I’ve been thinking more about Carolyn Maull McKinstry’s story from last week’s post.
If you checked it out, you saw the incredible words Carolyn has about forgiveness—including her description of the burden of resentment.
Carolyn carried resentment inside for much of her life. She turned to alcohol for numbing. She had trouble sleeping. Her relationships were strained. The hatred in her heart was wrecking her life. Until she realized that forgiveness—difficult, counter-intuitive, and controversial—was the way to freedom.
This week I’ve been considering the day-to-day challenge of living without resentment:
The challenge of overlooking small offenses, of letting stuff go that really doesn’t matter. (Not the offenses Carolyn endured, but the mundane offenses we mostly face.)
The challenge of having courage to start timely and vulnerable conversations about the stuff that is important, the stuff we can’t overlook.
And what do we do if the pathway to conversation is closed? Or the pathway was open but the conversation ended in a bad place—what then?
This question brought three principles to mind. They serve as truths to me—mental touchstones I can return to when I’m tempted to nurse anger and bitterness.
The principles are simple, but the practice requires tough internal work.
In the spirit of Carolyn’s mission—to do that tough work and keep engaging—I want to share those personal reminders this week. I hope you’ll find encouragement but also mindset strategies for shedding old burdens and staying free.
Reminder #1: Resentments will rob me of my life.
What you focus on grows.
I’ve noticed that the more time, emotion, and mental energy I spend on anger, bitterness, and resentment, the more of my life it consumes.
Whenever I rehearse bitterness, it expands like compounding interest in a bank account. Investment in resentment creates exponential growth. Over time, it will take up more and more space, until I’ve essentially robbed myself—of my time, my emotion, my mental energy, my life.
That’s not the life I want.
While I’m not always in control of the things that happen to me, I almost always have choices about how to respond. And my responses have a big impact on my quality of life.
When I remind myself that resentments rob me, it inspires me to embrace my power to choose. I don’t want to get to the end of my life and realize I wasted my days nursing negativity, when I could have used that time and energy for something better. (After all, in the words of Annie Dillard, ‘How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.’)
I remind myself that resentment has a cost. No matter how good it might feel in the moment, like an addictive drug, there is always diminishing return on that satisfaction.
I remind myself that I have agency. I’m the one who decides how I’ll invest my life.
Reminder #2: Resentment and retaliation don’t lead to real solutions.
In my experience, resentment and retaliation actually escalate problems.
This reminder really hit home with me during the early years of parenting:
I put a high value on respect. It was important to me that my kids learned to be respectful of all people. Inevitably, because they’re human kids, they’d have moments when their words or actions came across as disrespectful.
Here’s what would happen:
I’d feel the emotion start to swell. My tone of voice would start changing, the volume escalating. I’d react to those feelings and what ultimately came out was...well...disrespectful.
I remember the exact day it hit me: I wasn’t winning. Responding to disrespect with disrespect would never result in nurturing the respect that I longed to see in the life of my kids.
Facing that fact made me face a broken part of myself. I had work to do. I had to practice feeling the emotion, then acknowledging the disrespect in a way that was respectful and vulnerable and non-coercive.
The reminder that retaliation doesn’t lead to real solutions gives me the sanity and self-control to choose a short-term response that actually supports my long-term goals.
I could force short-term compliance through power struggle and risk long-term damage of my relationship with my kids. Or, in the toughest moments, I could remember the long game and commit: model my values, model vulnerability, and bank on the long-term payoff of love and respect.
Reminder #3: When I’m free from resentment, I’m free for love.
One of the reasons Carolyn’s story resonated so much with me is that my spirituality, like hers, calls me to live a life of love.
“Love your enemies” is one of the most beautiful and unreasonable teachings in the Christian faith. Bless those who curse you. Hate what’s evil. Cling to what is good. Don’t be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
When I’m dealing with resentment, it’s essential for me to remember my center. I have to remember not only what I’m avoiding (resentment, anger, bitterness) but what I’m living for. Love.
A daily reminder that’s always in play for me is Steve, love your neighbor.
Another self-talk call-to-action I often use (a quote from the Christian Scriptures): If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all people.
That’s my reset. That’s the core reminder I want to get in touch with at the beginning of every day.
And it’s one of the lasting legacies I hope for at the end of all of my days—that I, in some substantial way, lived a life of love and took responsibility when I got off-track.
What is the center you return to? How do you get yourself into a loving mindset daily?
How do you live your life free from resentment?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
It’s personal work. It’s relational work. And it’s what Carolyn taught me: Free yourself from resentments and you’ll free yourself for the work of healing in this world.
Counterstories is a blog collaboration between conflict resolution specialist Steve Beck and writer/editor Rachael Schmid. If you have a powerful story of forgiveness or peacemaking (or just want to share your thoughts on this post), we’d love to hear from you. Reach out at email@example.com.