These days, I’m reminded of another historic exodus. If my generation were the Israelites in the time of Moses, I suspect many of us would camp at a place named Resentment.
I have always resonated strongly with the story of the Israelites coming out of Egypt—forgetting God’s faithfulness days after being rescued, finding things to complain about each step of the way, choosing stubbornness over trust. They wandered around the desert for 40 years covering a span of ground that could have taken them 11 days. They camped at Marah (“bitterness”), the Wilderness of Sin, Meribah (“strife”) and 40-some other places, many named for the events that occurred there.
I understand the desire to camp out in resentment. Resentment makes you feel safe as you build the fortress around your heart. Each blow that comes only serves to strengthen your resolve to build your wall higher. Each incident adds to the file folder of hurts and bruises and leaves you feeling more justified in your negativity. This is how I lived for some time, building my case against the Church.
There’s a difference between anger and resentment. Anger is a fleeting emotion that arises in reaction to something. Resentment is the choice to dwell on your anger. Resentment literally translates from the Latin roots as “to feel again.” Think about it. When you’re in resentment, you are willfully conjuring up negative emotions and stewing in them. Anger can be used for good, to spur you to act. Resentment is a trap. It’ll keep you isolated as long as you let it. It’ll bury your good intentions with hate. The AA Big Book says, “For when harboring such feelings [of resentment] we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit.”
Hear me when I say this: Resentment is not a place to live. Camp there for a time if you have to, but at some point you must learn to turn away from the negative and seek the positive.
This is deep, hard, soul work. Here’s what I had to do. I didn’t look at Facebook or Twitter for nine months. Those comment sections just boiled my blood, and so I decided, I’m just not going to look until I feel ready to see it and not let it personally affect me. That took nine months and lots of introspection. Set some hard boundaries. Most likely, you already know what you need to do. If you don’t, start paying attention. What sets you off? Make a clean break, even if it’s just for a trial period.
I’m going to make another suggestion. Sit down with nothing but a piece of paper and a pen and spill it out. These are the people/institutions I resent. This is what they did to me. This is how it affected me. And after that? Give yourself the space to consider the ways in which you’ve wronged those same people. Start to set yourself—and others—free. This process might take some time. Give yourself the time. Sit in the mud. This is setting up the groundwork for the trajectory of your emotional health.
And when you’ve sat in that space and you’re ready, then get out into the world. What are the things that make your heart break? What do you see that just burns you up inside? Find an organization that is working toward the realities that you dream of seeing and jump in. Start your own movement. Go toward the good. Stop bashing what you hate, and instead lift up what you love. Whatever it is, please, just consider this: it’s time to pack up your camp and move out of resentment.