This one promises to be a long one – but it is a long time coming so thank you for bearing with me. Let me start with a story that so many of us know – the story of the Prodigal Son. But in case you don’t remember, here’s the story Jesus told from Luke 15:
And he said, “There was a man who had two sons. And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took a journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in reckless living. And when he had spent everything, a severe famine arose in that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything.
“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to celebrate.
“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”
You may know this – but this was a parable. So although on the surface level the story was about 2 brothers and a father and a homecoming, on another level the story was about the salvation of people across the world and how regardless of when we come to faith in Christ, we have the same reward (eternal life with him) because it is not our righteousness, but the righteousness and generosity of our heavenly Father that “earns” us our reward in heaven. So what Jesus was saying here, at the depths of this parable, is that the guy who serves Christ from the time he is 6 until he is 86, giving all he has and working to serve Christ for 80 years, is basically equal to the guy who lives his life selfishly but on his deathbed transfers his trust to Christ and lives a life following Christ for 11 minutes before passing from this earth. Jesus is saying our righteousness is a free gift. Period.
And truthfully, on the surface level, this story has never felt “fair” to me, and I have always related to the older son. Isn’t that strange? Not sure if I’ve ever heard anyone admit that – but if you read this blog often then you know me and you know I try to confess sin on this thing whenever it comes to mind. And here it is – another of my sins I am here today to confess – resentment.
Resentment – the feeling of indignation at some act, remark, or person regarded as causing injury or insult.
I looked up resentment in the thesaurus – and the synonyms shamed me. acerbity, acrimony, animosity, animus, annoyance, antagonism, bitterness, choler, cynicism, displeasure, dudgeon, exacerbation, exasperation, fog, fury, grudge, huff, hurt, ill feeling, ill will, indignation, ire, irritation, malice, malignity, miff, offense, outrage, passion, perturbation, pique, rage, rancor, rise, spite, umbrage, vehemence, vexation, wrath
Resentment is the name of the emotion the older brother experienced in the story of the Prodigal Son. And I can’t blame him – this guy was faithful, he labored and stayed and cared for his father, he watched his father broken by a son who rejected him, he picked up the pieces when his brother walked away. I’m sure that while his brother was gone, he bounced back and forth from missing him to hating him for what he had done. I’m sure he had times where he imagined the scenario of his brother coming crawling back home – and in his wildest imaginings he never anticipated a celebration like the one his father was throwing. His feelings were natural, right? I can see how he’d feel that way. But we have to be careful – as Believers in Christ, we don’t have the liberty of allowing our “natural feelings” to dictate our responses. Christianity isn’t about natural feelings – it is about the supernatural dying of ourselves in surrender to a God who loves us and allows us to be a part of His story. Resentment is certainly a natural emotion, as old as Adam and Eve. I wasn’t around then, but my guess is that resentment is what drove Cain to kill Abel. And we can be lulled into thinking that resentment is only a “natural” response to an injustice – but there is nothing natural about resentment. It is a serious sin not only against the person I resent, but against the God who calls me to peace and love.
Here is how this plays out for me – and how I have come to battle it in my life. I am the oldest of three kids – and it isn’t false humility when I say that I am the least remarkable of the three. My brother is a handsome, personable, hilarious, charismatic guy. I have yet to meet a person who knows my brother and doesn’t love him. He is a great husband and he loves his wife as Christ loves the church. He is active and involved in his kids’ world – they adore him. He is a 6 foot 5 inch tall fireman with a Masters Degree from Texas A & M. People are drawn to him and naturally follow him. My sister is, literally, a miracle. Doctors said she would never be born, but she was, and she is captivating. She is beautiful inside and out, gifted, precious, artsy and together. She sees and captures the world in an innocent powerful way through her photography. She graduated from Texas A & M and is now overseas on a long-term mission assignment. People adore her – I truly don’t know anyone more loved than Jess. So I grew up with both of my siblings pretty much revered in our family – and that feeling is justified – they are both remarkable people. I never felt smaller – just ordinary by comparison. I love my brother and sister. They are absolutely my best friends. I love talking to them and processing my day-to-day life in this world with them. I do not want to resent them. And yet sometimes I do.
So what do I do with that? What do I do when my own mind seems to be trying to drive a wedge between me and two people who I adore? Why do I, a mostly secure 34-year-old, still bristle when one of my siblings gets attention over me? And it isn’t just my siblings that fall prey to my resentment. Friends, co-laborers in ministry, other women who get placed into positions of leadership – all can be subject to my resentful heart at times.
So what is that?
I think it is further evidence of a broken world, a heart born to sin, and an enemy who wants to divide and conquer.
So how do I defeat it? How do I push away the spirit of resentment?
First of all – I acknowledge the lie. I am not, in any way, in competition with any other human on this planet. We are all 100% equal and it does not take anything from me when another gets praised. So that feeling of competition and of resentment – it is a lie that needs to be battled. Just like we battle thoughts of lust against anyone who is not our spouse, or thoughts of hate towards someone who wronged us, we battle this. We do not sit idly by and allow these thoughts to rule and reign our life. Because they will, if not fought, rule and reign. Anything, if left alone, gravitates towards death and decay. Only by fighting these lies and these thoughts, dragging them into the light, and confessing them to the King of Kings do we have any hope of victory.
