As Bill Wilson writes in the AA Big Book, “resentment is the number one offender”. When I really began to grasp how much of a hold resentment had previously had on me (and still can!), I began to wonder why I hadn’t heard about it as much in church as I had in recovery fellowships. What do we make of this?
First, let’s remind ourselves what Resentment is. As the saying goes, “Holding on to resentment is like drinking poison and hoping that the other person dies.” To hold on to a resentment, grievance, complaint, grudge or issue against another person is to hold on to a rattlesnake by the tail, as it bites you over and over again. Why do we hold on to resentment so strongly? We like to feel the pride of having been wronged. You see it in between – or in! – the lines of countless narratives where person ‘A’ documents, recalls, or makes passing reference to group/workplace/church/family/person ‘B’ did something to them. The subtext is often, ‘Poor me. Poor innocent me, having to endure the senseless actions of ‘B’…”
Make no mistake. The AA Big Book does not suggest that people to not wrong us. They do! People ignore us, pull out in front of us, shame us, exclude us, injure us, etc. They really do. The point is that when we hold on to resentment, we keep re-injuring ourselves. Not only that, we miss out on (or avoid, or distract ourselves from) seeing any part we played in our misfortunes, even if they were minor compared to the others’ actions.
This brings us, second, to the negative relationship that Resentment has with Repentance. 12 Step Recovery, as the Serenity Prayer reminds us, teaches us again and again, to forget the things (most of all people!) we ‘cannot change’, and focus on the things (and the only person!) we ‘can’. We must ‘clean our side of the street’, and stop pointing the finger at others, however wrong they are or were. The only question that will actually change anyone, is “What did I do wrong?” “But they were awful! They hurt me!” “Yes, but what could I have done differently?”
It turns out that this is a huge theme in Christian Scripture, even if the language may be different. We could say at the ‘justice’ level of “eye for an eye”, resulting in everyone trying to make things ‘fair’ by injuring others just as they’ve been injured. ‘Injure thy neighbour as they have injured you…’ How awful! But Scripture takes us forward to ‘mercy’ and ‘grace’. We ‘write off’ others wrongs, as God writes ours off. Grace does not mean being naive or passive. Grace does not mean that we let others keep harming us. Grace does not mean we stay in the group, marriage, workplace, church, partnership, club, etc. But grace means letting go of resentment. And letting go of resentment means letting go of my sense of my ‘right’ to be angry at them. And once I’ve let go of my anger at the other, maybe, just maybe, I can have the sanity and clarity to focus on what I can, and maybe need to, change about me. Maybe I’ll be able to repent.