“I resent that!” Many of us may have resorted to saying or feeling something like that at one time or another. Perhaps we even felt our resentment was justified under the circumstances.
If you are treated unfairly or wrongly, do you feel resentment is a reasonable and merited response? After all, maybe the wrong that precipitated the resentment wasn’t at all your fault.
Webster defines resentment as “a feeling of anger or displeasure about someone or something unfair.” That definition hints at the righteous indignation that’s often a component of resentment, which might try to convince us that resentment is only a minor, subtle subset of anger, and is therefore OK.
But is resentment ever constructive? Or is responding with resentment actually a way to be part of the problem rather than the solution? Is there a better way to react to an unfairness or injury, a way that can lead to healing the whole situation?
Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, saw resentment as a state of mind to be avoided. In an address to church members she said, “The Christian Scientist cherishes no resentment; he knows that that would harm him more than all the malice of his foes” (“Message to The Mother Church for 1902,” p. 19).
That’s quite a statement. If resentment can harm us more than the situation that elicited the resentment, it certainly would be wise to relinquish it.
I’ve found that resentment is often an aspect of a “two wrongs don’t make a right” scenario. Resentment can inflame a situation, agitate emotions, or lead to negative outcomes, such as revenge. It gets you further involved in what precipitated the problem – like stepping down into the mud with whoever attempted to wrong you in the first place.
So responding with resentment is actually often a step toward making a negative situation worse. From a Christian Science perspective, a healing response instead would show that the entire scenario is not derived from God, good, and therefore has no power to hurt. In the Christian Science textbook, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” Mrs. Eddy wrote, “It is error even to murmur or to be angry over sin” (p. 369).
But how is it possible to avoid resentment when it often feels like a natural reaction, especially in the stress of circumstances? How do we come up with a better response?
The life of Christ Jesus shows how to counter unfairness and wrongs in our lives in a way that avoids resentment and brings healing. Although the Bible tells us that Jesus “loved righteousness, and hated iniquity” (Hebrews 1:9), there is no indication that he responded with hatred or anger toward any specific individual. His patient, loving, forgiving response included even Judas, the disciple whose betrayal led to Jesus’ crucifixion.
In Science and Health, Mrs. Eddy comments on Jesus’ refusal to allow the Apostle Peter’s resentment during Jesus’ arrest (see Matthew 26:50-52). She wrote, “Peter would have smitten the enemies of his Master, but Jesus forbade him, thus rebuking resentment or animal courage. He said: ‘Put up thy sword’ ” (p. 48).
This approach is undergirded by the doctrine of loving your enemies (see Matthew 5:44), one of the most radical and revolutionary aspects of Jesus’ teachings. Viewing the person who injured you as someone worthy of compassion rather than anger would logically change the dynamic of your response. Those who expect to gain something from harming another are usually in need of strength and are often sadly mistaken.
Realizing the importance of compassion as an aspect of loving your enemies naturally leads to the key step of forgiveness. And forgiveness is a component of nullifying the power of any wrong, which results in healing.
I can recall situations while I was growing up when willingness to forgo resentment was essential in reconciling a perceived unfairness unintentionally caused by a family member. To have continued to resent the unfairness would have prevented me from gaining peace, progress, and resolution.
So when I’m tempted to say or think, “I resent that!” I’ve found that counteracting that response with the approach Jesus advocated, namely compassion, love, and forgiveness, brings peace and healing.