Tag Archives: Resentment

Family is Family

 They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way;
Numbers 21:4 (NIV)

My maternal grandfather, Claude Hendrickson had a particularly difficult childhood. Grandpa Spec’s father committed suicide after learning he had tuberculosis. It was assumed that Perry Hendrickson wanted to spare his family the medical costs and difficulties associated with a long, terminal illness. My grandfather, the eldest of three siblings, was farmed out to his maternal grandparents to be raised. His mother retained custody of the younger siblings.

“Spec,” as he was known this whole life, experienced a strict upbringing with his grandparents. There was, however, discipline and faith. He managed well, got married, worked hard, and made a decent life for his family. Meanwhile, his siblings suffered their own difficulties as their mother, Olive Hendrickson, went through a string of failed marriages. Spec’s brother Ralph, an alcoholic, came looking for a job from his older brother. Spec agreed to hire his brother, but explained that he would fire him the first time he found his brother drinking on the job. When that eventually happened, Ralph was fired and promptly returned family in Illinois where he spread malicious lies about Spec among the family there. Spec felt ostracized by much of his family from that point on.

Spec and Ralph remained estranged, yet when Ralph died Spec drove to Illinois to pay his respects and to face a family who thought the worst of him because of Ralph’s malicious stories. Imagine my grandfather’s horror when the funeral director handed him the bill for his brother’s funeral. As “next of kin” the family expected him to pay the bill for his estranged brother who had caused him so much trouble. My grandfather paid the bill, returned home to Iowa, and let it go.

Family is family,” I can hear my grandfather say from his rocker, chewing on a cigar.

This story came to mind as I read today’s chapter. There is a subtle, recurring theme through the story of the wilderness wanderings of the Hebrews. It appears again today when the nomad nation takes a circuitous route to avoid the land of Edom. Skirting Edom to the east meant living in an extremely desolate area east of the Dead Sea.

Back in Deuteronomy God had told Moses to leave Edom alone because the land of Edom had been settled by Esau, the twin brother of Jacob (aka Israel). The story of the twins is back in Genesis 25. Esau had been Jacob’s older twin, but Jacob had deceived Esau into giving him his birthright. The result was “bad blood” between the brothers and their descendants.

It has been some 600 years since the days of Jacob and Esau, and now the nation of Israelites are living in a desolate desert wilderness clawing out their survival because God had ordered, through Moses, that they leave Esau’s land alone. The people weren’t happy.

“Family is family.” There has always been an unwritten human principle about being faithful to family, to provide for family, to be true to family. In my life journey I believe I’ve seen the power of this sentiment slowly fade in our culture as families spread out over larger and larger geographical areas. Yet, I’m not sure it will ever fade completely. There’s something that’s built in our DNA. It’s why millions of people are doing DNA tests and searching out their roots to understand who their family is and “where I come from.” There is a part of us and our life journey that we realize is only understood in the context of the family from which we spring.

This morning I’m thinking about our human family and the things that connect us. I continue to marvel that modern genetics has definitively shown that all of us descend from what scientists refer to as “Genetic Eve.” We are all part of the same human family. Like the Hebrews, over time we feel less and less connection. Despite the fact that God reminded the Hebrews that the Edomites were “family” they didn’t think of the Edomites in those terms. They saw their distant cousins as enemies who refused to allow them to pass through the land. The Edomites didn’t see the Hebrews as distant cousins but as a threat to their very existence. Along the way our self-centered fears and desires turns human family members into mortal enemies.

Then there are those like Grandpa Spec. Despite having every reason to save his money and walk away angry from his brother’s funeral, he simply paid the funeral bill and let it go.

Family is family.

Indeed.

Letting Go

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.
2 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)

The final section of Paul’s letter to Timothy reads like a bullet list of miscellaneous thoughts. Paul languishes in Roman custody. He is in the homestretch of his life journey and he sees the finish line approaching. It’s time to do some housekeeping. Paul both provides Timothy with a thumbnail sketch of his situation as well as instructions for his protege´.

Among the rambling bullet points, Paul alludes to three sets of interpersonal conflicts:

  • Demas, Crescens, and Titus have all left Paul. The departure of Demas, in particular, does not sound to have been a good situation.
  • Alexander the metalworker caused Paul problems in Ephesus and he warns Timothy to be wary of him (the story is in Acts 19).
  • Paul recalls that when Alexander stirred up trouble for Paul all of his friends deserted him and left him alone in his defense.

One of the things I noticed this morning was that the situation with Demas appears to sting. I could almost feel Paul’s bitterness in the subtext. While in the latter two situations, Paul specifically mentions that he has given the Alexander situation over to God’s judgement and he does not want his friends’ betrayal held against them.

As I’ve read Paul’s story and his letters, one thing has become clear to me. Paul was a temperamental man, and I’m not sure he was easy to be around or to work with. As with a lot of people who accomplish great things in their lives, Paul was a driver. He was passionate, focused, and intense. The history of the world was changed by Paul and all that God accomplished through him. At the same time, Paul’s story is littered with interpersonal conflicts in which good men walked away (or were driven away) from Paul.

So now Paul raises three of these conflicts in his final words to Timothy. The older situations Paul has processed and he has come to a place of letting go. He’s not demanding justice of Alexander, but has given the situation over to God’s justice and timing. He is not hanging on to resentment of his friends whom he felt abandoned him. With Demas, however, it would seem Paul’s feelings are still in process.

