by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
“Resentment is like swallowing poison, then waiting for the other person to die.” *
We tend to be the most vulnerable with the ones we love the most. With vulnerability comes risk. With risk comes expectation. With failed expectations comes disappointment. With disappointment comes pain. With pain comes a choice. The choice is to hold onto the pain or to let it go. With holding on to the pain comes misery. With letting go comes freedom. With freedom comes peace. With peace comes contentment. With contentment comes joy. The hardest thing to do it seems is to let go of the pain of disappointment of failed expectations. But to choose freedom into contentment, peace, and joy, one must let go. Or we hold on and become resentful and bitter. For me, I have to go of things. To not let go is to choose misery.
14 Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep.16 Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!
17 Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. 18 Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
19 Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge;
I will pay them back,”
says the Lord.
“If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
burning coals of shame on their heads.”
21 Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. Romans 12:14-21 (NLT)
It would be wise to start fresh with an attitude of compassion and mercy. The 8th and 9th steps address the willingness and action of making amends to those we have harmed. Other words for ‘amends’ are compensation, restitution, reparation, and restoration, to name a few. Most of the time the focus is on apologizing. The bottom line to making amends is to make right with the one I am in conflict with. For relationships to be restored requires each party in the relationship coming together in some way, which would involve compassion and mercy. The one harmed needs to be open to amends as well. Let’s now go in depth into what is involved getting into conflict, what conflict does trending toward resentment, and how to navigate through conflict into resolution and restoration.
A back breaker for me is pulling weeds. The weeds that are most difficult are those thorny sticker weeds that, if left to grow for awhile is not only growing taller but is also digging deeper. The root of this weed is thick and strong and seems to be in cement in the ground when trying to pull it out by hand. I put my gloves on and try to secure my hands around the weed at the point where the stem meets the earth. I take hold of the stem with a tight grip; the thorns go right through my gloves and prick my hands; I yank suddenly on the weed and then… SNAP! Some of the root came out, maybe two or three inches into the soil, but the rest of the root is dug in so deep that I can’t get to it without more garden tools to dig it out. You might say that the roots of this ugly, nasty, thorny weed has taken a foothold into my garden where I am hoping to grow plants that are beautiful and admirable, and full of life and promising potential.
Resentment will do that to you and to me when we allow the roots of our anger to dig deep. When the weeds of resentment have been pulled while the roots are left alive in the depths of my mind, and perhaps even digging into my soul, I might not be aware of my resentment since the weeds are not visible and the thorns not always felt. But then something is said or done and suddenly those roots sprout into full grown nasty thorny weeds choking the life out of everything around them. Resentment is ugly and it hurts.
Keep in mind that holidays afford for families the time to redeem the time lost in the hustle and bustle (whatever ‘bustle’ is) of everyday busy-ness. It’s also opportunity for families to get caught up in the anxiety and stress brought on by resentment inside of family relationships. Those who have held on to their angry and holding grudges will bring that into family gatherings. Unforgiveness in families is a cancer. Deeply rooted resentments will spoil a good time. The tension can be so thick that even if strangers were invited to the gathering they’d suspect that something’s not right and perhaps terribly wrong here.
“Don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil. Ephesians 4:26-27 (NLT)
“We will sacrifice anything on the altar of our anger, the rage that is slowly building from a lifetime of thwarted desire—our marriages, our child’s self-esteem, someone’s very life. —John Eldredge, The Journey of Desire
This is a sensitive topic for me to write about since resentment is something I struggle with mightily. As I share, please keep in mind the following passage from Scripture that seems to epitomize the nature of jealousy and resentment that destroys the quality of even the best relationships that lose focus on the higher calling of God:
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. And even when you ask, you don’t get it because your motives are all wrong—you want only what will give you pleasure. James 4:1-3 (NLT)
I recently experienced something with someone very close to me that could have and almost killed the relationship. I was sure that I was in the right on the issues. I still feel that way. He, the person I was in conflict with, made it known to a third party—the same third party that I confide in—his feelings about me and my problem with him. Since I was venting to the same person he was, between us we stuck her in the middle. We both triangled her into the conflict to avoid the confrontation that we both believed would be futile to try to win. Now this third party loves us both very much so you can imagine the position it put her in.
If am to be entirely honest with disclosure here, I must admit that I was not praying concerning this matter that went on for several weeks and had been brewing a lot longer than that. The root of anger and resentment was running so deep inside of me that it was choking out my prayer life altogether. There is no doubt that for several weeks that I was in denial about how bitter I had become even within my soul over something that was hardly life and death. Yet I allowed it to control me.