Second – I acknowledge the battle and therefore, the enemy. I have found, and this is a recent discovery, that the times when I resent someone the most are the times when I should press into that person. If we know we have an enemy who is everyday trying to thwart anything good we may do for the Kingdom of God, and we know that only in community can we grow, then we have to realize that the enemy is going to build walls against our community with people who could help us grow and accomplish the things God has for us to accomplish. So how does this work? It means I take note when I start to resent someone, because our battle is never against another Believer. For example, a few weeks ago I had this sneaking feeling of resentment against my friend Kelli after she told me that she and her husband were looking into adoption. This left me feeling confused and frustrated with myself- why would I feel this way when I love Kelli and love adoption? Oh yea – I forgot – we are in a battle and we have an enemy. So I confessed that feeling and I fought to get in community with Kelli – I call her and we go to coffee and we discuss adoption and we realize we can help each other. I have a role to play in her adoption, and she in mine. We begin to feed each other books and encouragement and begin to work together on our common goal of adoption. Don’t you think that is why I resented her in the first place? Don’t you think the enemy of our souls saw the power in a relationship between two women who genuinely want to rescue those being led away to death, so he tried to sow resentment into my mind to thwart that idea?
I have found this principle to be really powerful in my day-to-day life. When I resent Joe for his charisma, I realize his charisma is a gift from God in his life and I also benefit from that gift. His gifts bring God glory and equip him to do what God called him to do. His faith would be severely tested if we was a follower as a fireman, but as a leader he can draw men to Christ instead of being drawn away. It benefits our family because he is a natural leader, and we can follow his lead and doors will open to us. When I resent Jess for her “miracle” status, I realize she is the greatest gift the Lord has ever given me, and I myself have benefitted from that miracle more than anyone else. Why would I resent what has only blessed my life? She is overseas doing missions and she shouldn’t even be breathing – so think of the lives touched by our miracle. When I look at people this way, I begin to see how irrational this idea of resentment is in my life. I begin to see how dangerous these wedges are between us and I begin to dwell in gratitude for the gifts the Lord has given people close to me, gifts that I directly benefit from when I am in Biblical community with these people.
I realize that I am not threatened by the gifts and grace given another. Ever.
Third – I confess this resentment as sin. It is not my brother’s problem that he is amazing, nor is it my sister’s. It is not Kelli’s problem that the Lord has moved her family to consider adoption. Those are all incredibly wonderful things. This junk in my head is my problem. And I need to confess it and fight it and choose to love the people around me that the Lord is blessing. I choose not to be a child stomping my foot because I didn’t get chosen first. I will not be that person. I was a child, but I am an adult now, and I will act like one. So I confess my sin and shame and ask the Lord to cleanse me of this nasty, awful sin of resentment. It is not okay to feel this way – and I will not allow it to continue.
Fourth – I trust the God who made me. He has given me gifts. He has made me who I am. He has breathed life in me for a purpose. And with a spirit of gratitude I need to thank Him for who I am, how I have been gifted, and the doors He has opened for me. I choose not to constantly have my hand out whining for more, or comparing myself to my brothers and sisters. I will walk with my head up because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. And I trust His heart that He has a reason for blessing me with some things and blessing others with different things. My perception of others being more remarkable than me is just that, my perception. There are likely things in me they find remarkable, and I am grateful. After all, we all have the same Spirit living inside of us who makes us remarkable.
Fifth – I get in community with remarkable people. I have had times in my life where I wanted to be friends with the “cool kids” – and that is not what I am talking about. Around each of us, in our spheres, are people who are incredible in a spiritual sense. They are wise and wonderful and listen to the Lord and follow His ways. Those are the people I need to be in community with. I don’t compete, I don’t resent, instead I get near them and I benefit. More and more I am convinced that Biblical community is the only way to grow in faith. So we have to get to know each other. Talk on the phone. Go to coffee. Jump into each other’s lives. Allow these people to speak into our lives (James 3:17). Let them help us process our junk.
Sixth – Fight the wedge. Watch for it, be sensitive, be prayerful, be vigilant, and no matter how we feel, don’t allow a wedge to be placed between us and another Believer. The wedge is a tactic of the enemy and our sinful hearts. It is there to divide us – and we are all one body. We cannot allow division. So we fight the wedge. Even the tiniest part of the wedge. Because once it is in there – it is not a big deal to slide it up until what divides us is overwhelming.
I always wonder if there is more to these stories than Jesus told – mostly because I like happy endings. So I always wonder if the older brother stomped off but maybe after a while, once he cooled off, maybe he came back around and sat at the head table with his brother and father and enjoyed the feast. Because I have realized it doesn’t hurt others when we are tangled up in resentment – it hurts us. The older brother was so mad at his younger brother that he stomped off and missed the party? How silly – I’m sure the party was a blast. We have to acknowledge that resentment, like unforgiveness, is a poison in our life and our soul first and foremost. And we have a choice – we can run off and dwell in resentment, away from our Father, or we can grow up, trust His heart, and join the party. Because that is what we do when we turn from resentment and spend time with the people the Lord has blessed – we get to join in the feast. And when we do – we realize that God is good and that life is sweeter in community with Him and others.
And on the deeper level of the parable – I am grateful for the even playing field only made possible by the cross of Christ. I would NEVER want a scenario where I have to earn the love or forgiveness of my Father because I would never be able to do it and I would be cut off from His grace for all eternity. The Bible says “There is none righteous” if we measure by our inherent righteousness. The Lord set it up in a merciful way – because of the blood of Christ, we who are in Christ whether for a moment, or an hour, or a lifetime ALL have access to His grace. I am so grateful for the Prodigal Son and the promise of salvation hidden between the lines of this story. The deeper message of this story is the same as the surface one – God is good and life is sweeter in community with Him and others.