We’ve got a dumpster coming today for some household cleanup, an October cleaning of sorts to purge the house of many things—old broken but non-antique furniture, a basketball hoop that has seen better days, wet carpet pulled up from a home improvement project, and a wooden swing that served us well for many summers but is now warped and falling apart.
As I sit by the window, waiting for the truck that will bring the dumpster (I hope I got one big enough), it occurred to me that while I am at it, it might be a good idea to rid my mind of mental debris as well. If a cook works better in a clean kitchen, and if a home operates more smoothly with organized rooms, then I’m sure my mind (and spirit) will be better off if I get rid of a few things. Want to join me?
The purging, both physical and mental, won’t be overwhelming. We’ll just be getting rid of things we no longer need, or that can become not only an eyesore but unhealthy if they sit out too long.
First, we’ll start with resentment. It’s a toughie because it likes to linger, but we’ve got to get it out. Let us begin.
Did your parents prevent you from some pined for opportunity when you were a child that you’re just positive would have affected your life positively and differently had they done this or that? Were you overlooked at work although you really deserved a raise or recognition? Did a friend snub you? Did you buy some stock and then lose money because of bad advice or maybe just bad luck? Did rain get in your basement? Was the supermarket clerk rude? Did someone flip you off in traffic? Were you misunderstood? Do you have an acute or lingering illness? Did someone else seem to get a break in sports, or income or wife or life? Do you have some personal struggles that no one seems to understand or no one else seems to have? Did you experience a once in a lifetime catastrophe?
Okay, here it is:
You have to get over it.
Ouch. I know that sounds harsh. And please believe me, I really do understand how hard it can be to refuse resentment. Some years ago my brother, just twenty-years-old, was killed in a car accident. I have lost five babies to miscarriage (one on Christmas Day). I have other private sorrows. I lived through a house fire as a child and battled cancer as an adult. I am experienced in the once-in-a-lifetime catastrophe department, which are not always “once in a lifetime” as some of you may also know first hand. I tell you this only so you will know I understand how hard this can be. Stewing over past hurts may be tempting, but don’t do it! We not only can let go of resentment that tempts us, but we must or it will clutter our hearts and minds and will snuff out joy of living.
When we resent someone (or something), we hand over power to that person or situation. We let it control our moods and emotions, how we treat people. In short, resentment grows easily and can rob our lives of peace of mind and happiness.
“A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but a fool’s provocation is heavier than both.” (Proverbs 27:3)
“The godless in heart cherish anger.” (Job 36: 13)
Three remedies to resentment are forgiveness, a reality check and gratitude.
First, let’s look at forgiveness and address what forgiveness of a person is not—forgiveness is not being stupid, trusting an untrustworthy person, for example. It is not putting yourself in an unhealthy situation over and over again, taking physical or emotional abuse, because you are constantly giving a bad person another chance. If a person willfully hurts you and is impenitent it would be ridiculous to put yourself in a situation to be hurt again. Forgiveness also doesn’t mean overlooking evil. Forgiveness does not mean giving access again when it is imprudent to do so. Sometimes, in fact, a situation necessitates distance from the person you forgive, for self-preservation purposes.
What does forgiveness—something Jesus tells us to do “seventy times seven” look like then? Forgiveness of a person means you look at him with compassion, trying to see him through “God’s eyes” so to speak. The angry and verbally abusive person may have, for example, been raised in a poor home environment. Imagine what it must have been like for him as a child growing up in a home with hate being spewed daily. Perhaps he says what was said to him. Forgiveness does not mean you subject yourself to his vitriol. Forgiveness does not mean you do not hold him accountable for his actions or say meekly that the wrongs are “not a big deal.” But you do, looking at him with “kind eyes,” seek understanding, and let go of the hurt, like a helium balloon into the sky, of the anger he throws your way. You sincerely wish the best for him. You pray for him. You bless him. This could be the grace that allows goodness and healing to reenter his life. God is good like that.
We can also play the “benefit of the doubt” or “make excuses” exercise to help facilitate forgiveness of a person and prevent resentment from taking hold in our hearts. We do this by imagining the best in someone and picturing a scenario that perhaps caused the behavior we are tempted to resent. A simple example is a man flips you off in traffic, either warranted or unwarranted by your driving. You can take it personally and get mad back, or control your thoughts to imagine he may have been just fired from his job, or his wife just left him, or imagine some other instance where he may have been wronged and gave in to a momentary action of anger against you. In short, you give him the benefit of the doubt and “make excuses” for him. It is easier to forgive when you have compassion for someone. And forgiving helps dissipate resentment.
