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Letting Go of Grudges

Letting Go of Grudges


A young French schoolboy watched as two Englishmen disembarked from their ship at the port of Calais. Before they knew what hit them, the lad charged at them, push­ing them off the pier into the water. Not too pleased at this inhospitable gesture, the men climbed out and ac­costed the boy. “Just what are you trying to do? Is that any way to greet visitors to your country? A good spank­ing might teach you some manners. Why did you do such a thing?” The boy spat back, “That’s for burning Joan of Arc at the stake!” “But that happened five hun­dred years ago,” was the astonished response. “Yeah, but I just learned about it this morning,” he replied.

Nationality jokes are banned at my house. As instruction in a certain dan­gerous human weakness, however, such humor does have redeeming value. Like the boy in the anecdote, people tend to hold grudges against one another for a long time. Individuals may nurse bitter memories of past rivalries for years. Nations may do it for centuries. In any case, resentment is an unhealthy practice and detri­mental to all involved.

Nursing grudges is a serious stumbling block in the Christian life. Constantly recalling people’s offenses and thinking of ways to pay them back creates a steady drain on our spiritual energy. Bitterness prevents us from receiving the Lord’s power. It blocks our release from the problems that afflict us.

Only rarely do we succeed in damaging an offender more than we damage ourselves. The harder we try to get back at someone, the more we get hurt. As our mind reaches out in search of revenge, bitterness reaches into us, plunging its massive, expanding tentacle deep within us. Daydreams of getting even devour our time during the day. At night we lose sleep to our hurt feel­ings. Resentment is a spiritual tapeworm that nourishes itself at our expense. Too often we are willing to feed this parasite.

Revenge can seem so reasonable. It doesn’t take much to persuade us that we have good cause to strike back. Four-year-old Mary runs in tears to her father with the complaint, “Daddy, Daddy, Tommy hit me for no reason.” Five-year-old Tommy is next on the scene, ex­plaining to his dad that the reason he hit Mary was that she hit him first. Like the children in this all-too-familiar scene, we often have good reasons for striking back at people who have mistreated us. Many times we are perfectly right. In accordance with principles of strict justice, people who wrong us ought to repent and make amends for the damage they have done.

God calls us to show mercy to others

Although this approach makes sense on one level, it can be fatal to us on another. If it’s reasonable to hold others to a standard of strict justice, it’s equally reason­able to hold ourselves to the same standard. Had the Lord demanded payment for the debt we piled up be­cause of our sins, it would have cost each of us our lives. Death would have been only fair punishment for us. What else could we expect?

The Lord, however, dealt with us according to a dif­ferent standard, a standard of mercy. He was not put off by our sin. In the face of an endless inventory of wrong­doing and direct offenses against His Person, He sent His Son to an ignominious death to cancel our debt to Him.

“While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man — though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows His love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” Instead of ex­acting what we owed Him, the Lord forgave us. Paul says that the Lord “canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nail­ing it to the Cross.”

If we want the Lord to release us from our wrong­doing, we must release others from the wrongs they have done to us. This is what we pray in the Lord’s Prayer. Instructed by Jesus Himself, we ask the Father to bestow the same measure of forgiveness on us as we be­stow on others. If we have been stingy with our forgive­ness until now, we had best hasten to become more generous. We ought to understand the consequences of praying the Lord’s Prayer. We don’t want to commit ourselves to a limited measure of forgiveness and mercy each time we say, “And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

If we are harboring resentment, grudges, or bitter­ness against others, the New Testament commands us to put them away. “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, for­giving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

When we hold a grudge, we are holding a claim against someone. We write out spiritual IOUs. We keep strict accounts, planning to exact the very last penny. In our ledger, we hold IOUs against our parents (for quarreling between themselves and manipulating us); against brothers and sisters (for belittling us and get­ting more parental attention, or so it seemed); against spouses (for some petty fault or slip of the tongue); against children (for lack of respect and for turning out different than we had planned). We hold IOUs against friends, neighbors, coworkers, acquaintances, and so on. If we are to experience freedom ourselves, we must cancel all these debts. We must deal with our IOUs the way God dealt with ours: He “canceled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this He set aside, nailing it to the Cross.”

Tearing up spiritual IOUs helps rid us of resentment

There is a practical way to get rid of resentment. Make a list of all those people toward whom you have resentments. Begin with the people closest to you — parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, and children — and move outward from there. You might want to list each on a separate slip of paper. Then tear up the IOUs one by one. Forgive each of them, no matter what they have done to offend you.

You may come up against one or two IOUs that you feel you just can’t tear up, because the hurt was too big.

A common mistake is to think that forgiveness is something a person feels rather than something a person does. If we wait until we feel like forgiving, we’ll proba­bly take others’ IOUs with us to the grave. It helps to feel like forgiving someone we must forgive, but if we don’t feel like it, we should go ahead and forgive any­way. Once we have torn up the IOUs, once we have stopped dwelling on the offense against us, our feelings toward the person will improve. Through the power of forgiveness, many a person has ended up liking some­one they thought they would always hate.

Tearing up IOUs is usually a unilateral action. For our part, we release people who have offended us. We say by our action that we no longer intend to collect what­ever we think they owe us. Tearing up IOUs doesn’t mean saying to each person toward whom we feel resent­ful, “I forgive you for the time you did this” or, “I don’t hold that against you anymore.” Usually putting aside resentments and bitterness is something I do privately, between the Lord and me. But doing so can suggest ways of straightening out broken relationships. We should be open to taking further steps if they seem right. Talking over with someone we trust what we think we must do may help us act prudently in mending relationships.

