Coping with Resentment

The feast of St Richard of Chichester acts as a reminder that the choices we make in life are often difficult and can lead to resentment and a sense of grievance among others, if not ourselves. When Richard went off to Oxford, having rescued the family farm and saved his brother and sister from destitution, I daresay his siblings were a little reproachful. Why did he insist on becoming a clerk, when clearly his duty was to settle down as a family man and look after the family’s inheritance? He was escaping a life of toil and drudgery while they faced a future dependent on the weather and the uncertainties of farming. Did they have to carry the burden of resentment for the rest of their lives?

As a nun, I often come across instances of people resenting the treatment they received at the hands of religious sisters half a lifetime ago. They have only to see my habit or read some mild jest of mine, and the years fall away and they are again a frightened or aggrieved child; and like frightened or aggrieved children, they strike out in impotent fury. It is difficult for them, but it is also, at times, difficult for me, too. How does one cope with such deep-seated resentment, in oneself and in others?

The answer I would want to give, that one must bring such feelings and hurts to Christ, again and again, is not one that cuts much ice with the person deeply wounded by past experiences and still imprisoned by resentment, nor is it much help to anyone feeling battered by the resentments being worked out on them. Perhaps a better answer would be to say that one is not defined by the hurtful experiences of yesterday any more than one is defined by others’ opinions of us — unless one chooses to be. We cannot help our feelings, but we can, to a very great extent, choose what we do about them. I may feel like chucking a paper-weight at you, but I am not compelled to do so — which is lucky for both of us.

I’m sure many readers will want to add something about the evil of child abuse (about which I have myself written a great deal in previous posts), so can I emphasize that I am not writing about abuse here. I am writing about resentment — the burning feeling of having been treated unjustly by others/life/God — which can be triggered by almost any situation, from the brother going off to a splendid career in the Church to the fierce teacher who made one’s schooldays hell. In the end, we can’t change other people any more than we can change the past, but we can allow forgiveness and grace to transform our understanding of both. Resentment doesn’t have to hold us in its thrall.