What’s your favorite grudge? Take a moment, I’ll wait.
Most of us have some thorn in our side about something that happened a decade or two ago. Despite the time lapse, many of us can remember our grudges with amazing specificity. We hang on to them like prized possessions. Once they become ours, we often don’t ponder letting them go.
We can hold a grudge about the smallest slight or the most egregious injury. We give precious real estate in our brains to the person who injured us, conjuring again and again the story we have told ourselves and others about the injury. I’m not saying your story isn’t true — it’s your grudge after all. But let me just suggest, in the kindest way, that the person who aggrieved you probably has a different story in their head. Or perhaps that person has forgotten the incident entirely and has no idea you are harboring a grudge against them.
Decades ago, I offended a close friend. She stopped speaking to me for months. But in the busyness of my life, raising young children and moving, I didn’t notice her silence. Perhaps if I had been more self-aware, I would have realized that I had offended her, but I interpreted her silence differently. I assumed she was busy too. When she finally decided to break her silence and approach me, I could barely remember the event that had caused her such pain. For months, she’d let me hijack her brain, festering about something I’d said; something, I might add, that I thought was offered in a loving and gracious way. Apparently, I was wrong.
Let me stop right here and say, if I have offended you in any way, please let it go; I am just not worth the head time. Really, I’m not. And neither is the person you hold a grudge against. They really, really are not worth it.
Desmond Tutu, in “The Book of Forgiving”, says “There is nothing that cannot be forgiven, and there is no one undeserving of forgiveness.” Chew on that for a moment. Desmond Tutu is claiming that despite the horrific actions of apartheid, there is no unforgivable sin.
Tutu goes further to claim that letting go of our grievances is freeing. “Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us. We are bound with chains of bitterness, tied together, trapped. Until we can forgive the person who harmed us, the person will hold the keys to our happiness, that person will be our jailor.”
Perhaps that is why the most well-known Christian prayer, the “Our Father”, speaks directly to our need to forgive: “Forgive us our sins as we forgive the sins of others.” We forgive for ourselves, not for the person who injured us; it is as Tutu says, “The best form of self-interest.”
Tutu offers a four-fold path to forgiveness. Quickly, and without embellishment, they are: 1. Tell you story, 2. Name the hurt, 3. Grant forgiveness, and 4. Renew or release the relationship. If you are intrigued to try it, I encourage you to check out his book and prayerfully meditate on what you might let go of.
If you are inclined to meditate on your grudges without books, here is another idea. Find a stone, something of some heft that you can carry. Not a hernia inducing boulder, but not a pebble either. Take your stone to a nearby labyrinth — Pax Christi has an outdoor labyrinth you are welcome to walk. As you walk the labyrinth holding your stone, feel the burden of weight hauling this unresolved pain; imagine the cost to you of hanging on to this grudge. Be curious. Why are you still hanging on to this hurt? Is this a hurt you are ready to let go of?
Not sure you are ready to let the hurt go? That’s OK. It’s your pain and your decision. As Tutu says, “For every injustice, there is a choice.” But perhaps as you walk, you might choose not to carry the weight of this past hurt any further. Feel free to set the stone down at any time. Just place it gently on the side of the path, acknowledging this is a weight and a grudge you choose not to carry into your future life.
Beryl Schewe is a board-certified chaplain and author of the book, “Habits of Resilience.” She shares this space with the Revs. Rod Anderson, Timothy A. Johnson and Trish Sullivan Vanni as well as spiritual writers Dr. Bernard E. Johnson and Nanette Missaghi. “Spiritually Speaking” appears weekly.