Is it possible to carry deep resentment without being aware of the power it holds over you?
Consider the story of a woman who learned the power of suppressed resentment. Fifteen years after a tragic accident, she came to terms with the anger she held and the hold it had on her. The woman currently resides in California but was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania (our home town).
One evening, fifteen years ago, she stopped her car along the road to assist a broken down motorist and on her way to the car, she was violently struck by a drunk driver. For an entire year after the accident, this otherwise athletic young lady was unable to walk without assistance. Shortly after the accident, the drunk driver wrote a letter to her but she refused to open it.
Many years later, another tragedy occured in Lancaster, Pennsylvania that caused her to revisit her past. It also prompted her to finally open the letter from the drunk driver. Ironically all of this happened as she was writing a book on forgiveness based on an Amish family. I say ironic because the tragic event that caused her to revisit her past was the Nickel Mine murders at an Amish School house in Lancaster. On that fateful day, the gunman, Charles Roberts IV shot ten girls (aged 6–13), killing five, before committing suicide.
As the story unfolded on national news, the woman found herself unable to continue to write her book. She was so deeply 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 forever changed her life had never been fully resolved. She knew she had to come to terms with the power it held over her and the resentment that consumed her soul.
For many years, in her anger she chose to deny the very existence of the drunk driver. But gripped by the power of the Amish example of forgiveness, she recognized a need to humanize the man who hurt her and acknowledge the possibility that he had struggles of his own. She had saved his unopened letter in a file and decided it was time to open it. The information she learned about the man helped her come to resolutions and release years of suppressed anger.
When asked what changes she experienced with forgiveness, she spoke of a new freedom from a strong gravitational pull toward a cynical and sarcastic outlook on life. This is a common shield people use to protect themselves and to hide their deep hurts and anger. Cynical and sarcastic people are usually covering up deeper issues.
When her novel on forgiveness was completed, as a powerful demonstration of her freedom from bitterness, she dedicated it to the drunk driver.
Resentment is an emotion that enslaves us to the past. It gives whatever hurt us power over us. Resentment gives extended life to the damage or hurt we experienced. Resentment is based on a way of thinking that implies that I have been treated wrongly and I deserved better. It says, “I’ve been wronged; I deserved better.” When significant losses or hurts control us we can easily slip into cycles that move from expectation to disappointment to despair to more resentment.
Anger, bitterness …… idolatry
The spiritual consequences of withholding forgiveness are significant. We must not gloss over the urgent warning from our Lord where He said,
“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” (Matthew 6:14-15).
Lack of forgiveness is 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 both personally troubling and poisonously infectious. When hurt by others, we become vulnerable to anger. Angry people are vulnerable to bitterness.
God pictured anger as a vicious animal looking to pounce its’ prey (Genesis 4:6-7). When anger turns into bitterness it comes with new levels of control and bondage. Bitter people are particularly difficult to help. We must deal with our anger before it becomes bitterness (see: Hebrews 12:15; Ephesians 4:26-27).
Bitterness for many people has become a form of idolatry that rules their hearts in place of God. If we desire freedom, we must see bitterness as a protective mechanism we use to guard our cherished resentments. As hard as it might be, we must confess bitterness as idolatry.
A bad attitude toward God?
Sometimes the resentments we hold trace a subtle line to God. We think about how God could have changed things and become resentful that He let us get hurt. I’ve met people who stay connected with Christian community while concealing their attitude toward God behind a veneer of expected Christian happiness. When I travel and teach about forgiveness, I am typically approached with general questions about “why God would allow…?” As I probe, more than once I’ve discovered that their questions are connected to deeply personal stories of pain.
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 allowing 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. After instructing his son to trust God with all of his heart and acknowledge God in all of his ways (proverbs 3:5-6), he warns him that when trials and hardships come, temptation will be there to grow resentful toward God. Many centuries later, a writer in the New Testament 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 (Hebrews 12:7) and becoming resentful and bitter toward God.
Questions for discussion
- Do you carry any 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 _________________
- I guess I will never or always_____________________” (missed opportunity/altered circumstances)
For deeper reflection
Two of the most common obstacles to spiritual growth (and often to receiving God’s gift of salvation) are resentment and anger. But how can we be free from resentment, anger and an unforgiving spirit? The ultimate way out of unforgiveness, resentment and anger is to meditate deeply and often on the greatness of God’s forgiveness of your sins— on the gospel of grace.
Please consider the following resources:
- Guarding cherished resentments
- Responding to the Hurts and Disappointments of Life
- A closer look at forgiveness
- Forgive or else!
- Detox plan for freedom from your past:
- When the sun stays hidden for years
- If God is sovereign………
- A closer look at Guilt
- Why do I still feel guilty?