“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
There are varying versions of this story depending on which sibling you ask. I understand that my view is one that was formed without knowing all the facts or realizing all of the issues at the time. As a child I tended to just believe that our parents loved each other and were as happy as anyone else. Little did I know that my mom never really loved my dad but stayed in the marriage for “the kid’s sake”. This was quite a shock to my psyche when I found this out and it didn’t help with the grudge I had already formed against her.
It was Christmas time. I was home from college and my parents were going through a separation after being married for 25 years. It was beyond weird to have Christmas lunch at my mom’s house. But then knowing we were going to my dad’s apartment later was even stranger. Holidays had always been a time when our families would come together and really celebrate. That year though would go down in history as one of the worst Christmas’ for me.
I somehow believed that the separation would be temporary and that my parents would work it out. That would all come crashing down from one phone call. We were sitting at the dinner table already awkwardly eating lunch when the phone rang. My mom answered it and began talking. She talked for a while and I asked her who it was- her next words set me on a path of holding a grudge until the day she died. She said casually “Oh, that’s my boyfriend”.
I stopped in the middle of dinner- and as I’m prone to act first, think later- I got up and left. I went to my dad’s and just spent the day with him. From that day on I was “team dad”. My mom announcing she had a boyfriend, on Christmas day casually over lunch to this day can stir up those emotions that I felt- anger, confusion, betrayal, hopeless. I couldn’t understand how she could have a boyfriend while still married to our dad.
When I got home later that night my mom had a conversation with me that solidified and helped justify the grudge in my immature mind. She told me three things that basically let me know where she stood. She said that she had prayed about it and believed God was giving her permission to get a divorce. She had spoken with people at church and they told her she should get a divorce. And lastly, she did not care what my opinion was- she was getting a divorce.
I left the next day and basically didn’t see her again until my grandfather’s funeral 12 years later. After that it was nine months later on September 28th, 2007 when another phone call changed my life again. I was at work when my brother called. It was unusual because my brother never calls me in the middle of the day to just talk. Our dad had been having a lot of health issues and I just assumed he was calling to tell me something about our dad. I was not prepared to hear the words “Mom died this morning”.
I couldn’t even stand. She had died on her way to work of a massive heart attack. I called my wife and she left work to come meet with me. We spent the rest of the weekend preparing to go to Arizona for the funeral. I just couldn’t grasp that my mom was gone- and the nagging question that I continue to deal with is “why did I hold on to that grudge for so long?” and “Why did I never forgive her and have healing in that relationship?” Now, I would do anything to have that time back and to tell her that I love her.
The first thing that I want to say is that I have a very black/ white personality. Either something is right or it’s wrong. I don’t have a lot of tolerance for moderate morality and the “everything in moderation” mentality. My mom understood this about me and when the Bible says “God hates divorce” I took that to mean that people shouldn’t divorce. They certainly shouldn’t date someone while they were married. And, if they date someone then they shouldn’t be a racist, controlling jerk. But, I digress.
I just couldn’t get past the principle of divorce being wrong and my mom using religion to justify it. I couldn’t see the inconsistency of me using my religion to justify holding a grudge! Of course I’ve grown since then and understand that now but when I was in college that was my mindset. I was right, she was wrong. She made her choice and she chose her new husband which meant she chose him over me (again that was my mentality in my immature mind).
The second thing that wouldn’t allow me to let go of that grudge was my damn pride. That is not too strong of a word in this context-it was “damned”. God opposes the proud. Pride sets us up against the greatest and second greatest commandment given to us by Jesus-“Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. The second is like it- love your neighbor as yourself.” I refused to ever allow my mom grace because I was too proud to admit that even if I was “right” in principle (and my instincts about her husband) that it wasn’t worth losing this precious relationship. A relationship that I would give anyting to have back now.
I want to make clear that this story is not about my mom’s divorce but rather the grudge and unforgiveness I had towards her. I know many of my friends and family have been through divorce and I understand the pain that is assoicated with that. I have come a long way in my understanding of grace and my own great need for it to sustain me. I share what was my mentality when I was 21 (16 years ago) to help lay the groundwork to show that many of our grudges are unjustified in retrospect and therefore unjustified in the here and now.
I know we all have grudges at one time or another. Some are easier to let go of than others. It’s the things that hurt us deepest that are the hardest to let go of. I understand the emotion behind it because some principle was broken or some relationship was betrayed. I know that we may quit on a lot of things (diets, jobs, hobbies, interests) but we will never quit holding on to a grudge. But, I have learned a few things since my mom died that I would like to share.
The first thing is that you never know when someone will die. I could never have guessed on that day that my mom would have died. I guess that you always think there will be more time at some given point in the future to make up. I thought that I would get some “bad feeling” and be able to talk to her. I was under the false idea that we could make amends in my own sweet time. What I learned that day is that sometimes we don’t get to say “I’m sorry. I love you”. Sometimes we don’t get that second chance.
The second thing that I learned is that there are very few things on this earth worth holding a grudge over. We all screw up- sometimes royally. My marriage is still together because we don’t hold grudges over the fights, broken promises and harsh words. I still have a relationship with my teenager because we don’t hold grudges for the same reasons. I’ve had to come to grasp with my own brokenness and to let go of this idea that I am somehow morally superior. I have to embrace my own brokenness and understand how many times people show me grace and mercy.
Third, holding a grudge is anti-Christian and unbiblical. I use the verse at top to touch on this but there are many passages we could use to drive this point home. Some are listed below:
- 20 Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister. 1 John 4: 20-21
- 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell Matthew 5:21-22
- Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has
eternal life in him 1 John 3:15
- “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
I know in the midst of my rebellion and grudge holding that my heart was hardened to these truths. I justified it, ignored it or just misinterpreted them. But, when I was broken (and have been broken down the past four years) my heart was softened and God taught me the importance of fully trusting him with parts of my life that I’ve always withheld from him. I’m learning to be more gracious towards others (and myself) while still standing by my convictions.
I know God uses us sometimes in spite of ourselves to accomplish His purposes on this earth. But, we can do better than that and God desires better for us than that. He desires us to have our minds renewed and our lives transformed. Sometimes we are awakened by Truth and sometimes we are awakened by our circumstances. My hope is that you would wake up to the reality that your grudge is robbing you from being the person God is calling you to be and the life he has for you.
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” Romans 13: 8-14
What grudge are you holding onto that you need to let go of? Do you need to ask someone for forgiveness? Do you need to offer someone forgiveness? Do not value your pride or principle over a relationship.