Yes and No: gratitude and resentment

From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace. ~ John 1:16


Sometimes in the early morning before dawn, I light a candle and close my eyes to pray. I can see the yellow candlelight flickering through my eyelids. I breathe in deeply; all is well as the silence surrounds me like a cocoon. I slowly breathe in and out until my body, mind, and soul “find the quiet center.” Each full breath is a gift, a grace note.

I am thankful for the silence, each breath, and the air I breathe. I don’t get up before the sunrise very often, but when I start the day with a “foundational yes” as Father Richard Rohr says and not a “petty no” it makes all the difference.

Can we live in gratitude? Can it become the air we breathe, the cup we drink from when we are thirsty?

As the song says, do we live in “awesome wonder”? Do we “see the stars and hear the rolling thunder”? Do we hear the “birds sing sweetly in the trees”? Do we “look down from lofty mountain grandeur”? When I step onto a soft dirt path moving through a high mountain meadow or when I walk beneath the red canyon walls, “O the joy that floods my soul,” and gratitude fills my heart. Even if it’s just for a moment, I lay my burdens down.

John, the son of Zebedee wrote, “From his fullness we have all received grace upon grace” (John 1:16). Life in all its complexity (the calm and the chaos, the joy and the sadness, and the peace and the strife) is all a gift from our Creator. What, if anything, prevents us from walking more fully in gratitude, generosity, and grace?

Sometimes, perhaps quite often, I get resentful which nullifies any thanksgiving. “Resentment is a passion, a paralyzing set of complaints that makes us feel angry and frustrated with the people and institutions on which we have made our lives dependent,” writes Henri Nouwen. Resentment makes us suspicious, cynical, depressed, and angry. It robs us of joy and hardens our hearts. “Resentment is often so deeply hidden that it is often not even noticed by those who are most resentful.”

The older son in the story of the prodigal is resentful and unable to enjoy life. He thinks his younger brother is getting way more than he deserves while he is not getting near enough. How often do we think, “I’ve earned this! I deserve this!” As Nouwen asks, “What prevents us from rejoicing in the father’s generosity to others? Why are we not grateful for what we have received?” Do we have a sense of entitlement? Do we think life owes us or is life a gift?

Rohr writes, “We can waste a whole day (or longer) feeding that hurt until it eventually seems to have a life of its own and, in fact, possesses us.” Eckhart Tolle calls this our pain body. We all have one. It makes us judgmental, negative, cynical, and angry. We are unable to smell the roses or hear the birds softly singing. Life is not fair. Our resentment consumes us day and night and we are unable to enjoy life. We never get what “we think” we deserve, and resentment settles in like a hard cold. Resentment is a poison we swallow, and we expect it to harm the other person.

How do we move from resentment to gratitude?

First, we must recognize our resentment and name it says Rohr. “I resent my station in life.” “I feel resentment toward my father, or my spouse, or my friend.” We name our resentments, but we do not attach to them. In centering prayer or meditation, we can observe our resentments flowing through our thoughts, but we just let them move on by. We don’t give our resentment any energy.

“When we cling to our complaints, our heart is full of resentment, and there is no room for God to enter and set us free,” says Nouwen. But as we let go, grace enters and there is nothing we can do but give thanks.

When resentment comes into our life, what would God have us do? Should we hang on to it and become more and more bitter? Or can we pray for the person or the situation which is eating us up and ask the Holy Spirit to bless them even if we don’t mean it? (Note: Try this for two weeks and see what happens.) Can we let go and live into gratitude? Can we remember the gifts our Creator has given us?

Several years ago, we took several of our youth on a service trip to South Central Los Angeles. One day we drove through Skid Row. The poverty, pain, and suffering were overwhelming. Andie, one of our youths, saw two old men sleeping on a grate. The oldest sat up and opened a tattered can of Pringles. He tapped the man next to him and together they shared his chips, communion in its highest sense.

“Let us offer one another signs of reconciliation and love.”

May we remember the “yes” of Grace and ask God to help us let go of our resentments. “May we hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze.” May we let go and let God.

Blessings and peace,