Sunday, August 26, 2007

Devil of Resentment

Well it’s that time of year again. Unlike events I actually can control, this “time of year” usually has nothing to do with my planning. If it was up to me, I’d avoid it entirely. But unfortunately it’s never up to me. God’s in charge of that. Or it’s the pastor. Either I get this overwhelming impression that just won’t go away, or the pastor surprises the church with one of his annoying sermons about forgiveness and loving our neighbors. Yep, it’s that time of the year when –out of the blue– I feel the burden of my inability to forgive.

Okay, I’ll admit it. I’ve got a lot of people to forgive. I’ll also admit that I feel very trapped when this business of forgiving our enemies comes up. After all, to paraphrase C S Lewis, “The devil of resentment is that it's justified.” By which he means that the resentment the unforgiver feels is justifiable because there usually has been some harm done. So, yeah, you and I know that I have every right to dislike some of the horrible creeps out there. And being human I just am not in the mood to kneel by my bed and say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Heck, some of those people knew exactly what they were doing when they devastated, hurt, rejected, and trampled upon my heart. Yeah, I know…I sound bitter. And yeah, the reason I sound bitter is because I am.

But a Christian gal’s gotta do what a Christian gal’s gotta do. And it’s at this time of the year that I wished I belong to a religion which would allow me to hold on to my hatred of some people. Unfortunately, however, most religions command us to forgive. So even if I were a Buddhist I’d still be trapped with having to do what I have to do.

So, there I was…lying on my bed; praying for my son, praying for myself. And what comes into my mind? All the horrible things my mother-in-law, former friends, white Christians, racist white doctors, rich snooty suburbanites have done to me. Hey, I’m no dummy. I knew what God was doing. He was bringing to my memory all the things I needed to clear from my heart. Yep, the time had come to forgive once again.

As a culture, African-Americans have been taught by Christianity to forgive the nasty behavior of racists. For example, the power of Christianity is seen in Desmond Tutu’s Committee on Reconciliation in South Africa. Considering what black folks have experienced in American and South African history, it amazes me that the annals of crime aren’t more filled with bands of roaming black hate groups bent on destroying white folks. Rather, I see the opposite: the oppressive white racists tend to hold more racist grudges than the black folks they formerly oppressed. So, like most church-going African-Americans I have to contend with the religions tenets about not holding grudges. I and my people do our best and so if I and other church-going little black ladies are angry and unforgiving, there is a dang good reason for us holding on to a grudge for so long. After all, many of us still remember uncles and fathers and grandfathers who were lynched by whites. We remember racist white folks spitting on us and treating us like feces at the bottom of their shoes. So it’s hard to forgive. And back to C.S. Lewis, “The devil of resentment is that it’s justified.”

Case in point: When my racist, atheistic, mother-in-law found out about the diagnosis about our younger son, a self-satisfied spiteful smirk appeared on her face. Something that could easily be translated as “Serves her right for marrying my son and let’s see how her God is going to get her out of this mess.” My mother-in-law has been a trip.

Case in point: I was dragging myself around the house after not sleeping for two weeks straight, wondering if I should put myself in the hospital for exhaustion. Fifteen year old son (diagnosed with autism and non-verbal) was throwing a bottle of prune juice on the walls and inside furniture and generally tearing the house apart. Black neighbor comes in and says, “Carole, you really should learn how to clean your house…even if you ARE sick.”

Case in point: Snooty white developmental pediatrician who diagnosed my son. After he told me the diagnosis, I said, “You only judged that he’s autistic from letting him play with blocks. Aren’t you going to check lead levels, heavy metals, brain anomalies, genetic testing, and allergies?” He looked at me and said, “Mrs. McDonnell, you’re over-studied.” Either he thought black women didn’t know much or he was just lazy and smug. Whatever his reasoning, I resent him greatly.

Case in point: Friend (and illegal immigrant from Mexico) whose son had been diagnosed with mental retardation and other issues. Her son was prayed over at church and miraculously healed and now speaks. She believes I watch TV too much and if I didn’t do so my son would be healed. She’s a great person but she has a judgmental streak that is relentless.

Case in point: Primarily white Assembly of God minister who dragged my then-boyfriend-now-husband and I up in front of the entire congregation and said, “The Lord will not heal you of your illnesses, Carole, if you don’t stop living together.” Note: he didn’t do this to the other girls who were living with their boyfriends. Could it be because they were white and were related to the rich white folks in his congregation? I’m utterly convinced he wanted to show the congregation what a forceful minister he was and I was the tool to that end. Suffice it to say I have never stepped into any Assembly of God churches after that.

And these are just a few scenes from my life.

Now, I’ve done the bargaining bit: “Lord, I’ll forgive these folks if you’ll enlighten their eyes and let them see how they sinned against me. I’ve tried but they don’t understand.” Honestly, folks, I could pray ‘til I’m blue in the face, God ain’t gonna do that.

The inability to forgive is linked to many mental and physical illnesses such as depression, sleeplessness and anxiety. I have no doubt my illnesses are only made worse by my mental ruminations over all these past hurts. And honestly, I could live with my illness. Except that Jesus makes such a point of saying over and over and over that “when you stand praying, forgive. If you don’t forgive your fellow man, God cannot forgive you your sins.”

Ah the crux.

As a Christian I’m supposed to be like my dear Lord and say something like: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” Honestly, I haven’t got it in me to do that. For one, those people KNEW what they were doing. For two, I would rather wring their racist or judgmental little necks instead of forgiving them.

And even worse: I’m not only supposed to forgive them but I’m supposed to bless them. This only manages to make me feel trapped in the universe. I kneel down beside my bed: “Lord, please bless that racist mother-in-law of mine. Bless all those white grandchildren she has…since they are the only ones she loves.”

Okay, let’s try that again. “Lord, please bless that mother-in-law of mine. She raised a good son. So I suppose she should be blessed for that. Keep my nephews and nieces well and safe from harm. Bless them, but don’t let them be more blessed than my kids.” Aargh. Okay, that’s a bit better. It’s not exactly great but honestly it’s the best I can do.

It’s been said that not being able to forgive is like drinking poison and expecting the one who has harmed us to die. Ain’t gonna happen.

The annoying thing about forgiving people — family, friend, stranger, or foe– is the utter lack of control we have over the situation. We say to ourselves, “I’ll forgive them if they change. I’ll forgive them if they understand what they did to me.” But we have no control over the evil thoughts or evil actions of other people. We cannot hold them to their promises to be understanding. We can’t make their hearts loving, kind, and free. We can only be strong and not allow their evil to taint us.
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