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.
Resentment is an emotion that has the power to chain 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 the cycle: Expectations→ Disappointment→ Anger → Resentment — Bitterness
But how can we be free of resentment, anger and an unforgiving spirit? We need to change the way we think about these responses by making a connection between anger, bitterness and idolatry.
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.
According to Hebrews 12:15, a small 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: Ephesians 4:26-27).
Bitterness is more difficult to dislodge when it becomes a fully entrenched condition of the heart. Bitterness for many people has become a form of idolatry that rules their hearts in place of God.
To gain freedom, we must learn to see bitterness as a protective mechanism we use to guard our cherished resentments. This is where resentment and bitterness must be confessed as a form of idolatry.
The teaching of Jesus on forgiveness is a reminder that an unforgiving heart contradicts the gospel and disrupts spiritual progress. The way out of resentment and anger is to meditate often on the greatness of God’s forgiveness of our sins.