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Scrooge from Dickens' A Christmas Carol

Living Without Resentments

What do any of us have control over? Very little, really. But there is one thing we can control: our attitudes. To do that, we have to be aware of what we're thinking and feeling at all times. That means paying attention and monitoring ourselves 24-7. It takes a lot of work; but the payoff is enormous.

I have three particular thoughts and feelings I have to be on the lookout for: resentments, lusts and pride. I can develop a resentment at the drop of a hat, and a lust just as quickly. Pride is a little more subtle. Here's an easy example: I have a huge email list, and people are constantly asking to be taken off it - and sometimes they're people I know! It always hurts a bit when that happens. I could start asking myself why, and pretty soon have a pretty good resentment built up towards them. Instead, I try not even to think about it: I just delete the name and, if anything, say a little prayer for the person. It still hurts, but there's no reason to let it become a resentment.

Here's another example that is universal: someone cuts you off in traffic, or, worse, passes an entire line of traffic in order to cut in further down the road. My initial reaction would be to resent that person; and, if I really think about it, to get angry. Instead, now I pray for them, or try to. What else can I do if I want to keep my sanity? It makes no sense to resent someone because resenting them is not going to change them, but it is going to change me - for the worse.

We have the perfect model for this in Christ: He was crucified by His own people, and yet He prayed, "Father forgive them for they know not what they do." How easy it would have been for Him to resent them! Yet, He forgave. Forgiveness eliminates the negative thoughts and feelings associated with being hurt. If Christ could do that while hanging on a cross, can't I forgive the person that has merely slighted me?

I have a friend who, whenever she is quoting someone that she resents, will change her voice into what I call "an ugly voice." I will ask her, "Is that the voice they used when they said that?" and she will laugh, recognizing what she is doing. But seriously, don't we change the tone and tenor in our head when we start thinking about someone we resent? Suddenly that person becomes the Wicked Witch of the West, or Norman Bates from the movie Psycho. They're bad to the bone, or they're crazy, or something. They have to be; else, why would we resent them?

It's senseless. We've created the problem in our own heads. We are the offending party, because we are the one carrying the resentment or grudge. I don't care what the other person did. If Christ can forgive His enemies, and if He can command us to do the same - which He has - then that is what we need to do.

Here is a short list of what resentments are responsible for:

most wars
most divorces
most arguments and personal confilcts
most anger issues
most suicides
most addictions
most depression
most psychological issues
most family problems
most political conflicts
most church splits
most civil court cases
most criminal activity
most bullying
most violence
most sinful behavior in general

Get the picture? This world would be a far, far better place if we would just let go of our resentments.

Here's what the Bible has to say about it: even though the word "resentment" is not used very often in most versions of the Bible, the Greek word, from which we get our idea of resentment, is logizomai, which means to reckon, count, credit, compute, calculate, keep track of, keep a ledger on, keep an account of, keep a balance sheet on, etc. The idea, spiritually, is that we are keeping a record of all the wrongs done to us, in order to exact payment from the offending party at some point in the future.

The Lord's Prayer puts it this way: "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Those "debts" are the wrongs we have done to others, while the "debtors" are those whom we have wronged.

Logizomai is used 40 times in the New Testament - half of those in Romans. Most of those occurrences deal with God not crediting us with our sins, but instead with the righteousness of Christ when we believe on Him. In Christ, God has forgiven us our debts.

I think it is very clear from Scripture that God does not want us to "keep a list" of the wrongs done to us, simply because He is not keeping one on us. If He has forgiven us for so much, He expects us to forgive others. Yet, none of us are free from list-making when it comes to the faults of others, and that is how we build up resentments.

It's time to let them go.

There is an excellent example in literature of someone who was very good at keeping a ledger of the faults of his fellow man, and that is Scrooge, from the novelette A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. Scrooge is an accountant by profession, but he is also an accountant by nature when it comes to the faults of others. He has weighed his fellow man in his balances and found him wanting. Scrooge is also a money lender, who keeps track of every penny people owe him; but he keeps just as accurate records of what they owe him personally.

By the time we meet him in Dickens' tale, he has built up quite a pile of resentments:

He resents his father for not allowing him to come home for Christmas as a boy. Remember? He's the boy that was left alone at the school when all the other children went off for the holidays in such uproarious joy. Also because of that, he resents Christmas in general and everyone who celebrates it in particular. He resents his employee, Bob Cratchit, for asking that day off to be with his family. He resents those, like Bob, who don't work as hard as he at making money. He resents anyone who struggles at making a living, including those who have borrowed money from him - his clients! As a younger man, he resented his fiance, Belle, for breaking off their engagement because he loved money more than her. He resents God for taking his sister, Fanny, whom he adored, when she was still a young woman. He resents her only son, Fred, because he got married instead of remaining a bachelor as he had, as well as Fred's lack of ambition and his love of Christmas. He resents the poor, as well as the charities that try to help them - in short, he resents everyone! And his resentments are turning him into a monster!

