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The Far Side by Gary Larson

There’s a way of lodging our complaints that kind of looks like this scene in hell: impassioned protests of legitimate wrongs given to apathetic or uncaring listeners fuelling the fires of resentment.

Lee Strobel observes:

Acrid bitterness inevitably seeps into the lives of people who harbour grudges and suppress anger; bitterness is always a poison. It keeps your pain alive instead of letting you deal with it and get beyond it. Bitterness sentences you to relive the hurt over and over”

Creating our Grievance Narrative:

It is important to look at how we create our grievance narratives, and how to break out of the resentment that keeps on energizing them:

“We create narratives and understandings about ourselves by linking certain thoughts and memories with similar ones, and we store them together in certain mental boxes. We have the “life is unfair” box and the “this is what he’s/she’s like” box. When we have been hurt of betrayed, we often create a grievance story for ourselves and this is sorted in a box of grievance stories. When we are feeling sad and hurt, when we are wounded, our mind and memory go to one of these boxes and begin to make sausage, stringing together all of these awful things together in a narrative.

If our pain is caused by a particular person, we begin to bring together a set of grievances in a narrative. We can begin to rehearse this narrative, adding, enhancing, and refining it. Of course every time we do this exercise, we find ourselves angry or depressed, sad and powerless. The narrative can become an obsession, not readily allowing space for other more life-giving and healthy thoughts and feelings.”

(Dr. Fred Luskin, “Forgive for Good: A Proven Prescription for Health and Happiness“).

Bitterness: the Acid that destroys its own container

Chances are, you know someone “who has not moved beyond their resentment and who has drifted into unhappy isolation. Anger and resentment are obsessive emotions. They give the person who has done me harm rent-free space in my head.” (“One Hope: Re-Membering the Body of Christ“).

This is exactly how William Nack put it in his celebrated Sport’s Illustrated article, “The Fight’s Over, Joe“:

Ali has been living rent free in Frazier’s head for more than 25 years…

The interview with Heavy Weight fighter, Joe Frazier, found him after many years still bitter about his physical and verbal brawls with opponent Mohammad Ali.

What to do about the Most Harmful Memories:

The most harmful memories are those that remind us of times when we have been helpless or angry:

“Memories of painful events decrease our self-confidence, our confidence in other people, and our confidence in God. When these memories have control of our minds, they create a devastating situation – one we can hardly get through without friends. This is where the support of community members or family can save us from ourselves. But that means we have to let others in and be vulnerable enough to talk about this dark place. We have to trust others to love us, to let them teach us to never despair of the mercy of God…

Letting go of anger is the doorway to forgiving.”

What Forgiveness is and is not:

“Forgiveness does not mean saying that what was done to us was okay, condoning injustice, accepting someone’s destructive behaviour, or excusing that person from responsibility. In fact, to forgive is always in some sense to place blame, to recognize that a serious wrong has been done, but I, the injured refuse to be overcome by it.

Both persons – the one who was injured and the one who did the injury – need to consciously experience the essential elements of forgiveness and repentance. Only then is the possibility of reconciliation real.

Forgiveness can be offered unilaterally… [for] forgiveness releases us form the corrosive burden of anger or bitterness that may eat away at our hearts and deaden our spirits. It opens us to the possibilities of peace and renewal.”

What Repentance is and is not:

Repentance is not merely remorse. Often the willingness or ability to change is lost in the continual loop of “I’m sorry.” But being sorry isn’t enough. A change in behaviour is necessary. “True repentance is a decision followed by action,” a turning around – to not injure again. This is a sincere and continuous movement toward self-knowledge and conversion.

“Repentance needs a form of restitution.” Sometimes, it is as powerful as an apology [See: “The Anatomy of an Apology” in “Is it too late to say I’m Sorry?“].  Sometimes repentance is in the form of efforts toward new behaviour, or financial restitution. Repentance is action to restore “the peace that was violated, the unity that was broken, and the dignity and integrity of person whose lives were shattered” (“One Hope“).

Forgiveness + Repentance = Reconciliation

Reconciliation makes it possible to rewrite ourselves out of our grievance narrative.

Reconciliation makes it possible to break out of the cul de sac of futile complaint reels.

Though reconciliation makes this possible, the outcome is not guaranteed. We must do something more:

Rewriting the Story

We have to re-write our story with God’s help. I’m not talking about changing the facts or fantasizing about our pasts. I’m talking about the process of seeing the facts in a new light. We need to learn how to read our story, to read what already has been written in order to know what needs to happen in the next chapter.

Stay tuned to next week’s offering: Rewriting Our Story.