This question has been plaguing mankind for centuries. It’s tough to let go of the hurt when someone we trusted betrayed us or let us down in some way.
Sometimes the only way out is to shed a new light on the situation and take a look at it from a different perspective.
For example, as Father Michael Sliney, LC, writes in this article, it’s worth considering that holding grudges and holding on to old hurts could be a sign of pride on our part. We just can’t bring ourselves to let the offender off-the-hook because keeping then on that “hook” makes us feel like we’re making them pay for what they’ve done.
The more spiritually astute can fall into the same trap with one another, which they do by allowing themselves to be shocked at the offense of another because they should be acting “holier than this!” As St. Therese of Lisieux teaches, it’s a sign of pride to be shocked at the failings of others. What makes us think we’re any better, or that we might not respond in a similar way on a bad day? Instead, we should be too busy focusing on each other’s virtues to notice our occasional falls.
“I know now that true charity consists in bearing all our neighbors' defects--not being surprised at their weakness, but edified at their smallest virtues,” she writes in the Story of a Soul.
Another reason we hold grudges could be out of jealousy. How many famous rivalries – beginning with the tragic tale of Cain and Abel, were fueled by this noxious vice?
Father Sliney recalls the famous feud between Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo who were perpetually at each other’s throats for no other reason than because they were both jealous of each other's talents.
“Both were trained in Florence, both were exceptionally gifted, and both were asked to do similar works of art — at times even in the same location,” he explains.
Michelangelo loved to insult Leonardo in the streets and would laugh at him for not finishing a statue of a horse in Milan. In return, Leonardo had a history of launching personal attacks and insults at his rival whenever he could.
“Competition can often bring out the worst in people,” he writes. “How much beautiful and incredible masterpieces could these artists have produced if they had left their grudges behind, and perhaps worked together or shared best practices?”
But what about when it goes much deeper, when it’s a situation involving serious damage such as emotional or physical abuse or financial foul play? Forgiveness can seem too impossible, especially when we believe that it means we have to condone the offense, or expose ourselves to the potential for further harm.
In this case, it's important to remember that forgiveness is actually more about the offended than the offender. It’s a choice to let go of the animosity, resentment, and anger that is ruining their own life. Some people only come to this point after realizing that seeking revenge and harboring ill-will isn’t helping to resolve their pain. They finally decide to seek a “change of heart” that will enable them to just let go and learn how to live again.
As Bert Ghezzi writes in this article: “ . . . [W]e often have good reasons for striking back at people who have mistreated us. Many times we are perfectly right. In accordance with principles of strict justice, people who wrong us ought to repent and make amends for the damage they have done. Although this approach makes sense on one level, it can be fatal to us on another.”
He explains: “The harder we try to get back at someone, the more we get hurt. As our mind reaches out in search of revenge, bitterness reaches into us, plunging its massive, expanding tentacle deep within us. Daydreams of getting even devour our time during the day. At night we lose sleep to our hurt feel¬ings. Resentment is a spiritual tapeworm that nourishes itself at our expense. Too often we are willing to feed this parasite.”
It also has a devastating impact on our spiritual life because nursing grudges is a serious stumbling block for the Christian.
“Constantly recalling people’s offenses and thinking of ways to pay them back creates a steady drain on our spiritual energy,” he writes. “Bitterness prevents us from receiving the Lord’s power. It blocks our release from the problems that afflict us.”
For this reason, he suggests that we stop writing out what he calls “spiritual IOU’s.”
“We write out spiritual IOUs. We keep strict accounts, planning to exact the very last penny. In our ledger, we hold IOUs against our parents (for quarreling between themselves and manipulating us); against brothers and sisters (for belittling us and get¬ting more parental attention, or so it seemed); against spouses (for some petty fault or slip of the tongue); against children (for lack of respect and for turning out different than we had planned). We hold IOUs against friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and so on. If we are to experience freedom ourselves, we must cancel all these debts. We must deal with our IOUs the way God dealt with ours: He “canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the Cross.”
He suggests a practical way to get rid of resentment.
“Make a list of all those people toward whom you have resentments. Begin with the people closest to you — parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, and children — and move outward from there. You might want to list each on a separate slip of paper. Then tear up the IOUs one by one. Forgive each of them, no matter what they have done to offend you.”
And when you come up against one or two IOUs that you just can’t tear up because the injury was too great, make a conscious decision to forgive anyway – even if you don’t feel it.
“If we wait until we feel like forgiving, we’ll probably take others’ IOUs with us to the grave.”
Just tear it up.
But don’t do it only for yourself and your own sanity. Do it for Jesus.
“Imagine if Jesus had not forgiven St. Peter after he had denied knowing him three times? Imagine if He had blasted all of the Apostles with the exception of St. John, for having abandoned Him in His moment of greatest need at the cross?” Father Sliney suggests.
“He let these past hurts go, appeared to the disciples after His resurrection — and affirmed them and renewed His deep trust in them to establish the church.
Jesus has providentially placed many souls in your path, some of whom will be a little more challenging. Are you willing to allow His love to work through you?”
How much more could you be doing with your life if you let go of the grudges that are tearing you and your family apart?
This holiday season, take your hurts to the One who has forgiven far worse and ask Him to give you the grace to set yourself free of the burden of grudges so that you might live as He intends for you – in the peace of Christ.
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The Women of Grace® Foundational Study devotes a whole chapter to understanding what forgiveness is - and isn't. Learn how to let go of your grudges once and for all! Click here for more information.