Picture a tombstone. In large letters is the name “Thomas Smith.” The inscription reads: “The following people still owe me an apology.” Then there are four columns of names.
Mr. Smith knew how to hold a grudge. We laugh at him but also know that in the real world, holding grudges and staying angry are not funny.
We may carry a grudge or bear a grudge or hold a grudge. We have trouble letting go.
What do we gain? The person who carries the grudge hurts himself much more than the object of the grudge. Although sometimes we may have a good reason to be angry, many times we hold onto small slights and grievances and it hurts us more than the person who may have offended us. When we hold grudges, we allow people to live in our heads rent-free.
As clergy, we often see an unfortunate occurrence when sitting with a grieving family. We discover that the siblings do not speak to each other. When we ask one of the children what precipitated the family feud, the answer sometimes is, “I do not even remember how it all started but I am still angry.” This is tragic!
Our two-pronged suggestion to lifting grudges and mollifying anger is to, first, let it go…and, second, be part of the solution.
LET IT GO
There was once a man who was known for his even temper. He never raised his voice and kept things calm. When asked how he could do it, he replied that many years ago he did not behave this way. He once had a business partner who cheated him and he was justifiably angry.
His partner lived off one of the exits on the New Jersey Turnpike and whenever he would drive by, without fail, he would think of this person and his blood would boil. His wife would always try to calm him down but to no avail.
One day, he met a fellow who knew his former business partner. He asked the fellow: “Do you know what that cheat is doing now?” And the man said: “Sure. He died about fifteen years ago.” In that moment, the first man learned that holding grudges is self destructive and that we need a statute of limitations on anger.
How do you find the strength to let it go? Here are three suggestions…
- Do not deny your anger or grudge. Identify it. Accept it. Feel it. Move On. Pray for the strength to let go.
- Have compassion. Remember the words of Ian Maclaren (the pen name of Reverend John Watson, 1850-1907): “Be pitiful, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” We never know what another person is going through.
- Find the goodness in the situation. Sometimes we grow through a struggle. Look for the silver lining. You will find inner peace…and not mourn the past, but embrace the future.
BE PART OF THE SOLUTION
The second strategy to dealing with grudges and anger is to be part of the solution and not the problem.
We learned this approach from an inspiring example of a leader who sought to harness anger into being part of the solution. Former Dallas police chief David Brown will be remembered as the face of the response to the tragedy in Dallas in the summer of 2016. His life and words in the aftermath of the murder of five police officers offer a touchstone for transcending grief and heartfelt angst and anger.
Police Chief Brown grew up in the inner city and had a ticket out of the neighborhood. He received a full scholarship to college and planned on becoming an attorney. Instead, he had a calling. The people in his community needed him and he left college and became a police officer.
In speaking after the shooting, he demonstrated sensitivity to the anger and outrage. He sensed the mistrust between the police officers and the black community, yet challenged people to rise. He offered this poignant message. “We’re hiring. Get off that protest line and put an application in. We’ll put you in your neighborhood and help you resolve some of those problems you’re protesting about.” In other words, don’t be part of the problem, be part of the solution. Be part of the solution.
We will always face moments when our natural inclination is hold grudges and remain angry. Always remember: Let it go. Be part of the solution. Transform a challenge into an opportunity, and hear a new call.
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