Resentment: How to Let Go
“Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)
Negative emotions fueled by feelings of resentment can lead to all kinds of negative thoughts and bitterness, and sometimes even to violence. But if we choose to follow God’s guidance in releasing resentment, we can put away mean-spirited emotions and behavior.
In this article, I am going to discuss how God wants us, as Christians, to release feelings of resentment. We serve a God of extraordinary ways who desires that we work hard to make His ways, our ways. In fact, we're often amazed when we learn about how God desires that we handle many of the things we have to deal with as human beings. For example, sometimes, God's way, sometimes, is to add to our lives by subtracting something from it ( He'll allow something to be taken away, in order to give you something greater). And, He often multiplies by dividing (remember how Jesus fed the multitude with only a few loaves of bread and two fish?). God's ways are different from our ways. With this in mind, in this article I will discuss:
- How holding on to bitterness is bad for you.
- How you have to employ God's "extraordinary ways" to release resentment.
- How you have to make letting go of resentment a habit.
Holding On To Bitterness is Bad for You
God wants us to fight against the mean spirits that will sometimes rise up inside, and these include anger and it's offshoots--bitterness, resentment, and vengeance. When the human ego feels threatened, it feels natural to want to defend it. But God does not want us to lash out at others in anger, or to hold on to bitterness while seething with resentment and desiring vengeance.
When I feel I've been outrageously "wronged" by someone, sometimes it seems I can actually feel a lightning flash of fire searing through my soul. When this happens, I know the first thing I have to do is to douse the fire with prayer, immediately, so that I can release the desire for vengeance that always follows it. You're familiar with that desire, right? It's the one that comes along with thinking thoughts such as, "how dare they do that to me." You know. Those righteously indignant thoughts that speed through your mind on gossamer wings while you're thinking, "this person is wrong, they know they’re wrong, and they know I know they’re wrong, and oh, do I want them to pay."
Resentment. It's human to feel it, and to want see retribution doled out to the one who hurt you. In fact, it can take divine spiritual intervention and healing to stop wanting to lash out. As one who knows and loves God, even though I don’t involve myself with lashing out or payback, I have to go to God sometimes in order to release resentment. I do this understanding that payback or vengeance is God’s business—not mine. And because I trust God, I know He'll handle His business, and that forgiveness is what I have to get busy working on.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to be anyone’s punching bag. Everyone needs to learn how to stand up for him or herself whenever there is a need to do so, but we also need to learn how to allow a spirit of humility to guide our steps, with peace as our ultimate goal.
As offshoots of anger, resentment and bitterness are Siamese twins. Resentment is a persistent “ill will” that can live within a person. Bitterness is manifested as intense animosity toward someone. When we resent someone, it is likely that we will show bitterness towards them. Most of us like to hide our resentment of others because we know it is wrong to hold on to those feelings.
If you are often around someone that you resent, it is inevitable that the resentment will show itself in one way or another. It might be manifested as an angry tone of voice, snide comments and remarks for no apparent reason, or a total lack of communication. No matter how resentment is manifested, it is sinful and self-defeating. Why? Because when you hold onto any remnant of sinful behavior, your emotions are bound to lead you to make destructive decisions and choices that might look something like this:
- You're in business and you're harboring resentment against someone who works for or with you. You make decisions meant to “strike out” against them, decisions that are not in your company’s best interest—and are, therefore, not in your best interest.
- You have a close relative that you resent, someone you have to be around often. You have not released bitterness you've been holding onto because of something this person did years ago, and your attitude towards them causes any family get-together to be awkward for you and other family members. It also causes the occasion to be much less joyful than it should be.
- You're harboring resentment against someone who with whom you worship, at church. You're even allowing your resentment towards them to keep you from participating in the same church activity in which they participate, even though you really want to become involved in that activity. Or, maybe you've allowed your resentment of that person to entice you to become involved in a church activity that you joined in only to show this person that you can perform the activity—instead of becoming involved for the purpose of glorifying God.
When life sends us spiritually challenging lemons, seldom do we want to use them to make lemonade. Instead, when we get the lemons—those things that offend, anger, insult, bother, or disappoint us—it’s more likely that we'll want to either lash out in anger or withdraw in anger, allowing bitterness and resentment to take root in our souls. Resentment and bitterness are offshoots of anger. More often than not, as flesh-focused human beings, we allow anger and its offshoots to cause us to be unforgiving, rather than forgiving of others. But, being unforgiving shrouds the spirit in even more negative emotions, another one of the many self-defeating results of withholding forgiveness.
