Do you think it is possible to carry deep resentments and not be aware of the power they hold over you? One woman learned the power of suppressed resentment fifteen years after a tragic accident. The woman is currently living in California but was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (our home town).
Fifteen years ago, she had stopped to assist a couple of motorists and was violently struck by a drunk driver. For a year after the accident, she was unable to walk without assistance. But it took her fifteen years to come to terms with the anger that she held and the hold it had on her.
Shortly after the accident, the drunk driver wrote her a letter but she refused to open it. She wouldn’t do anything to validate this man’s existence. Then, many years later, something happened that led her to find the letter and open it. She was writing a book on forgiveness based on an Amish family and she learned of the Nickel Mine murders at an Amish School house in Lancaster. The gunman, Charles Roberts IV shot ten girls (aged 6–13), killing five, before committing suicide.
As the story unfolded, the woman was unable to continue to write her book. The horrific nature of the crime and the response of the Amish community led her to look more deeply at her own loss. She was so profoundly moved by the love the Amish showed toward the Roberts family (the family of the murderer). Their love and forgiveness forced her to face a flood of pent up emotions. Her anger toward the drunk driver who changed her life had never been completely resolved. She knew she had to come to terms with the power he held over her and the resentment that consumed her soul.
To validate her anger, she spent many years denying the existence of this man. But through watching the response of the Amish community to the Roberts family, she recognized her need to humanize the man who profoundly altered her life and acknowledge the possibility that he had struggles of his own. She retrieved his unopened letter from a file and read it. The information she learned about the man helped her release years of suppressed anger.
When asked what changes she experienced with forgiveness, after a brief pause, she spoke of her freedom from a gravitational pull toward a cynical and sarcastic outlook on life. This is a common shield people use to hide their deep hurts and anger. Cynical and sarcastic people often use these responses to shield themselves from painful experiences.
After she finished her novel on forgiveness, in an amazing demonstration of freedom from bitterness, she dedicated the book to the drunk driver.
Questions to consider:
- Do you carry unresolved resentments?
- Who do you resent? Any names come to mind?
- What do you resent? Circumstances: past or present?
Finish these sentences:
- I really resent the fact that ______________________
- I struggle with resentment toward ______________________
1) circumstances 2) people 3) God
Resentment is an emotion that has the power to enslave us to the past. When we resent people, we give them a kind of power over us. Resentment, as an emotion, is based on a way of thinking that implies that I have been treated wrongly or that I deserve better. (I’ve been wronged; I deserve better.) It flows from an entitlement mentality and feeds a victim mentality.
Are you familiar with this cycle: Expectations→ Disappointment→ Anger → Resentment
“I guess I will never or always…” (missed opportunity/unalterable circumstances)
Question: How can we be free of resentment, anger and an unforgiving spirit?
We must not gloss over the urgent warning from our Lord in Matthew 6:14-15 “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.”
The spiritual consequences of withholding forgiveness are significant. In fact, this may be one of the primary reasons why many followers of Christ are not experiencing the joy and fulness of life in Christ. A little root of bitterness is personally troubling and poisonously infectious. When we’ve been hurt we become vulnerable to anger and angry people are vulnerable to bitterness. Anger gains full hold when it turns into bitterness and bitter people are difficult to help. God pictured anger as a vicious animal looking to pounce its’ prey (Genesis 4:6-7). We must deal with our anger before it becomes bitterness (see: Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:26-27). When bitterness is a fully entrenched condition of the heart, it is more difficult to dislodge. Bitterness for many people has become a form of idolatry that rules their hearts in place of God. To gain freedom, we must see bitterness as a protective mechanism used to guard our cherished resentments and we must confess it as idolatry.
A bad attitude toward God?
Sometimes the resentments we hold have a subtle line directed at God. After all, God could have changed things but evidently chose not to! But those who stay connected to the Christian community typically conceal their attitude toward God behind a veneer of expected Christian gregariousness. I encounter this often when I travel and teach on forgiveness themes. I am usually approached with general questions about “why God would allow…?” Then, as I probe, I find out that the issue is more personal. We must not take lightly the dangers of allowing our hearts to become resentful toward God. The father in the book of Proverbs warned his son about the danger of a bad attitude toward God. “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves” (Proverbs 3:11-12). The father wisely offered advanced notice to his son that life will not always turn out the way you think it should. The father had already told his son to trust God with all of his heart and acknowledge God in all of his ways (proverbs 3:5-6). But when trials and hardships come, and one feels helpless to change his circumstances, God becomes an easy target of a resentful heart. Many centuries later the writer of the New Testament book of Hebrews treated this father’s advice as God’s enduring word to first century believers (see Hebrews 12:1-15). They too stood in danger of misunderstanding their hardships (i. e. hostile treatment from sinful men) and becoming resentful and bitter toward God.
The teaching of Jesus is a firm reminder that an unforgiving heart contradicts the gospel and disrupts spiritual progress (Philippians 2:12-13). The way out of unforgiveness, resentment and anger is to meditate continuously on the greatness of God’s forgiveness of your sins— on the gospel of grace).