Gratitude or resentment

As I already mentioned Henri Nouwen’s book The Return of The Prodigal Son has been a great read for me these past weeks. I like to eat this type of deep, spirit- and truth-filled book in small bites with some space in between the meals to properly digest all the beautiful food that is packed into less than 150 pages.

And so I have taken my time reading this book that talks about the story of the Prodigal Son from Luke chapter 15 and the many aspects of life with God that the story, and the painting by Rembrandt portraying this story, point out.

Nouwen discusses many choices in the book. Choices I can make as a child of God. Choices that determine whether I get to live in the joy and peace of Romans 8 and the rest of the New Testament or whether I end up in the misery and mediocrity of Romans 7 and the reality of too many believers today.

Our choices have consequences. If I choose to live in the darkness even though I am a child of the light, I miss out on what God has for me. If I choose bitterness and not brokenness, complaints and resentments instead of gratitude and hatred and unforgiveness in place of love and forgiveness I miss out on a multitudes of gifts that are mine as a child of the king of the kingdom of God.

This passage about choosing gratitude over resentment spoke to me about one of these choices:

Gratitude goes beyond the ‘mine’ and ‘thine’ and claims the truth that all of life is a pure gift. I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. It is amazing how many occasions present themselves in which I can choose gratitude instead of a complaint. I can choose to be grateful when I am criticized, even when my heart still responds in bitterness. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty, even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile, even while I still hear the words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.

There is always the choice between resentment and gratitude because God has appeared in my darkness, urged me to come home, and declared in a voice filled with affection: “You are with me always, and all I have is yours”. Indeed, I can choose to dwell in the darkness in which I stand, point to those who are seemingly better off than I, lament about the many misfortunes that have plagued me in the past, and thereby wrap myself in my resentment. But I don’t have to do this. There is the option to look into the eyes of the One who came out to search for me and see therein that all I am and I have is pure gift calling for gratitude” (The Return of The Prodigal Son, page 86)

I know this choice between gratitude and resentment very well. I have often spend a lot of time in the darkness complaining, whining, arguing, debating…without many positive results! Resentment and bitterness are like bacteria that start small and insignificant, but the more you and I feed them the more space they’ll take up, until we can’t see any beauty and love for all the negativity that occupy our thoughts and feelings. Resentment is also dangerous because it attracts company. You’ll always be able to find people to sit and share your resentment and bitterness with. I never had a hard time finding whining-session-partners, but I have begun seeing more and more how destructive it is for me to be a person of always finding fault and always concluding that God is holding out on me. I have been bitter at God many, many years, and for me it was a huge step to allow myself to forgive God. That may sound absurd, and obviously God, who does not make mistakes, does not need my forgiveness. But I had to go through the painful process of forgiving God for making me that the way he made me, and allowing the things – good, bad, and ugly – to happen to me that have helped me shape me into the person I am today. I had to forgive him in order to come to the place of being able to thank him for everything he has done, is doing and will do in my life! I still have some steps to take with him, before I am at the place of giving him thanks in all situations and under all circumstances. But that’s where we’re heading, God and me. And I trust him to continue to change me with his love and care, so I live a life of gratitude and not a life of resentment and bitterness.

Blessings, Torben

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