What to Do With Resentment

resentmentAs long as the world turns, we will struggle with resentment.

It is subtle and it’s often hidden. Sometimes resentment is masked so well that we hardly recognize it for what it truly is and where it can take us.

Life isn’t fair and other people have abilities, talents, and treasures that we wish we had. Rather than being happy for them, we find ourselves filled with resentment. Some folks make poor choices, but life continues for them like a song with no seeming consequences, and we find ourselves feeling resentful. We rather expect all things to be equal, but they just aren’t. So we become resentful.

The Very Beginning

You know where this started? Way back in the Garden of Eden – with the very first family.

God gave the first sons of Adam (Cain and Abel) interests and abilities that were different from each other. They had the same parents, same genes, same bloodline, but they had different interests, and different abilities. God is allowed to do that. The boys didn’t get to choose their talents; they came along with the genetics.

First, we have Cain, the first born and a tiller of the ground. That’s a noble profession, for God had said that man was to till the ground.  Apparently, Cain was a good farmer. I’m sure his produce was some of the best. He was obviously the first born and liked to be in charge. I get the feeling that folks didn’t readily tell him what to do.

Abel, the second born, was the younger brother, and a keeper of the sheep. It sounds like he was the farmer and took care of the animals. I get the feeling that he was bossed some by his older brother.

Both occupations require sweat and hard work. Both boys had their calling and their interests in life. Neither gifting was better or worse than the other. The problem wasn’t the giftings that were given to each son.

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The problem was that when it came time to bring an offering before the Lord, the eldest didn’t follow God’s instructions. The consequences of that choice caused resentment.

Cain pursued his own interests and brought the fruit of the land. It makes sense, really. Husbandry was his thing and it was where he was the most comfortable.  He could choose the most delectable produce and make sure it had no blemish. It wasn’t that being a farmer was wrong. The problem was that God had given specific instructions for how to bring Him an offering, and Cain failed the test.

Here comes younger brother Abel, the sheep herder.  He brings the firstlings of his flock to the Lord, and God has respect for his offering. Abel did it the way God said it had to be done. It wasn’t that Abel’s offering was better than what Cain brought. It wasn’t that Abel was a farmer.

The resentment problem wasn’t that Abel obeyed God, but that Cain didn’t.

As we are prone to do, Cain got upset. Everybody knew he was upset because the story line says that his countenance fell. Usually, when a person starts pouting, the purpose is to let others know that life isn’t fair, and that they’re upset; that they want things to be different. So Cain pouted.

God recognized the problem.

He asked Cain, “Why are you so upset? If you did well, then your offering would have been accepted. If you didn’t do well, then it’s because you sinned.” (Basically, God was saying, “Don’t be mad at Abel; he’s not the problem. You’re the problem because what you did was wrong.”)

If only Cain had listened to God. If only Cain had not resented Abel and become angry at him.

The problem started a long time before this offering episode. Could there possibly have been a previous discord between the brothers? It’s not likely that a pre-meditated murder occurred over one single incident. We sense that there was conflict, and it probably stemmed from sibling rivalry or resentment that went a long way back.

We don’t know the words exchanged between those two brothers that day in the field. All we know is that Cain talked with Abel when they were in the field. Subsequently, Cain rose up and killed Abel.

Why? What went wrong? How could a brother hate another brother so intensely that he would end his life?

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It Continues Today

It is still prevalent today. Siblings, relatives, coworkers and church folks struggle with rivalry and envy. Somebody has something we wish we had, and suddenly it becomes their fault for having something we wish we had.

We do the same thing. When it’s time to follow what God says we should do, we find a way to get around it and justify our attitudes because of what someone did or didn’t do to us.

When there is discord among our siblings, cousins, coworkers, or friends, we do well to stop and ask ourselves:  What is the real problem here?

Why am I upset with him/her? Does he have gifts I don’t want to acknowledge? Why can’t I compliment her for her abilities? What makes me want to hold back from affirming? Is it because I resent his talents? Is it because she has something I don’t have? Is it because he has something I want?

If only Cain had focused on what he had done that fell short of God’s standard instead of being angry with his brother! If only Cain had recognized his own jealousy instead of being angry at someone else!

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The Solution to Resentment

Each of us is faced with the choice to bless those who have what we wish we had.

Can we understand that not succumbing to our pain and disappointment will pave the way for future relationships? Can we grasp the concept that blessing someone else for what we don’t have acknowledges that God has chosen and gifted us as He desires – and chosen to gift them as well? We would do well to look beyond what we wish we had, what doesn’t seem fair, and recognize that often what seems so unfair has nothing to do with what someone else has done on their own. More often than not, what they have is the result of God’s decision to give through genetics and experiences. Can we let God be God or will we try to make Him out to be a god of our design?

One of the best ways to get beyond sibling rivalry, cousin conflict, or friend fiascos is to bless those with whom we have rivalry or conflict, especially if our conflict stems from jealousy or resentment.

What if we would stop and think about those whom we resent? What is it about them that we find so repulsive or that makes it hard to wish them well? Is it really something they have done, or is it their abilities, their talents, or their financial success? Was it because they might have made some good choices while ours were poor choices, or was it because God has gifted them in ways He hasn’t gifted us? Perhaps someone else made poor choices that affect us negatively today. How is that the fault of the people whom we resent, those who have what we can’t have? Either way, how is what happened to us their fault and a reason for our resentment?

There are days I’ve mixed a batch of bread and passed out a few loaves – not so much for the receivers as for myself.  I sensed an attitude brewing in me, and I knew if I didn’t do something positive, I’d be seething inside, building walls.

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So I make myself do the hard thing. I face my resentment and I bless by giving.

Amazingly, the giving lifts the darkness. The heavy silence in the car is gone. The first day back to work with the new supervisor who got the job I wanted is smooth sailing. My neighbor waves at me again. Others see that what I do is for Jesus and not for me. I’m not in bondage to what I wish I had.

When we can learn to bless others, we are no longer rivals. When we learn to bless others who have what we wish we had, we are overcomers. When we learn to bless others, we are being Jesus to our families, to our friends, and to the world.

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