When I read, I very seldom write notes in the margin. I just like to highlight or underline and go about my reading. In the last book I read, I only wrote one thing in the margin. It was more a prayer than a note. I wrote, “Lord, don’t ever let me fall victim to this. Save me from this.”
What I wanted saved from was this following description of resentment and fear:
“I know the pain of this predicament. In it, everything loses its spontaneity. Everything becomes suspect, self-conscious, calculated, and full of second-guessing. There is no longer any trust. Each little move calls for a countermove; each little remark begs for analysis; the smallest gesture has to be evaluated. This is the pathology of the darkness.”
This is from Henri Nouwen’s book, Return of the Prodigal Son. Nouwen is describing the prison that the elder brother in the story finds himself in as he despises his younger, reckless brother and loathes his generous and merciful father. Nouwen is comparing the sin of resentment that the elder brother possesses with the lust of the younger brother and even asks the question, “I wonder what does more damage, lust or resentment?”
What rattled me as I read Nouwen’s ‘pathology of darkness’ and resentment was how easy it seems to fall into and hard it is to get out. I have seen what resentment can do in my own life and I identified strongly with the hell that Nouwen describes of second-guessing, over negative analysis, lack of spontaneity, and everything being suspect. This is an outlook on life that drags every situation down into a dark hole of suspicion, anger, and contempt. I have seen first hand what this can do to people and how tempted I am to choose this darkness. So, I begged, in my marginalia prayer, to be saved from it and to reject the elder brother’s resentment.
God comes to find me and reminds me that all that belongs to him also belongs to me. “Why would I choose resentment over gratitude? Is that really going to make things better? What control and power do I think I am wielding by choosing resentment and bitterness?” God is enough; his blessings are enough; I can stop keeping score and just enjoy the parties that God has invited me to. Like the Father in the story, God has poured out a grand life full of blessings that has to be returned to by the reckless, selfish brother and embraced and celebrated by the elder, resentful brother.
I think what truly scared me when I read these words was the absence of joy. Nouwen says, “Joy and resentment cannot coexist…This experience of not being able to enter into joy is the experience of a resentful heart.” I cannot live without joy, that God-gifted sense of hope and well-being and I will cry out to God to be saved from all of the resentment, bitterness, and contempt that robs me of that joy.
If you find yourself in a prison of resentment and bitterness, get out and cry for help. There is no joy there, only darkness and negativity. Lord, save us.