Finally, the third party came to me and brought the challenge to me about how this thing—this ugly, nasty weed—was severely wounding her relationship with me. The root of my anger and resentment that had evolved into bitterness was choking the life, not only out of one relationship, but two relationships. No matter how I might justify my position regarding the conflict, no matter how “right” I may have been on the issues, my attitude was down right evil. The spiritual adversary that all three of us share was digging in and establishing a foothold deep inside of each of these relationships involved in the conflict. Since I can only speak for me regarding this problem, I can say that this bitter resentment owned me, it was so powerful in me.
Initially, I did not admit responsibility when the third party challenged me. When she said that being trapped in the middle of this problem was my doing, I fought her on it. “HE forced you to choose between us, not me.” This was not going to end any time soon. I had been challenged to seek God on this intensely contested conflict. Then Jesus spoke to my heart. Ultimately, it came down to this. I was miserable. My “opponent” was miserable, and the person we stuck in the middle was miserable.
Speaking into my mind, the Spirit of God communicated this truth: “You have been prepared with the tools for reconciliation and restoration in these relationships.” This is not a curse being that it feels as though I am always the one apologizing. This is a blessing. To have the tools to live out ABC recovery means that A, I ADMIT that I am not in control and powerless to resolve this in my own strength and my feelings of bitter resentment are beyond my ability to experience any real relief; B, I BELIEVE that God is in authority and desiring to empowering me to experience recovery in this matter if I will give surrender to Him what I don’t have control over anyway; and C, I COMMIT to letting it go and turning over to God my will and my life to do with it as He pleases, particularly in this matter.
As I prayed this ABC prayer of recovery from a humble place, God did it. He replaced my resentment, bitter as it was, with His peace for this circumstance and these relationships. Within less than 24 hours, He opened the door to reconcile with both important relationships. There were tears and hugs. It was special. I went from seething in my resentment to experiencing the peace of God that transcends understanding.
Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:5-7 (NIV)
It required surrender from me. I said the words, “I’m sorry” yet again. I relented and conciliated. It felt good to do it. As far as the things that are a problem for me, not much has changed. I can choose to stay angry, even furious, seething with rage on the inside. But by God’s grace I am able to extend grace. It’s actually quite awesome.
You might be reading this and thinking that I am in denial because you don’t think you can do that. You might think that I will continue to be disappointed in these relationships, and that perhaps I will wind up demonstrating dysfunctional passive-aggressive behavior. You might think that I am beyond vulnerable in this position; that I am gullible to believe that I can maintain this ideal of blessing in the midst of ongoing dispute over what is right and fair. Maybe you’re right in this assertion. I just typed this paragraph feeling this doubt even now about sustaining this humble place of grace in my relationships. It is only possible in the Lord’s strength.
21 Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?” 22 “No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
23 “Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. 24 In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. 25 He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt. 26 “But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ 27 Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
28 “But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. 29 “His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. 30 But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
31 “When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. 32 Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. 33 Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ 34 Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
35 “That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Matthew 18:21-35 (NLT)
Uh oh, I had to go there. I don’t particularly like this passage but I appreciate it, respect it, and believe in it. We reap what we sow. If I sow resentment and bitterness, I will reap resentment and bitterness; which is the same thing as unforgiveness. If I sow forgiveness, mercy, grace, and love, I will reap these qualities in my life and will experience blessing from the generosity of my Lord and Savior. What He did at the cross for me I can never repay. What I can offer Him is to love my adversary, even when he or she is someone close to me who I care deeply about. As God offered His Son for me; as Jesus laid down everything He was as God to extend grace to me through His human sacrifice, I then must extend mercy and grace in surrender to Him as a matter of obedience in my recovery. This is worship—period.
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly.” Matthew 5:23-25 (NLT)
Scripture instructs me not even to approach the altar of God as long as I am holding onto resentment, unwilling to forgive as He forgave. Scripture instructs me to leave my offering behind until I reconcile. Jesus offered the same instruction as Paul did to settle differences quickly. Why? Because it is my selfish sin nature to hold onto my anger and repress it until the root of my anger grows deep into resentment and bitterness. Another means to getting to this dark place is through jealousy and selfish ambition.
For wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. James 3:16 (NLT)
Out of a heart of jealousy, the brother of the forgiven prodigal son refused to forgive. He no longer even held his brother responsible for his negative behavior, he held his gracious father responsible for being generous to the other son that he loved, who was lost and dead, and now was found. This jealous brother would not attend the celebration for his brother having returned home. Jesus concluded the story talking about the older son.
