Replace Resentment with Charity
By Darla Isackson
Last summer I pensively sat in the chapel of the Rosedale Ward on the final Sunday of our service mission there. I was sad to be leaving. Looking around, I thought of the words to the song, “Where love is, there God is also.” How many times I had felt love as a tangible essence in this building, among these people. For instance, July’s Fast Sunday the bishop announced that elderly June Giles’s daughter had died during the week. The first woman to bear her testimony stopped on her way up to the podium to lean over and give June (who was on an aisle seat) a hug. She placed her cheek next to June’s and whispered in her ear. I could almost see angels surrounding that caring interchange. Charity, the pure love of Christ, is such a way of life for many in that ward.
Every handclasp, hug, word of encouragement, effort to reach out, or respond to loving service with love in return, is an evidence of charity in our lives. God IS love. God is part of everything to do with love.
Feeling the Lord’s love-His charity for me-helps me extend it more powerfully to others. When I don’t feel the Lord’s love it is never because He has ceased to love me. It is because I have closed myself off from it-through resentment, for example.
Where Resentment Is, There God is NOT
The dictionary definition of resentment is: “to take strong exception to what is thought to be unjust, interfering, insulting, critical .” Watch for the willfulness in the following applications of that definition: I easily take strong exception to what I think is unjust : seemingly bad consequences for what I define as “good” actions, obvious injustice on the world scene, the crash of the economy, the corporate bailout, the rich getting richer at the expense of the poor. I can take strong exception to whatever interferes with my own prime agenda-even daily demands (such as cleaning, cooking, errands). I can take exception to what I perceive as insulting or critical w hen I feel misjudged, spoken to disrespectfully, treated poorly.
Hmmm. . . to take strong exception to . . . to assume that someone else is wrong to think what they think, to act or say what they do, or to think the world shouldn’t be the way it is. To think MY perspectives are the right ones. I suddenly see that resentment is pride personified-and that misery is the inevitable result.
The formula: resentment = misery is a revelation of its source. Satan is the one who wants me miserable and resentment is a prime temptation to misery. The ugly weeds of resentment choke out the flowers of gratitude, joy, and charity. I can’t see my blessings when I am blinded by resentment and I can’t feel love. Resentment is like holding a penny close to my eye so it eclipses my vision of the glory of the sun.Resentment: the Need to Be Right about Being Wronged
Resentment is often born of failed expectations. For example, in one recent scenario, I expected another person to make certain decisions and place a high time priority on what I saw as their part of a mutual project. That didn’t happen and I resented having to take up the slack. Did it do me any good to “take strong exception to” what actually happened? Did it change or improve anything or make me feel better? Of course the answer is NO! Resentment is fighting reality and attempting to impose my own ideas on others or the world. No one is going to change what they think just because I see it differently. Governments or individuals are not going to be more fair or the economy more favorable to meet my expections. Not only that–houses are not going to stay clean longer or weeds grow slower because I want them to!
Does resentment bring the resenter any retribution, satisfaction, or joy? Quite the opposite. It is a poison, a joy-zapper, an energy drainer, a bitterness that takes sweetness and love out of the heart.
If Resentment is the Problem, What is the Solution?
Here are some ideas that have helped me:
- Follow the “Babemba” pattern.
- Refuse to participate in contention, shaming, or contests to be “right.”
- Pray for charity and seek the Spirit.
1. Follow the “Babema” pattern.
I’m fascinated with the story of a tribe in southern Africa called the Babemba. When a member of this tribe does something wrong, something that could damage or destroy the delicate social net, all work in the village comes to a halt. The people gather around the “offender” and take turns reciting everything they can think of that he has done right in his life. Speaking honestly, they remind him of his good deeds, thoughtful behavior, and acts of social responsibility.
What an exact opposite from my resentments and from the social traditions in our society! The time-honored consequence of misbehavior in the Babemba tribe is to appreciate the offending person enough to motivate him to again act according to the better part of himself.
Author Christina Baldwin suggests that by communicating honestly and well we can move in the direction of Babemba tradition. She said that when we “reveal our strengths and vulnerabilities to each other, we reinvigorate our understanding and tolerance for the little quirks of personality that in other circumstances would drive us apart. When we live in a family, a community, a country where we know each other’s true stories, we remember our capacity to lean in and love each other into wholeness.” 1
I love that phrase, “lean in and love each other into wholeness.” Isn’t that what the Babemba tribe did? Their practice seems perfectly in tune with the Savior’s example of charity. It reminds me of reading my patriarchal blessing when I have lost sight of my value and potential.
In contrast, how often are offenders in our society given the chance to remember who they are and their potential for positive impact on the life of the community? It strikes me that Clarence, the angel in the movie It’s a Wonderful Life, did that very thing when George Bailey was about to commit an act that would have had terrible consequences. The principle works for prevention too!
Wouldn’t it be a “wonderful life” to live with such traditions of charity and compassion? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if, in our family, church, and community structure we could be “remembered back” into alignment with our higher selves and purpose when we act out?
It would also be wonderful to be on the reminding side–to live with such ever-present opportunities for reconciliation. To know just what to do when someone around us is thoughtless or cruel. To respond in such situations with words and actions that create the possibility of reconnection. To give responses that lift and build instead of shame, humiliate and pull down.
2. The Power of Not Participating
The Pueblo Indians were known for being peace lovers. Whenever they were in danger of attack, since the only way to gain entrance to their dwellings was by ladders, they simply pulled all the ladders up, stayed inside, and refused to participate. To make this plan feasible-even in regard to long-term sieges, they kept a year’s supply of dried corn, squash, and grains so they could sustain themselves and their families and not have to go out where they could be attacked.
It’s no fun to carry on a war with those who don’t retaliate and participate. So it is with relationships: contention requires at least two contenders. (or at least one offender and one who takes offence.) No offense, no resentment, no contention can happen if we refuse to participate. We can refuse to take offense and we can refuse then to get sucked into the downward spiral of resentment and blame when someone else’s behavior seems blame-worthy. If a neighbor is noisy or destroys something on our property, what would happen if, instead of retaliation or resentment, we responded with gentle reminders of all the ways they have been a good neighbor previously? (using the Babemba pattern)
3. Pray for Charity and Seek the Spirit
In the final analysis, the only way we can hope to avoid resentment and see the loving truth about ourselves and others is through the influence of the Holy Ghost. Resentment is steeped in misinterpretations and misunderstandings. We only see what is in each other’s hearts when the Spirit is present. We only gain the gift of charity through cultivating that Spirit. When any two people have the Spirit, there is always love and charity between them-because “where love is, there God is also” and where God is, there love is also.
The Holy Ghost is one of the Godhead, and when our hearts are touched by Him, we feel love, the pure love of Christ. May we all resolve to make 2009 a year to move toward replacing resentment with charity.
Editor’s Note: Darla has just published a new book, Trust God No Matter What. To purchase go to www.meridianbooks.net
1 See Skycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story, Christina Baldwin, New World Library, Novato, CA, 2005, 18-19.