by Bobby Davis
Resentment is like eating poison and hoping the other guy dies!”
I remember hearing that pithy saying for the first time, and I can’t say I laughed at it because I had no clue what resentments were actually doing to me.
I’ve always been fascinated with the origins of words, though, and resentment comes from the Old French word, resentir, or “re-feel.” When I felt harmed (whether it was real or perceived), I made a strong memory of it—one that would last a lifetime. Then I’d lock it away in a safe place, taking it out time after time to re-feel its sting. I had resentments, alright. Plenty of them. And they were piling up.
In order to hang on to them, I also had to justify them—If this happened to you, I bet you’d be mad, too! I’d rationalize it away by focusing on the offenders’ defects, while carefully ignoring my own.
And it was killing me.
Selfishness Is the Problem
When things finally reached a breaking point, I was forced to face the fact that my resentments were a product of my own selfishness. In fact, selfishness is at the core of every resentment I’ve ever had. I was angry because someone did this to me. I was hurt because you ignored me. I was resentful because I didn’t get my way.
But what could I do about it?
Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I’ve never found a way to change my own defects of character. I’ve tried to be forgiving (but I would never forget); I’ve tried to be gracious (but I’d make sure you never hurt me again). The more I tried, the worse things got, and I despaired of ever finding a solution. I failed to realize that unless God changed my heart, nothing I can do would ever change the way I really felt or acted for very long.
So how did I master my resentments? A little inventory taking—and a hefty dose of humility! First I looked at what caused the resentment in the first place, and found that my pride and my fears had done the most damage. Then I had to realize that I’d been extremely thin-skinned (imagine that)! In most cases I had also placed myself in harm’s way, or kept coming back for more. I just couldn’t understand why everybody was picking on me! When I’d retaliate, all I’d accomplish was to up the ante. My selfishness, self-centeredness, dishonesty, and fears had often started the ball rolling, too. And even when others had harmed me through no fault of my own, I still had a part in the resentment by refusing to forgive.
The Lion Cub
What an ugly picture. All my life I’d utterly failed to see my part in my resentments, and now they were eating me alive. As though they were a small lion cub, I’d taken resentments into my heart; I’d petted them, fed them, and watched them grow. Now the ravenous lion was eating me from the inside out, and I was powerless to do anything about it. “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Romans 7:24–25. But for the grace of God, I would have continued living a clueless life—angry, hurt, and fearful of everyone.
Going back through my life I found a long list of resentments, and by God’s grace, I was able to forgive them, one and all. Some took longer than others, but I discovered that I could always extend God’s forgiveness to those people, even when I had no forgiveness of my own.
While I can’t say that I’m always free of resentments, today I know how to be rid of them. God’s power works—it really does!