louis felt a profound peace. When he thought of his history, what nauseated him was not all he had suffered, but the divine love he believed intervened to save him. He realized he was not the worthless, broken, forsaken man “The Bird” attempted to make of him. In a single moment, his rage, his fear, his humiliation and helplessness had fallen away. He believed he was a new creation.”

A short time later, he did return to Japan and met with those who were his guards. He forgave them. He also wondered what he would do if he ever met “The Bird.” Would he lose this new peace and serenity he had found? But, didn’t get a chance to find out, at least then, as he was told “The Bird” had committed suicide.

But then, in the 1990s, Louis learned “The Bird” was alive. Plans were made for the two of them to meet. He wrote “The Bird” a letter stating he had listened to Billy Graham preach and had become a Christian. He forgave him and hoped that he, too, would become a Christian.

“The Bird” refused to meet with Louis.

Prior to World War II, Louis was destined to be the first man to break the four-minute mile. War injuries prevented that from occurring. Yet he believed that everything happened for a reason.

My battles do not compare to Louis’ struggles, yet his peace was real. Was a different bird living in my head?

I had forgiven my “guards” but continued to scratch the scab. The wound never healed. I finally stopped scratching, remembering the Scripture verse, “Man meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”

Perhaps I am not to understand why the chain of events of my life have taken the course they did. Like Louis, I just need to realize that in everything, God is always in control. q

Rev. Tony Marciano is the executive director of the Charlotte Rescue Mission and a regular South Charlotte Weekly columnist. He is available to speak to your group. Call 704-334-4635, ext. 213, to schedule him.

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