Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you. —Ephesians 4:31-32, KJV
That’s a very powerful verse, yet why is it so hard to put those words to work in our lives? Instead of letting go of destructive emotions, like bitterness, wrath and anger, we hold onto grudges against others and let them eat away at our peace and well-being.
Ephesians offers good advice on just how long we should hold onto the anger:
Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath. —Ephesians 4:26, KJV
Why is it so hard to follow that admonition and let go immediately? What makes us cling to grudges like a dog gnawing away at a bone long after any scrap of meat or leftover taste is gone?
As humans, we don’t like feeling disrespected. When someone wrongs us, we want an apology at the very least. If the slight was more serious, we want the other person to make it up to us or we want revenge. If that doesn’t happen, we never get a sense of closure. Instead, an aura of injustice lingers and grows until our emotions far exceed the impact of the original incident.
What we often forget is that holding a grudge is a choice. We can’t control how the other person responds to our anger or hurt, but we can decide whether or not we’ll allow their response (or lack of one) to poison our lives. We can choose to make our own closure, release the negativity and move on in peace.
How do you let go of a grudge? The first step is simply to make a conscious decision to do so. As a Christian, you know that it’s the right choice, and one that’s modeled after the way in which God Himself treats us:
To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgivenesses, though we have rebelled against him. —Daniel 9:9, KJV
If God forgives us no matter how much we rebel, who are we to hold grudges against our fellow human beings? Once you look at it in terms of God’s grace, the decision to let go of your anger is an easy one.
Next comes the actual release of the grudge. If it’s been a longstanding hurt, it will take some time to truly let it go. Accomplish this by reminding yourself that you consume precious energy and emotion when you hold on. You could use that energy for more productive thoughts and activities. If the grudge tries to resurface, ask yourself these two questions:
1. Can I go back in time and change the situation? Of course you don’t have that power, and when you remind yourself that you’re getting stressed out about something that’s in the past, you’ll see how futile it really is.
2. Can I change the person against whom I have the grudge? Only God has the power to truly change us, and we have to be willing to submit to His work. If the other person is unwilling to acknowledge the wrong they committed against you and won’t make it right, there’s nothing you can do to force him or her. The only thing within your power is to pray for that person and turn the situation over to God. Once it’s in His capable hands, there’s no reason for you to waste any more time on it.
Once you’ve turned your grudge over to God, letting go is the next logical step. You have no need to dwell on it any longer, so remind yourself of that when it tries to invade your thoughts. Say a short prayer on the order of, “God, I’ve forgiven this person. I’ve turned this over to Your hands, so please help me to remember that and release me completely from this grudge.” You’ll find yourself using this prayer less frequently as your heart truly releases the anger and resentment and you move forward in peace.