“Meanwhile, the older son was in the fields working. When he returned home, he heard music and dancing in the house, and he asked one of the servants what was going on. ‘Your brother is back,’ he was told, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf. We are celebrating because of his safe return.’ The older brother was angry and wouldn’t go in. His father came out and begged him, but he replied, ‘All these years I’ve slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ His father said to him, ‘Look, dear son, you have always stayed by me, and everything I have is yours. We had to celebrate this happy day. For your brother was dead and has come back to life! He was lost, but now he is found!’” Luke 15:25-32 (NLT)
You would think that the older brother would be touched and perhaps overcome by the loving generosity of his father. Instead his focus was on his brother; the brother he had grown to despise. The older brother’s jealousy and resentment was off the charts. He wanted his brother to pay back to his father everything he had squandered on women and parties. Little brother needed to pay. Big brother would have nothing to do with his brother or father and would not join in the celebration. Instead he seethed with resentment toward both his younger brother and his father at the expense of the quality of those beloved relationships. There are more stories about resentment and revenge if you care to look them up (Cane and Abel, Amnon and Absolem—brothers killing brothers).
Paul wrote that when anger becomes resentment, it invites into the mess the presence of an oppressive evil spirit. James wrote about jealousy and selfish ambition resulting in disorder (chaos) and evil of every kind. And Jesus told the story of one brother hating another brother because of jealousy and resentment. Men and women that love God will be wrecked by selfish jealousy and resentment; a condition that is inherently evil. Like Paul, I will admit that the merciless resentment in my heart was painful to me like a thorn in my flesh. After I pull those thorny weeds, I will often feel prickly darts of pain in the areas where I was poked by thorns. I might be removing a thorn or two days after pulling those weeds. The pain from the thorn in my flesh seems to get under my skin and can be sharp and profound and quite distracting to anything else I am hoping to accomplish.
“I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me.” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9 (NLT)
The empowering work of God in me is the difference between staying miserable in an uncompromising stalemate between me and people I love, and experiencing freedom by the grace of God to extend mercy regardless of fault or responsibility in the midst of the argument. To the world and in the flesh, this is unreasonable and not altogether sensible. But in relationship with Jesus Christ, my Authority as Savior, King, and Lord, in comparison to His sacrifice for me from a heart of love and generosity, not only is this reasonable and sensible, it is cathartic and liberating. I am compelled to extend mercy and blessing as I surrender my rebellious thoughts captive under the standard of God’s grace and love.
We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NLT)
In the story above from Matthew 18 about the king and his servants, we find that the king forgave the debt of the servant who owed him millions of dollars. What is odd about that story is that the king would allow a servant to go that deep into debt. Servants would never get their hands on that kind of money. What that story is telling us is the premium price of the sacrifice of God’s only Son as He died blameless for you and for me. What would millions of dollars more than two thousand years ago be worth today? Billions, maybe trillions of dollars? For me to not in turn forgive as an extension of the mercy He has shown me would appear unforgivable. As the story was told by Jesus, the servant who was owed a pittance compared to his own debt to the king, would not forgive the man his debt. The king then ordered for the unforgiving servant to repay the entire debt.
The lesson is obvious, isn’t it? To hold onto jealousy and resentment—to stay angry at the expense of quality of relationship comes at a severe cost. If forgiving me cost Christ everything, what does it cost me to not forgive again and again and again and again and again and again and again and… at least seventy more times that.
Resentment is such a burden. Let it go to the One that came to take the burden from you.
Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)
It is all for my benefit. What I choose to do does not change who God is. He does not become more or less as God because of what I do or don’t do. It changes who I am. As I am obedient to forgive indefinitely, I am blessed indefinitely by the boundless grace of the One who radically changed my heart by the renewing of my mind. After what Jesus sacrificed for me through His death, and as He was resurrected and is alive to extend grace to me daily, it is my responsibility and privilege to respond by living sacrificially in honor of this amazing gift. It is in this obedient sacrifice that the weeds of resentment are dug up from under the root and purged from my being. This is the miracle of mercy. This is love shining in its radiance.
For it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Philippians 2:13 (NIV)
*Variations of the quote, “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die” have been attributed to Buddha, Nelson Mandela, Debbie Ford, and Malachy McCourt; Nelson Mandela did say in the early 1990s, “Resentment is like swallowing poison and and hoping it will kill your enemies.”