Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 


Resentment in a Season of Destabilization 

In these strange times, the potential for Resentment is high… 

Our work arrangements, our bank balances, our domestic rhythms, private spaces… our egos and our hearts are being disturbed and destabilized.  To paraphrase the language of Christian philosopher, Dallas Willard in his book Divine Conspiracy, Covid-19 is “thwarting our wills and interfering with our lives”.  We are having to learn to work with colleagues, family members, and flatmates in new and often challenging ways.  Here are some possible feelings being felt  or avoided by those of us working from home: 

The agony of technological hold-ups… 
The embarrassment of an electronic message being misunderstood…  
The loneliness of nobody noticing something you did…  
The conflict of confusion regarding the process or deadline for a task…   
The isolation from late responses to questions, or no replies at all…  
The rejection of realising your project is not someone else’s priority…  

And amidst it all, the despair flowing from our isolated confrontation with our character defects.  One of the deepest of all resentments is when we resent our resentment: “Why do I let myself get so annoyed…?” 

Resentment in the Teaching of Jesus

 

“Jesus, being fully human as well as divine, knew perfectly how anger operates in the human heart.”

After his beautiful and beatitude-filled Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, 
the very first issue Jesus addresses is anger. He’s not talking about healthy and protective anger but toxic and destructive anger. Jesus knows how much harm can flow from this kind of resentful rage…  The fire of anger lights the fuse of murder, just as the leaven of lust swells into adultery. 

From surging synapses in the brain to the sharp edges of a blade, this kind of anger is always violent. Jesus’ reference to anger between siblings reminds us of the first sibling rivalry.   In Genesis 4, Cain saw Abel’s favourable offering as a threatening interference. He became “very angry”... and planned to kill Abel. 

As Dallas Willard writes, anger is triggered in us when people “have thwarted our will and interfered with our life”. Anger “seizes us in our body and immediately impels us towards interfering with, and possibly even harming” these people.  We have been wronged, and we will have our revenge. 
 

Resentment in 12-Step Spirituality 

Resentment-blog-aa-pic.jpg“The 12 Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous were built upon the existing steps formed by a Christian study group called The Oxford Group, which accounts for the strong biblical themes seen in 12-step spirituality

Resentment is not only a key theme in the Sermon on the Mount, but also in the 12-step recovery.  A good friend, recovering alcoholic and a beautiful person, introduced me to the ‘Big Book’—Alcoholics Anonymous…  Ever since, I’ve been fascinated with its practical spirituality.  This is what it says about resentment: 

“Being convinced that self, manifested in various ways, was what had defeated us, we considered its common manifestations.  Resentment is the ‘number one’ offender.  It destroys more alcoholics than anything else.  From it stem all forms of spiritual disease…” (p. 64, emphasis mine) 

How do recovering addicts deal with resentment?   

They work the Steps.   

Step Four is particularly relevant. Resentments are the first category of the ‘moral inventory’ completed in this step. First, you identify and list the “people, institutions or principles” you resent, the situations that caused them, and the ways they have affected you.  After this, comes a revolutionary turn: shifting your focus away from ‘them’, and daring to look at your contribution to the resentment.   

Listen to how the Big Book puts it: 

“Putting out of our minds the wrongs others had done, we resolutely looked for our own mistakes. Where had we been selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and frightened?  Though a situation had not been entirely our fault, we tried to disregard the other person involved entirely. Where were we to blame?  The inventory was ours, not the other man’s [sic].  When we saw our faults we listed them. We placed them before us in black and white. We admitted our wrongs honestly and were willing to set these matters straight.” (p. 67) 

By taking our inventories, we starve the toxic process of listing others’ faults and feed the transformative task of amending ourselves. This is a courageous course of action: a direct application of Jesus’ teaching about taking the plank out of our own eyes (Matthew 7:5).  When we do this, we are recognising a sobering truth: as long as the focus is on the other person, we lock ourselves in the prison of resentment. One of AA’s proverbial slogans observes: “Holding on to resentment is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person dies.” 

Changing Ourselves First 

Resentment-blog-mirror-pic.jpg

Our current situation can find us feeling joyfully relaxed in one moment and exhaustingly irritable in the next.   

We may not be ready to kill anyone… yet!  But whenever, and to whatever extent, resentment rises, let us heed the words of Jesus, reflected so practically in the programme of 12-step recovery, and deal quickly with our resentment before it gains its murderous momentum.   

Have the courage to stop… breathe… admit how you feel and where it hurts…  
And then… make that courageous Step 4 turn… and take your inventory and change the one person you can—yourself.

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