In the 37 years I have written this column, I've never before had the consistent, overwhelmingly positive responses I've received about the series on "Mental Termites." Each week since I started the series a month ago, I've received emails and telephone calls, and people have stopped me on the street to tell me about the one they liked best. One of the emails explained why. A man wrote: "In a still volatile economy, we have often felt helpless, but your columns have listed some things we can do to make a difference for 'good.' "
Next week will be the last in this series, but there are still many mental termites -- enough to write about next year. Today, we look at resentment, a feeling of indignation over perceived hurts and offenses. It is like a splinter that gets under your skin. If it isn't removed, it will produce infection.
Once, when I was presenting some seminars at a bank in Georgia, one of the employees who stayed to talk with me was a 39-year-old secretary. I noticed the lines of tension in her face and her posture of despair. Ostensibly, she came to talk with me about her feeling of being left out of office conversation and camaraderie. As we talked, she spoke of recurring headaches, insomnia and stomach problems. Discovering she had recently had a physical checkup, I began to probe about what was really bothering her.
It turned out she was harboring a grudge against her sister, who received a little more of the family inheritance than she. Imagine my surprise when I learned the amount was less than $50. The secretary had spent 10 times that amount in medical care. The incident had happened 20 years earlier, and the weight of carrying such a grudge was evident in her bitter spirit, her physical symptoms and her bad interpersonal relationships. She was not hurting her sister by her reactions, but she was destroying herself.
Her only way out was to forgive her sister and close the door on the past. Her resistance to the suggestion was obvious. I'm afraid she chose to hold on to the grudge either because it was habitual or because she felt justified in her resentment. She chose to do this even though she was paying a terrible physical and emotional price and even though she could be free any day of her choosing. In Mark 11:25, Jesus tells us, "Whenever you stand praying, forgive if you have anything against anyone, so that your father in heaven may also forgive your trespasses."
As a splinter under your skin can cause infection unless it is removed, so resentment in your spirit can cause bitterness, anger, cynicism and loss of enthusiasm and joy. Edwin Markham once wrote, "At the heart of the cyclone tearing the sky is a place of central calm." If we are to live with power and poise in a hectic world, we must learn to give as well as to receive forgiveness.
Nell Mohney is a Christian author, motivational speaker and seminar leader. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.