Resentment sells. Social media has become a platform for injuries, slights and blame. Our President has a rather perverse skill in fomenting and facilitating resentment. He does it because he has figured out that lots of people – from every political stripe, want to buy it. And yet, as Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said, resentment is drinking poison and then expecting someone else to get sick.
At least initially, the poison tastes good. I know. I have drunk the poison of resentment from time to time. It goes down easy, my adrenaline gets a quick rush, someone else is put down – and for a short period of time there is the illusion that the balance of the universe is tipped in favor of the resenter – and against the resented. But in the end resentment only serves to put greater distance between the person drinking the poison and the person who is supposed to get sick.
In some moments I think that resentment is becoming a de facto religion in our culture. The Latin root for religion is religio – that which binds people together. Increasingly people are bound together by their shared resentment, which can easily and rapidly become hardened – leading to a polarity that can seem impossible to bridge.
The Christian life provides some important antidotes to resentment. They are not theological bromides. They take work, and consistent working at. Giving is a start. If you began your journey in the giving of money as I did, there was a certain measure of resentment to work through. I felt pressured and anxious – and the anxiety impelled me to hold on to what I had (which some cultural calculus had determined wasn’t very much). I resented the whole enterprise. When my wife and I began tithing in the first year of our marriage, at her insistence, I began to discover a level of freedom that was completely new and unexpected. It was the beginning of a freedom from resentment over who had more – or who lived on the other side of the polarity. It was a freedom from resentment at whatever group (church, college, agency) that was holding its hand out.
I discovered that my prior history of giving wasn’t giving at all – it was making payments on an obligation. It was transactional. It invited resentment and truncated freedom. Giving at the tithing level became transformational – because it was literally stepping out of the realm of resentment into a place of gratitude. Abundance became more than just a philosophical concept; it became a way of looking at the world. Giving thanks was no longer pro forma response to satisfy some social etiquette, but became an authentic expression of the heart.
I still have spasms of resentment. Most of us do. To get out of that stuck place – and to resist the purveyors of resentment, I give something – time, money, thanks.
More often than not, it works.