Another way to dump resentment is by doing a reality check. Life is not fair. It never has been. Suffering is a great mystery, one that philosophers and theologians have pondered for thousands of years. As the Rolling Stones song goes, You can’t always get what you want… and that’s absolutely true. We teach our children that life is not fair when we deny them a third cookie for dessert even when another child’s mom allows it, when rain ruins their outside birthday party, or when a little friend is mean to them. Yet, we have a difficult time taking this simple fact to heart in our own lives. The sooner we accept that life isn’t fair for anyone—that sometimes we are as the saying goes the bug, and sometimes the windshield, the sooner we accept reality the easier we can let go of resentment and be happy in the present situation.
The third way to eliminate resentment is by practicing gratitude. Notice I wrote that in the active voice. Being grateful is an action that can be practiced. How do you cultivate gratitude?
To cultivate gratitude, simply mentally step back and review your life from the perspective of an onlooker. What is True, Good, and Beautiful about it? Really look. Little things count—oh, how little things count! Is it the view from your back patio that makes you grateful, the way the sunlight filters through the leaves of an old oak tree, shimmering on the grass beneath it? Is it the sweet breath of your newborn son on your face as you bend down to kiss his forehead? Is it the chuckle you spontaneously made when observing a tiny anthill and its industrious residents? Is it a kind, unexpected word that overtook your soul like a storm, when you needed it most? Did your extroverted spouse save you from your tendency to brood and worry and coax you to smile? Did someone tell you that you were better than something you were doing and because you believed him, you became so? Are you grateful for your toddler, offering you a seashell in his chubby little hands and calling you “my sweet, beautiful mommy”? Do you appreciate the curve of your wife’s hips or the dimple in her smile? Do you have gratitude for your mother’s home made apple pie? Look. Really look. Then dare resentment to come near, and have faith because it cannot. A grateful heart is too full to allow anything destructive near it.
Regret is the second thing that must be dumped to live a better life. Genuine remorse and the sacrament of Confession are remedies for sin to be sure, but many people carry regret like a heavy weight for the rest of their lives, and it interferes with joy and life. What’s more, many people regret non-sin decisions and allow them to unnecessarily burden them too.
Do you feel like you married too young? Too old? Had a baby too soon? Too late? Do you wish you would have had another child? Lived in a different area? Chosen a different major in college or career? What if you had said this or done that? This land of “if onlys” and “what ifs” is a dangerous place to go, much less live. Clean up that mental landscape by refusing to let regret take root. If the remedy for resentment is forgiveness of others and forgiveness of life’s seemingly unfair situations, then remedy for regret is forgiving yourself.
Your life is a gift, a wonderful web of the choices you made the best you could . There were things you didn’t know when you made the decisions you did. There were situations about which you were not aware. Who makes no mistakes? Nobody. Repair things that need repair. Make a good confession if necessary, then pull yourself up out of the muddy waters of regret and move on, making new, good choices.
And I’ll tell you what to plant in your mind once all the “if onlys” are cleaned up… seeds of thankfulness. Chances are, if you didn’t make the choices you did, you may have missed out on some big blessings. Find them.
My time is up for this pondering. My little dog is barking, and I hear the rumble of a large truck coming up our driveway with a dumpster. Time to get rid of some stuff I don’t need.
Join me, won’t you, in dumping the junk and cultivating Truth, Beauty and Goodness in its place? Remember, resentment and regrets of our past rob us of our future. And resentfulness and regret cannot exist where there is gratitude, realism and forgiveness. Choose the latter and banish the former two for a better, more joyful, life.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Romans 15:13)
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)
For more inspiration on this topic, see Ephesians 4:31, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Hebrews 12:15.
We must not fret over our own imperfections. Although reason requires that we displeased…whenever we commit a fault, we must nevertheless refrain from bitter, gloomy, spiteful and angry displeasure. Many people are at fault in this. Then overcome by anger, they become angry at being angry, sad at being sad, and irritated at being irritated. By such means they keep their hearts entrenched and soaked in anger…
…Do not look forward to the mishaps of this life with anxiety, but await them with perfect confidence so that when they do occur, God, to whom you belong, will deliver you from them. He has kept you up to the present; remain securely in the hand of his providence and he will help you in all situations…”
(From Golden Counsels of Saint Francis de Sales published by Monastery of the Visitation, Saint Louis, Missouri, 1994)