Forgiveness and Resentments

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I have a notoriously bad memory. I can’t remember anything. Which is funny because at least half of Megan’s and my conversations involve reminiscing. and I really love them because for me it’s like storytime! Megan tell me great stories about when the kids were little, or things we did in New York and she assures me that I was there! And I’m sure I was. But I sure can’t remember. At least not the details.

I do however have perfect recall of every time I’ve been hurt! And especially for every time someone hurt or was less than kind and considerate to someone in my family. There are 12-14 year olds in Ohio who I would probably recognize right now because they wouldn’t share with Mac or Andrew 10 years ago. They’re still on my list and they’d better watch their backs. No, not really. I forgive all of them, if they even did anything wrong.

It’s just funny how memories work. At least how mine works, or doesn’t. Beautiful perfect days all fade into each other and eventually away. But anything unpleasant? 4K HD resolution forever.
Our memories are like that with resentments.

Our memories are like that with resentments.

 When we experience a strong emotion, like fear or rejection or anger, it leaves a profound mark in our memories, and sometimes they can become all consuming. 
We’ve all met people who seem stuck in a story. I think of a woman in her nineties named Jenny, who told the story over and over for 50 years of a time her sister would not give her the dollar she needed for a pair of shoes.
Or maybe it’s the story of the time we didn’t make the team, or got dumped or fired, that fades in when everything else fades out. Or maybe it’s something far more serious and life-changing. We all have something that, when it comes up, it’s all we can focus on. That’s resentment.

Re·Sent(i)ment

If you look closely at the word, you can see it’s meaning “re-sentiment”—”sentiment” meaning “feeling” and “re” meaning “again.” So, resentment is literally “feeling again.” This gets to the heart of resentment: recycling old negative feelings or revisiting old wrongs done to us by others.
Anything can become a resentment if it’s dwelled on enough. I think about the man who was sponsoring another man in AA, helping him make a list of his resentments for the first time, and he really got into it.
He ended up with a list with over 900 names on it. It was pages and pages of names. He had his mom on there about twelve times, and many other people were listed on multiple pages. The sponsor asked him, “How many Dianes do you know?” Together, they were able to boil his list down to a much more manageable – though still somewhat unwieldy – two hundred and fifty resentments.
At one point, while looking at his section on institutions, the sponsor asked him, “It says here that you resent ‘communism.’ Is that true? Do you really have a resentment toward communism?” He replied, “I guess not.” And so they crossed it off the list. Then he asked him, “What about ‘capitalism?’ Is that a big red-button topic for you?” He again said no and they crossed it off the list too.
Finally, the sponsor asked, “What about ‘Subaru?’ It says here that you resent ‘Subaru.’ Do you really resent ‘Subaru?’” He looked at him with fire in his eyes and responded, “Big time!” Subaru stayed on the list, and they went on from there.
Resentment is mentally replaying an offending incident countless times each day. It’s as if each of them is captured on video in our minds. As we replay them, real wrongs grow worse, and wrongs that might have only been a misunderstanding assume a life of their own.
And sometimes, it’s not even stories or individual memories but just a vague and pervasive feeling of anger, or guilt, or shame. Of nothing being good enough. Of people being against you. Of finding fault everywhere you look. And it can build from there into racism, classism, and every kind of xenophobia, and paranoia.
Resentment starts with a feeling that got bottled up. 

All of our readings this week are at least in part about resentment (See the end of this post for a complete list of the readings.)
The reading for Monday is the story of the time when the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery to Jesus. It says in John 7 that they brought this woman to Jesus to try and trap him into being too harsh or too forgiving. They resented Jesus’ free and confident relationship with God, and wanted to damage it and his reputation. All fruits of resentment.
Resentment is any feeling that gets bottled up.
So why does any feeling get bottled up? 
Because the one feeling it is afraid that s/he isn’t good enough, isn’t loved, isn’t worthy. But they are too angry and ashamed to talk about it.
I’m no expert on the psychology of ancient middle eastern Pharisees, but that seems like a pretty good explanation for why they would drag a poor woman in front of Jesus in order to trap him. Because they didn’t feel like they were good enough unless someone else looked bad.
The reading for Tuesday is the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant. It’s a story about man who was forgiven by his master for losing more money than he could make in three lifetimes. He could have been tortured and killed, but instead, he was completely forgiven. But then afterward, he sees a man who owes him a couple hundred dollars, and he grabs him by the throat and threatens him with prison.
He doesn’t get the fact that being forgiven is supposed to make you more forgiving. He is still trapped in his resentments about money. Those feeling are still completely bottled up.
This story Jesus tells us is meant to be ridiculous. Of course no one would act like that! Being forgiven like that would uncork anyone’s resentments.
And that’s absolutely how it is meant to work for us. The big reason that our feelings stay bottled up is that we’re not sure what it means for us to have them. Does it mean that we’re not good enough? That we should feel guilty?
But then forgiveness comes on the cross and overwhelms us that we are forgiven. That we are loved. That we are worthy. That when God looks at us, He loves what he sees.
And if that’s true about us, then maybe the same thing is true about everyone else.
God’s forgiveness and love for us is a fact. When God looks at us, he loves what he sees. There is nothing we can do to make God love us more, and there’s nothing we can do to make God love us less. That’s the foundation of our teaching from Jesus today.
Luke 6:37-42 NRSV
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
This isn’t a tip advising us to surround ourselves with people who won’t judge us if we won’t judge them. This is Jesus showing us what life can be like when we live as forgiven people. Forgiveness frees us from the resentments that make us WANT to judge and condemn others.
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, puts it like this:
So to live a “forgiven” life is not simply to live in a happy consciousness of having been absolved. Forgiveness is precisely the deep and abiding sense of what relation—with God or with other human beings—can and should be; and so it is itself a stimulus, an irritant, necessarily provoking [us to forgive].
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
The measure you give will be the measure you get back. I love that Jesus is willing to frame things sometimes so that we can see what’s in it for us. This isn’t the primary reason that we should forgive, but it is a perk. When we forgive generously, our lives get better.
He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?
And not only do our lives get better, but others’ lives get better too. Just like how a blind person can’t lead a blind person, someone who has never been forgiven can’t show another person who has never been forgiven how to forgive. That’s what we’re here for. As those who have been forgiven, we have to be the ones to go show others how to do it.
A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher.
That is, we will become just as forgiving as Jesus. Which means that we will develop his habit of ignoring that certain kinds of people are supposed to be better than other kinds of people, and spending too much time with the wrong kinds of people.
Later in Luke, Jesus sees that he is gaining a bad reputation among his detractors as “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Luke 7:34) He accepted sinners’ banquet invitations all the time.
There is seemingly no length to which Jesus, or the God who sent him, will not go to “welcome sinners” (Luke 15:2) and show solidarity with them. Jesus defied social convention and offended religious sensibilities at every turn. His forgiveness forced him to place himself in the company of those whom respectable people resented.
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye?
You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
Notice the repetition here. Jesus says all of this three times in a row. Three times he says, “Get the log out of your own eye.” And three times, he says, “Help your neighbor remove the speck from his own eye.”
Do you see that? We often get caught at the “You hypocrite” line and fail to notice that Jesus still wants us to help our neighbor get rid of the thing that is hurting him.
And Jesus wants us to do it in a particular way. Jesus wants us to be able to say to other people, “I was more screwed up than you are. I had a LOG in my eye! You only have a speck. But even so, a speck can hurt you. Let me help you.”
This also shows us how to help people with their resentments. We need to talk about our own, and how talking about them helped us move on from them.