Use "Extraordinary Ways" to Release Resentment
As Christians, we serve a God of extraordinary ways, and we have to work hard to make His ways our ways. In fact, we're often amazed when we learn about how God desires that we handle things we have to deal with as human beings, because He asks that we do the exact opposite of what we might see as a "normal" response or reaction. But, the Bible leaves nothing to the imagination when it comes to how we are to handle the sin of resentment.
Romans 12:14-2 could be called "Resentment 101," because it contains a lot of what we need to know to handle the offsprings of anger--including hatred, resentment, bitterness, and the desire for vengeance. This Scripture teaches:
“Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.”
God's ways are often the opposite of ours, and this point is emphasized throughout the passage I mentioned in the previous paragraph, Romans 12:14-2. In it, we are taught to:
- “Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not." Why? Because it is kindness that turns away wrath, not bitterness or contempt. So, when someone does something evil against you, do something kind towards them in return. This will do more to show them the ugliness of their ways than anything evil you can think of to do.
- "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another." Be happy and joyful when something good happens for someone else, and be empathetic with people who are experiencing sadness. God does not want us to envy or to begrudge someone else their joy, or to find amusement in someone's sadness. He does not want us to deliberately work to bring sadness to others. He wants us to share in each others lives in meaningful and supportive ways.
- Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Be humble and never be high-minded. Don't consider yourself to be better than another person because you have more material things, or more money. God is not a respecter of material things, nor is He a respecter of persons. That means we are all the same in His eyesight. We are of equal importance; no matter how much money we have or don’t have. Having a great job and/or a lot of money does not make you better than another person. To God, we're all the same, because He is looking at what is in your heart.
- “Be not wise in your own conceits." Don't be self-important or arrogant, because these traits are incompatible with humility. God desires that we be humble.
- Don't do "evil for evil." Just because someone wronged you does not give you the right to do evil towards them as payback. You will be just as wrong as the one who wronged you if you allow the evil spirit of revenge to get the best of you.
- "Provide things honest in the sight of all men." Before the next person does something wrong towards you, decide that you will respond using God's ways. Decide that you will employ a disciplined spirit, allowing "things honest," or God's ways, to represent you before others, and to replace unguarded emotions.
God desires that we stay away from “payback.“ He does not want us to repay evil for evil. The idea of payback might feel good for a minute, but if you engage in it, it will surely and ultimately bring guilt, sadness, and trouble into your life. When you feel the need to engage in payback, that's when you need to begin praying and asking God to give you a forgiving spirit.
God wants us to allow forgiveness to reign supreme in our lives. He wants us to remember what Jesus asked of Him when He was dying on the cross at Calvary. Jesus said, “Forgive them, Father. For they know not what they do.” As Christians, you and I must find it within us to forgive, and it helps to remember that forgiveness is something you do for yourself, as much as for others.
Make Letting Go of Resentment a Habit
Thankfully, the Bible provides instruction to help us release and get beyond feelings associated with resentment, and that means there's much hope that we can overcome it. All we need is the desire to overcome it, just as we should desire to overcome any and all weaknesses of our own flesh, and allow God to guide us to victory over them. Take a look at Hebrews 12:15, where we're instructed to "look diligently."
"Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.”
This is a call for self-examination in times of spiritual unrest or instability. God wants us to fight against our own mean-spirited emotions, including anger, bitterness, resentment, and vengeance. He does not want us to lash out, or to burn in silence and anger as we harbor feelings of bitterness, resentment and a desire for vengeance.
In Ephesians 4:31-32, we're instructed about how we are to overcome resentment and bitterness. This Scripture says:
“Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.”
In 1 Peter 2:23, we are told,
“Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously.”
According to Peter, Jesus did not lash out when He was provoked, even to the point of suffering. Instead, He gave all the grief over to God. When we give our grief over to God, forgiveness can then cleanse us of resentment and bitterness. It can lighten your load, giving your spirit wings to soar to new heights of understanding. Lack of forgiveness, on the other hand, will cause you to be chained to the past. It will keep you weighed down with the heavy burdens of anger and bitterness. Eventually, it will build a wall between you and God; a wall that will get higher and stronger the longer you hold on to negative emotions such as resentment. But the sooner you're able to let go and forgive, the sooner you'll receive forgiveness for holding onto anger, and the stronger you will become in your relationship with God.
God wants us to learn discipline through self-control when it comes to anger, resentment, and bitterness. He does not want us holding grudges and desiring revenge. James 5:9 says, “Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door.”
God is the judge, and He has told us vengeance belongs to Him. He will repay what needs to be repaid. Therefore, if we trust in God, and if we believe Him to fulfill the promises He has made, then we won't hold on to feelings of resentment, or to the bitterness it creates.
© 2012 Sallie B Middlebrook PhD