I am reminded this morning that interpersonal conflict is not always resolved in a moment, even by the greatest of saints. When our lives are troubled by relational problems with others, it often requires time and space to process the issues and to let go of our anger and resentments. We must, however, process and let things go. Refusing to do so will wreak havoc in our spiritual and emotional lives. The ripple effect of resentment seeps out into our lives with insidious consequences.

 

 

Hollywood Moments of Decision

Hollywood momentBut when they stopped for the night and one of them opened his sack to get grain for his donkey, he found his money in the top of his sack. “Look!” he exclaimed to his brothers. “My money has been returned; it’s here in my sack!” Then their hearts sank. Trembling, they said to each other, “What has God done to us?” Genesis 42:27-28 (NLT)

What a Hollywood moment when the brothers who beat-up Joseph, plotted to kill him, then sold him into slavery arrive in Egypt hungry and desperate. Joseph had every reason to feel resentful, angry and to get even with his brothers. At that moment he had all the power and could easily have exacted his revenge. His initial reaction to throw them all in prison and send only one brother back home leads me to believe that he was at least struggling with some of those old feelings of resentment. But, after three days of mulling it over, Joseph changes tactics and extends undeserved favor to his brothers at every turn.

Human nature being what it is, most of us have individuals in our lives with whom there are ill-feelings, bad blood, or old resentment built up around ancient wounds. It may not be as grand a Hollywood moment, but from time to time we are all faced with the ironic opportunity to bless or curse those who have wronged us. We all stand in Joseph’s sandals now and then. Joseph chose against his initial instincts and blessed his brothers rather than curse them.

I found the reaction of the brothers fascinating. Rather than feeling as though they got away with something when they discovered their payment returned, their feelings of guilt and shame multiplied. Had Joseph responded with curses and followed through with his initial inklings of retribution, they might have eventually felt justified in their youthful assessment and actions toward their little brother. “You see,” I can hear some of them saying, “I knew that kid was bad news! We should have killed the runt when we had the chance.”

Joseph’s blessing, however, added fuel to the fire of the guilt and shame that God was already stirring in their hearts. King Solomon hit the nail on the proverbial head when he observed the same truth:

If your enemies are hungry, give them food to eat.
    If they are thirsty, give them water to drink.
You will heap burning coals of shame on their heads,
    and the Lord will reward you. Proverbs 25:21-22 (NLT)

God, the next time I have a little Hollywood moment and the opportunity to “get even” with someone I don’t like, please remind me what Joseph did when he had his own Hollywood moment of decision. Thanks.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 41

The Betrayal of Christ
The Betrayal of Christ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even my best friend, the one I trusted completely,
    the one who shared my food, has turned against me.
Psalm 41:9 (NLT)

One might read this verse from Psalm 41 and take it as prophetic. Despite the fact that the lyrics were penned about a thousand years before Christ, the words could have easily come from Jesus’ lips after Judas’ betrayal. Others read this verse and note that King David is a theological “type,” or an Old Testament example pointing to of Christ. I’m not going to dispute either of these positions, but as I read this morning my mind is less given to the prophetic or theological and more in tune with the daily grind of human experience.

Everyone of us have experienced betrayal. I read this verse and specific faces pop into my mind. Scabbed over and forgotten scars on my heart suddenly itch in reminder of their presence. I find the distant memory of hurt, confusion, and anger is suddenly a very present and palpable emotion. It doesn’t take long to stir up long forgotten and powerful negative feelings.

Today, I’m reminded that forgiveness is not a one time decision that erases all traces of an injury, but a recurring decision each time our itching emotional and relational scars threaten to propel us into anger, hatred, and resentment. I’m reminded that betrayal is common to human experience. Therefore, along with King David, and Jesus, it is also a part of each of our individual journeys. I’m also reminded that along my journey I have been the betrayer as well as the betrayed. To hold on to resentment towards my betrayer(s) while desiring or expecting the grace and forgiveness of those I have betrayed along the way is the very definition of hypocritical.

Forgive me my sins, as I forgive those who sin against me.

Chapter-a-Day Isaiah 49

Tantrum But Zion said, "I don't get it. God has left me.
   My Master has forgotten I even exist."
Isaiah 49:14 (MSG)

What an interesting contrast this verse gives to the previous section. God paints a beautiful word picture of all that He is doing for his children to provide, protect, honor and establish them. Then, in a one verse temper tantrum, the children turn their backs and cry out that they are victim of a Father God who has abandoned them and done them harm.

Wait a minute. I know this one. I've experienced it on both sides of the relational ledger.

I've been the child crying "foul!" in my circumstantial pain, blinders over my eyes that keep me from seeing so many things around me. Ignoring the part my own choices played in finding myself in that particular place. Ignorant of the larger perspective my parents and my Heavenly Father possessed. Relishing, for the moment, the deceptive satisfaction and empathetic attention I receive from choosing my victim status.

I've also been a father hearing his children cry out in anger and resentment. I've witnessed the tears. I've seen the icy stares and received the relational indictment. I understand the frustrating mixture of compassion, confusion, and consternation that a father feels with an irrational child.

Today, I'm reminded that in life's painful moments there is a larger perspective. God has a bigger picture He's painting. We can choose to believe it, step back from our temporarily powerful negative emotions, and wait for the picture to emerge and reveal itself. We can also choose to deny it, turn our back, and resentfully lick our wounds. I've tried both. The former, a more difficult choice in the heat of the moment, has proven itself more beneficial in the long run than the latter.

Creative Commons photo courtesy of Flickr and jakevol2