We should forgive for the sake of others.

We should forgive for the sake of others. God does not love us and forgive us because we repent; rather we repent because God loves us and forgives us.
The cross teaches us that forgiveness is the task of the victim even more than the offender. When we are wronged, we want the offender to make the first move. But, on the cross, it’s the victim who takes the initiative to restore the relationship.
But, the victim doesn’t pretend that s/he wasn’t wronged. On the cross, Jesus wasn’t whistling and pretending it was fine. Just like Jesus publicly displayed his wounds, so should we. We don’t say, “I don’t even remember. It’s nothing.” We say, “I had a log in my eye and you helped put it there.” “I want you to know that you hurt me AND it wasn’t okay, AND that I forgive you, and I’m not going to bring it up again.” (It’s not really forgiveness if you remind the person every week of the details of thing you “forgave” them for. That’s just baptized resentment.)

Recap

1. Resentment is any feeling that gets bottled up.
But why does any feeling get bottled up?
2. Because the one feeling it is afraid that s/he isn’t good enough, isn’t loved, isn’t worthy. Too angry and ashamed to talk about it.
So how does resentment get uncorked?
3. Forgiveness. Knowing that you are forgiven. That you are loved. That you are worthy. That when God looks at you, He loves what he sees.
4. Then you can express those feelings and see them for what they are. Feelings. Nothing that’s true about you.  Because all things that  were afraid was true about you, is also untrue about everyone else. Everyone is loved. Everyone is worthy. Everyone is forgiven.
That’s why it’s so important to talk, and to get people talking. Parents, the more that you can get your kids talking about their feelings without judging them, the better off they’ll be. And they’ll be able to see themselves as forgiven, and forgive others.

So what can you do about your resentments?

First, you can write them down. 
Note the person you resent, the action that offended you, and how it has affected your life. Resentments “seem huge and powerful when they’re in your head, but once they’re down on paper they often no longer seem so huge or powerful. In fact, the same resentments that seemed completely reasonable and justified—and powerful—while they were in your head, might just look downright stupid on paper. And that’s a great thing to see.
Second, be willing to live without resentment.
People can get a strange satisfaction in feeding their resentments. It’s like scratching an itch. Many times the only thing that keeps us from being free of resentments is the fear of being without them.
Third, just like Megan said last week, pray for the ones you resent.
If you have resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or thing that you resent, you will be free. Ask for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, even when you don’t really want it for them and your prayers are only words and you don’t mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it everyday for two weeks, and then another two weeks after that, until find you have come to mean it and to want it for them, and where you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassion, understanding and love.
We are forgiven. Not because of anything we did. Not because we got it right, or passed the test. But because God loves us and sent Jesus to die for us. We are, all of us, simultaneously, saints and sinners. And we’ll never be more or less than that. We are forgiven, and because of that beautiful truth, we forgive and even love, everyone.

About the Author

David Collins is the co-pastor of Maitland Presbyterian Church near Orlando, FL. Find him on Twitter @davidrcollins


More Readings on Forgiveness and Resentment

  • Luke 37-42, Mark 4:24-25, Matthew 7:1-5
  • John 7:53-8:11
  • Matthew 18:23-35
  • Matthew 9:1-8, Mark 2:1-12, Luke 5:17-26
  •  Matthew 9:14-17, Mark 2:18;22, Luke 5:33-39
  •  Matthew 12:9-14, Mark 3:1-6, Luke 6:6-11

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