My Twelve-Year Grudge Didn’t Make Me Feel Better
By Kelly Wright
It was a Thursday in mid-January, 12 years ago that I strategically returned duplicate Christmas gifts to a national retail store. The cashier exchanged items and put the total on gift card but because she wasn’t a manager, she needed to get a manager’s approval. The manager looked at the items and then asked if I had any receipts. I explained that these were gifts from grandparents and aunts and uncles, and I didn’t get receipts from them. To my shock, he then asked, “How do I know you didn’t steal these items?” I wish I had the security footage to see the look of disbelief on my face. Even though I muttered back that I did not steal the items, it didn’t matter because he refused to approve my returns. I left feeling shame and anger. As I drove home, I got angrier and was the epitome of the American Psychological Association’s definition of anger…
“Anger is an emotion characterized by antagonism toward someone or an emotion characterized by something you feel has deliberately done you wrong.”
I was angry at this store because their employee deliberately did me wrong. So, I did what any angry customer would do – I went home and told my husband. Misery loves company and now we were both mad. He was so mad on my behalf he contacted the corporate office and I vowed to never shop there again…and I haven’t for 12 years.
My feelings of anger weren’t wrong, and you might totally support my boycott, but we must remember that anger is listed as one of the deadly sins and becomes a deadly sin when it is fueled by pride.
At the core of anger is the prideful belief that says I deserve my way.
I didn’t get what I deserved at the national retail store. My way was to get my refund and go on with my day. When that didn’t happen – I wanted to make them pay by boycotting them.
But after all these years, my boycotting hasn’t made me feel better. My grudge hasn’t been the antidote. The guy who wouldn’t approve my returns hasn’t been thinking about the interaction he had with me twelve years ago – I’m the only one still thinking about it and refusing to go there all these years.
Continuing to carry around our hurt never makes us feel better. It only increases our anger and hurt – only gives those who have hurt us control of our future because of the past. We’re spewing poison of anger in its various forms and it’s only making things worse.
Anger is the poison and humble forgiveness is the antidote.
Stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Don't yell at one another or curse each other or ever be rude. Instead, be kind and merciful, and forgive others, just as God forgave you because of Christ. Ephesians 4:31-32
Paul tells us to stop being bitter and angry and mad at others. Another translation says get rid of all bitterness and anger. We get rid of our anger and bitterness by being kind and merciful and forgiving those who have hurt us. I am invited to forgive the customer service manager.
This may sound good in theory, but how do we do the work of humble forgiveness?
The first step is to name who you are angry with. Take out a piece of paper and write the person’s name down. Who took something from you or mistreated you? An important note to remember is that we don’t explore this to blame or shame people in our lives. We explore who we are angry with to take responsibility for our anger. So, we begin by naming the person and sometimes that person is God and sometimes that person is you.
The second step is to name what is owed to you. You continue by writing down your answer to this question: What does the person that hurt you need to return to you?
From example, let’s say the person you wrote down was your dad because he left your family when you were growing up. You might write down these things that are owed to you: childhood with a dad, living with both parents, not having to be the go-between with parents, not having to grow up so fast.
To truly forgive we must evaluate the extent of the harm done. Forgiveness is a process where we recognize who has hurt you and to what extent.
The third step is to cancel the debt. We have named who and what is owed to you. To cancel the debt, we determine in our heart that they no longer owe you anything. You continue this exercise by writing on the note “paid in full” or by shredding the list as a symbol of canceling the debt.
Remember, forgiveness is a process, it’s not a one-time event. It is often a daily decision to continue to forgive because feelings take time to recover. When feelings come, we must face them and continue to cancel the debt.
We can cancel the debt because, as Paul says, “Just as God forgave you because of Christ.” God cancelled our debt. We’ve wronged God – we owe God; God is not only slow to anger and full of compassion, but He paid the debt by giving us Jesus. Jesus died for our sins and paid the debt He didn’t owe, but out of His love for us, He willingly went to the cross. As followers of Jesus, we humbly forgive because we’ve been forgiven.
Are you tired of carrying the weight of anger? God invites us to choose His way – to name who and what and to cancel the debt.
Matthew 11:28-30 - Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”