The Lord gives us the grace to forgive and forgive generously. We should begin now by tearing up the IOUs we are holding, and we should repeat the process regularly.

We can now add a part to our strategy for get­ting free from the influence of the flesh:

We must put aside all resentment, bitterness, and grudges. These are obstacles to our spiritual freedom that prevent us from experiencing the power of the Lord in our lives.



This article is adapted from a chapter in Getting Free by Bert Ghezzi which is available from Sophia Institute Pressgrudges

Art for this post on grudges: Interior Scene [Confession], Jean Alphonse Roehn (1799-1864), unknown date, PD-Worldwide, Wikimedia Commons. Cover of Getting Free used with permission.

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About Charlie McKinney

Charlie McKinney is the Publisher of Sophia Institute Press and President of Sophia Institute for Teachers,,, and Charlie is a convert to the Catholic Faith and is a regular guest on Catholic radio and television. He and his wife have four children and they reside in New Hampshire.

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  • Maria

    If somebody could help me with this this has happened to me almost daily I think is spiritual warfare but Im not sure not long time ago I started obsessing about what my brother did to me he beat [edited] me for saying something to him that happen when I was 24 now Im 38 I had already forgot about it but the anger came back because there was no justice

    I didint even called the police. A few months I confronted him about it and he didnt even say Im sorry. I got upset and I hit him in the chest and he grabbed me by the neck really hard and I called the police because I needed justice,they told me because I was the one to touch him I could be charged even though it didnt hurt him at all they told me to let it go

    anyway I was really angry I went to the blessed sacrament and I pray the rosary for 9 days the rosary of untying of knots it took me a couple of more weeks but eventually I felt like I forgave him and saw myself praying for him,

    Now this may sound silly but I remember maybe one or 2 years ago I was going up a small hill where close to the road lived some families when I was driving up this girl she looked like she was 17 not sure she stand on my way in front of my car she didnt said anything to me I looked at her in a bad way because I was upset she eventually moved and because at that time i was really sick I didnt had the energy for confrontation I let it go i forgot about it ,

    Then a few months ago I was going down the hill this road is very narrow 2 cars dont fit in there so I realized my brakes were a little bit loose so this lady was coming up and she told me something that I didnt pick up until later which I figured it out she meant that I was too fast which infuriates me for the reason that in my country everybody drives crazy and some people just want to look for trouble besides they are troublemaker

    I started obsessing over this every day and every night I realized this is not a big deal and I felt that I needed to talk to them and tell them what the girl did does this seem unreasonable ? I pray every day I go to mass everyday I confess weekly and I go to the blessed sacrament exposed every day for two hours Im confused in what to do and why is this happening could it be maybe I have some mental issues? well I dont know if anybody is going to answer me anyway God bless

    • LizEst

      Maria — There seems to be more going on here than we can tell from what you wrote and you definitely need to get some assistance with these issues. But, we are not therapists on this site. So, I recommend you consult a professional Catholic therapist who can determine how to proceed with your situation. You don’t say where you are. In case you are in the United States, here is a website which will help you find one:

      By the way, we have edited your post because it contained a word that we do not publish on our site. Please review our Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) here: May the Lord assist you in your difficulties.

      • Maria

        thank u liz im in puerto rico im going to see if i can find one catholic therapist here that accept my health insurance thank and God bless

        • LizEst

          You’re welcome, Maria. Good for you. I pray you will find one that will be helpful to you in this endeavor. God bless you, too.

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  • Courtney

    I have a terrible situation. My mother and father were married for 37 years and I grew up in a relatively stable home, especially in comparison to the surrounding area. My father died 9.5 years ago. I took his death very hard. A few months after her died, my mother began drinking and partying. A year later, she met a man over the internet who is a convicted felon and ended up having her sell everything she owned and going on the run from the law with him. For 6 months we didn’t even know where she was or if she was alive. Eventually she got in touch and bought land on the other side of the country and they lived on it in a camper for several years. She eventually married him in a Methodist church (we are catholic). I thought I forgave him and resolved the situation to being part of gods plan. She now had my grandmother living with them and I know I will never see granny again. I haven’t seen her in 6 years. I try so hard to be forgiving but when she brings up this mans name its still like a knife to the heart. She also talks about my dad like she divorced him instead of him dying. Its terrible. I’ve gone to confession and talked to my priest but in my heart I still wish this man of hers would go away forever. I never expected my birth family to be torn apart by a convict!

    • LizEst

      So sorry to learn of this. Forgiveness is a decision, not a feeling. And, you are making a valiant effort, which has to continue because the Lord said we must not forgive just seven times but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:22). It means that there is to be no end to our forgiveness. Some situations keep coming up over and over and over again after we thought we forgave the person or persons involved. Even though these situations are terrible, we still have to forgive because that is the same way Christ has forgiven us: over and over and over again. And, we are told to forgive from the heart (Matthew 18:35). It does not mean we have to like the situation, agree to it, or be complicit in it, or to ignore it (as in the case of child abuse). Continue to forgive and join your sufferings to Christ, where they will have great merit because His merit is infinite. Keep frequenting the sacraments and cooperating with the grace the Lord provides therein. God bless you, Courtney. May God grant you peace.

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