Sometime ago, someone asked a country bumpkin if he had a grudge. “Sure do!” he replied with pride. “It’s big ‘nuf fer two cars, ‘cept that’s where I keep my four-wheeler and lawn tractor.”
Garage, “grudge.” Same thing, right? Unfortunately, no. I like having a garage, especially since I have an aversion to getting into an icy car that’s been sitting out in the freezing cold all night. Not my favorite way of “chillin’ out.” But having a grudge – better yet, nursing one – rarely, if ever, has any positive value.
Most of us know what it is to hold onto a grudge. Perhaps someone stung us with harsh words, or has treated us disrespectfully. When we’ve been wronged at work, we’re tempted to harbor a grudge for the offense. Maybe a neighbor has done or said something particularly annoying, maybe more than once. Why not hold a grudge against them for that? In sports, it’s common for rival teams to hold grudges against each other, attitudes that foment into hatred and hostility.
Even in our churches, individuals or families refuse to speak to one another for some reason. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so also you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35). But apparently some people don’t think that applies to circumstances that justify mutual antagonism.
That’s not to minimize the emotional and relationship impact of being wronged. Wounds inflicted by others, whether by people close to us or strangers, are often slow to heal. Resentment and anger are normal responses to being hurt. However, clinging to a grudge and refusing to release it can do much harm – even to ourselves.
On his radio program a while ago, Dr. David Jeremiah suggested there are four different things to do with a grudge: Curse it. Rehearse it. Nurse it. Or reverse it. And we’ve probably done each of these at one time or another.
We curse a grudge every time we see the offending party and feel a renewed surge of negative emotions. We rehearse it by reminding ourselves of the harm done, what happened, when it happened and by whom, and how it felt. We nurse it by treating the grudge as some cherished possession, refusing to let it go for fear the wrong won’t somehow be avenged.
Or we can reverse it, recognizing that hanging onto a grudge typically brings more harm to ourselves than to the one we feel is deserving of our wrath. In presenting His model prayer – what we know as “the Lord’s Prayer” – Jesus instructed us to ask God to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” (Matthew 6:12).
He also said, a few verses later, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive yours” (Matthew 6:14-15).
When I read those words, I want to respond, “But Lord, You don’t understand. After what they did (or said) to me, how can I offer forgiveness?” Then I remember Jesus on the cross, enduring the most cruel, excruciating form of execution, and yet being able to say of His executioners, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).
In harboring ill will toward those who have offended or harmed us, our behavior mirrors theirs. As Dr. Jeremiah said, “Our enemy overcomes us when we become like our enemy.”
But where’s the vengeance, the making amends, if we willfully relinquish our “right” to harbor what seem to be well-deserved grudges? First of all, God declared, “Vengeance is mine” (Hebrews 10:30). Before we can utter our collective, “Yeah, but…”, we read about those to whom this admonition was originally addressed:
“Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions [in heaven]” (Hebrews 10:32-34).
If anyone had justifiable cause to nurse a grudge, it was those folks. But God insisted He alone had the right to judge, and avenge if necessary.
There’s one more reason for being willing to release grudges, even toward those who make no secret of their malice toward us. King Solomon made this startling observation: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you” (Proverbs 25:21-22).
Some have said, “Don’t get mad. Get even.” But as followers of Christ, we have a third option: Get free. We don’t have to remain in bondage to destructive feelings; we can release them and entrust them to our just and faithful God.