Categories: M. W. Bassford, Meditations

I hold grudges. It is one of my biggest spiritual failings. I'm not a particularly touchy person, so I don't keep an account of light offenses. However, I do have an excellent memory, and though it is helpful in many other areas, it is not at all helpful here.

When someone betrays my trust, I remember. When someone thwarts my will over something that is important to me, I remember. When someone attacks my character or exalts themselves at my expense, I remember. I remember for a long time.

This is not obvious. When my sister visited for Christmas, she was astonished to learn that I am a grudge-holder. Occasionally, the objects of my grudges find out, when so much resentment accumulates within me that it bursts like a boil (as my poor wife has discovered far too often). Usually not, though.

Nor does my sense of grievance alter my conduct. Even when I resent someone's actions, I still treat them with kindness. I greet them warmly, praise their achievements, and offer them help as I can. I work hard at not rejoicing in their failures, even when those failures are due to their treatment of me. Nonetheless, I continue to remember, with that sense of affronted self-righteousness that is unique to holding a grudge.

This is evil. It is wrong. I know there is considerable debate on this issue. Christians love to go back and forth on whether we must forgive someone if they haven't sought forgiveness. “Do I have to?” They ask. Hint: asking whether we have to carry out a difficult spiritual work is not usually from God.

I think, though, that the debate misses the point. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that love does not keep an account of wrongs suffered, which is exactly what grudge-holding is. As always, nothing rubs our noses in our imperfections quite like the commandment to love.

We must love; we must not resent. This is essential for our sakes. I know all too well the toxic effect of resentment. Left unchecked, it can poison an entire life.

At the end of my life, then, I find myself in the final battle against my old enemy. Some of my grievances now have dwindled so much that they no longer move me. In other areas, I am able to acknowledge my role in provoking the bad choices that others made. Whatever its disadvantages, terminal illness does bring the gift of perspective!

Most importantly, though, I am finally able to admit that I am not in control of my own life. We carry grudges because we feel that we have lost control of something that matters to us, whether that be our reputation or even our autonomy.

In reality, life does not consist of those things. People may malign us here, but not even the devil will be able to make an accusation stick against us on the day of judgment. Others may completely take away our autonomy by killing us as they did Christ, but they cannot keep us from being righteous any more than they kept Him from being righteous.

After that, all that is left is offended pride, and the pride of life is fleeting. In this life I experience ever greater humiliation, as many do at the end. In the life to come, even atheists must humble themselves before the Lord.

If you are a member of my grudge-holding tribe, rethink that. It does not help you, it is not good for you, you cannot justify it, and ultimately, it means that you are letting someone else’s carelessness or sin define your life. You are putting resentment where Christ belongs.

I get you (Really! I do!), but it's time to do the hard work of letting go. You will be glad you did, and so will God.