Henri Nouwen wrote a profound book called The Return of the Prodigal Son, A Story of Homecoming. He spends an entire section of the book describing the elder son. This is the son who was compliant, hard-working, didn’t spoil his inheritance and was faithful through the years to the father. When the prodigal son returns, he isn’t happy to see his younger brother or the reunion between father and son. The eldest is swallowed up by a dark pathology of bitter resentment that kept him from engaging or even entering the home. When we experience resentment we lose our spontaneity, our ability to see goodness, and everything is discolored through the darkened lens of mistrust and calculation. Resentment can be insidious.
Gratitude slowly pokes holes in our resentment and with discipline, our resentment starts to shrink. Gratitude isn’t by accident. Sometimes it catches us by surprise. For instance we may feel a wave of gratitude when we see a sunset, witness affection between our children or receive a kind, unexpected word. This type of gratitude sneaks up and gives us a warm hug. This isn’t the type of gratitude though that can extinguish resentment. Resentment is a like a roach that can out-live all your bug spray. You have to pull out something stronger to kill it. Resentment-killing-gratitude requires choice and effort. Choosing kindness over criticism, grace over justice, warmth over cool encounters are all examples. Each choice forces us to give something up and yet each choice loosens the hold resentment may have on us. There is no simple recipe. Each person has to harness their own gratitude to fight their own resentment. It’s a private battle and yet the public results are life-changing.
“Resentment and gratitude cannot coexist, since resentment blocks the perception and experience of life as a gift.” Nouwen
In what areas of life are you experiencing resentment? Where can you begin to leverage gratitude to combat the resentment?