According to the ghost of his dead partner, Jacob Marley, Scrooge's resentments are forging for him an enormous chain, which he will bear throughout eternity - unless his life is redeemed and changed. Let me ask you this: what is the size of the chain that your resentments are forging for you?

Who or what do you resent? Here is a short list of possibilities:

our politicians in Washington
the President
the IRS
Muslim radicals
the Chinese
your boss
your employees
your co-workers
your spouse
your inlaws
your father
your mother
your siblings
your children
your neighbors
your friends
those on the public dole
big banks
big business
rich people
poor people
those that don't care
those that do care
self-righteous people

As you can see, it's possible to resent practically everyone. And you can even resent yourself. You know how I know that God does not want us to resent anyone? Because He says to "Love your enemies" (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27,35). If you love your enemies, you will not resent anyone, because it is impossible to love someone and resent them at the same time.

The cure for resentment is forgiveness. Forgiveness is the magic bullet for all relational problems. If you can forgive someone, God can heal your relationship. It's that simple. If you cannot forgive them, you are the one who suffers - just like Scrooge. Forgiveness requires some act of kindness to demonstrate your forgiveness - just as Scrooge went around on Christmas day showing his forgiveness through all the little acts of kindness he did. It also requires saying, "I was wrong," to those you have wronged. Thus, it requires humility.

This is a tall order for a New Year's resolution, but it works. If all the maladies listed at the beginning of this article could be eliminated by asking for and giving forgiveness, would it not be worth it? It may seem hard, but that is what Christ expects of us. Asking forgiveness is a lot easier than conducting a war, whether personal or global, or just inside our own head.

This is the year that we can make a difference. We can let go of our resentments and offer prayers of blessings instead. That will make this a year worth living.

Happy New Year!


Waitsel Smith, January 1, 2013

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Excellent article Waitsel! And your list at the end is a nice reminder of how easy it is for me to have self-righteous political resentments! - Sally, Atlanta

What a great message - a keeper to read over often. Thanks. - Marlys, Atlanta

Are you sure you weren't a minister in a previous life? This is so good and so true and so thoughtful and so insightful. Yep, maybe you need to change your profession!! - Phyllis, North Carolina

Thanks Waitsel. I really needed this message. It helps to put my present life in perspective. I try not to be resentful, but lately there have been issues that have surfaced. My new year's resolution is to meditate and tackle the negative thoughts that have been raised. May prayers continue. - C C, North Carolina

"Resentment is like drinking poison and then waiting for the other person to die." ~ Carrie Fisher - Phyllis

This morning, I was in a discipleship meeting, where we talked about pride, lust and jealousy. I went on in that meeting to describe that sometimes I was frustrated at God, because he "blessed" other people with things that I felt I deserved and needed just as much as they did. I resented my four roommates for continually reminding me (mostly unintentionally) that I am the only single guy in that group. Which, for me, brings about pride, lust and jealousy all in one fell swoop.

Not five minutes after the meeting, I got this email about living without resentment, and I was glossing over it, when three words caught my eye: resentments, lusts and pride. The only thing that I could think about after reading that was: "Ok God, what do you have for me?" In God's sovereign way, in His unbelievably perfect timing, He brought everything together to give me a "hail Mary" bombardment to issues in my life that I can no longer be passive in. I dreaded my discipleship meeting before this morning, because I knew it would leave me open and exposed. I know that God wanted to teach me, but I didn't feel like letting Him, because that would require me to be humble. My pride and resentment towards "better Christians" kept me at bay. I just love how God ties everything together. It's becoming clear to me that God truly is looking after me.

Now, usually, to be honest, I don't read your email newsletters, and I rarely check out your website. I even thought about asking to have my email removed from your list a few times. I can say that I am blessed that I have not. I'm writing this to let you know that when you get discouraged when people ask to be removed from your list, or otherwise let you know they don't want to read what you say, that God has just now blessed me through you; and, although you probably won't change the world with your words, you've helped change mine.

Thank you for your words of encouragement. - Kyle, Colorado

As usual, you have hit this one dead on. No one of us likes to admit we have these resentments, but they are there and need addressing. Thanks for opening the box so we can begin to shake ourselves free from these burdens. I can't think of a better way to introspectively start a New Year than with a forgiving and loving spirit. Blessings on you in this work of reaching those of us who hide behind all sorts of things. Know you are loved, my friend. - Joey, North Carolina

I agree that resentments are a curse, not easily let go of. I also think that FEAR is the basis of many problems... FEAR of the stranger, FEAR of being hurt or FEAR of losing something. These FEARS cause people to act irrationally and hurt others or themselves.

Even though I can't stand up easily, I go to yoga, done with the help of
a chair. The message this week was thus:

1.Live life with Simplicity (meaning, concentrating fully on what you are doing )
2. Have patience with yourself and others
3.Develop compassion for yourself and others.

- Ina, California

Thanks for all your great comments!

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Text © 2013 Waitsel Smith. Image of Scrooge © Walt Disney Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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