I believe in absolute truths.
When my oldest son was nine years old, he thought he would play Superman and jump off the roof of our garden shed. Halfway way down, he suddenly realized he was about to give a personal, painful demonstration of the law of gravity. Just as there are physical principles that govern our world, I believe there are spiritual ones as well.
Reading about one such truth recently sparked a decades-old memory reminding me how a decision early in my business career reverberated through my professional life.
What triggered such a reflective observation?
As part of our devotional life, my wife and I are reading Max Lucado’s The Applause of Heaven. This study of the Beatitudes focuses on some amazing, if not occasionally uncomfortable truths. Today we read chapter 11. It speaks directly to a negative emotion that left unchecked will eat you up, from the inside out. Lucado writes:
“Resentment is when you let your hurt become hate. Resentment is when you allow what is eating you to eat you up. Resentment is when you poke, stoke, feed, and fan the fire, stirring the flames and reliving the pain.
Resentment is the deliberate decision to nurse the offense until it becomes a black, furry, growling grudge.
………….Is this the way you are coping with your hurts? Are you allowing your hurts to turn into hate? If so, ask yourself: Is it working? Has your hatred done you any good? Has your resentment brought you any relief, any peace? Has it granted you any joy?
…………Resentment is the cocaine of emotions. It causes our blood to pump and our energy level to rise. But also like cocaine, it demands increasingly larger and more frequent dosages. There is a dangerous point at which anger ceases to be an emotion and becomes a driving force. A person bent of revenge moves unknowingly further and further away from being able to forgive, for to be without the anger is to be without a source of energy.” (1)
Today I am enjoying retirement after a forty-two-year career with AT&T/BellSouth/Southern Bell. This reading catapulted me back in time to 1976 when I was beginning my career with Ma Bell.
I was an Outside Plant Engineer in Decatur, Georgia. One of my co-workers, hired as I had been in the Spring of 1974, was promoted after only a couple of years on the job. Six months later, she was promoted again. Six months later, she was promoted yet again. I was stunned. Truth be known, I was jealous and starting to feel the tightening steely grip of resentment. It was the era of Affirmative Action, and the Company was aggressively implementing the policy. My co-worker was an impressive manager. If anyone was going to fly up the corporate ladder, I understood why she would be the one selected. Still, with each promotion, I felt the heat, as the flames of jealousy and envy stoked a rising resentment within my spirit.
It was the first time I had ever felt this way, and I did not like how I was feeling nor how I was thinking. I observed others who verbalized their resentment. It wasn’t pretty. I knew in my heart I did not want to be counted among those who allowed such anger and resentment to control their heart.
How was I supposed to respond? I began to pray. I needed godly wisdom. One thing I did know. Unresolved resentment never ends well for its owner.
In hindsight, seeing someone I knew, liked, and admired succeed in such a dramatic fashion helped me form a personal strategy to deal with disappointment and perceived inequity. I had a “come to Jesus” meeting with myself. Literally.
I recalled Romans 12:15 that charges us to “rejoice with those who rejoice….” Since I respected my co-worker, rejoicing in her success was easier once I recognized my jealousy. I continued to ponder how I could equip myself to deal with the ups and downs, successes and disappointments of what I hoped would be a long successful career in a large corporation.
Now, looking back, I am so grateful that I prepared myself as I did. While I am proud of my career, my accomplishments and how far I advanced within the Company, there were occasions when festering resentments could easily have undermined my career. What was my strategy for dealing with those ego-busting disappointments and avoiding potential career-ending hissy-fits?
My prayer was answered in a way I was not expecting. The steps I took may seem unconventional, even counter-intuitive, but it worked for me. As it turned out, my personal Resentment Avoidance Strategy, developed in the late 1970’s, served me well in the years that followed.
Outlined below is TheBuddyBlog.com summary of that strategy for anyone dealing with the dark forces of resentment.
- Rejoice in the success of others. As noted earlier, Romans 12:15 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. This attitude helped me to develop genuine friendships that spanned age, gender, race, pay-grades, and organizations.
- Do not compete with anyone but yourself. Yes, I am a competitive person. I like to win. Correction, I love to win. But playing the comparison game is just fertilizer on the field of resentment, and the only fruit it bears is bitterness. I realized that the only true competition I had was myself. I purposed to focus on being a better manager than I was the day before. Regardless of whether I was recognized for any accomplishments, I knew in my heart that I was growing and going in the right direction. My personal contentment did not depend on others recognizing me. Again, Scripture reminded me that peace comes from a grateful heart. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7 By the way, that “strive to be better than the day before” tactic also works for husbands and fathers.
- Don’t jump to conclusions. There may be very legitimate reasons why someone else got that promotion or won that award. Creating suppositions in your mind to explain your presumed slight, and then emotionally reacting to those self-defined stories perfectly illustrates the meaning of self-destructive.
- If you truly feel that you have been wronged, seek out someone with whom to discuss your feelings. A couple of years later, while working in a different District, several of my peers were promoted. This time, it hurt. This time I struggled, despite my commitment to rejoice with others. I evaluated my feelings and thought I needed to talk with my boss. I didn’t complain or whine. I simply expressed confusion over how the Company viewed my performance and needed to know how I could improve. My boss thanked me and immediately went to see our Director. A few minutes later, my Director invited me to join him for lunch, and we discussed my career. To my surprise, he had called our Vice President who an hour later asked me to his office. He explained that they had plans for me and encouraged me to be patient. Three months later I was promoted and two years later promoted again. Having a respectful attitude served me well and kept the doors of communication open.
- Avoid participating in “Pity Parties.” It was not uncommon for office gossip to develop a million reasons why the just recognized/just promoted person did not deserve it. Such talk only serves to stir up resentment. I stepped away from being a participant in such pity parties. I guess you could call me a pity party pooper.
- Practice forgiveness. You may discover that you have been truly wronged or ignored. In those cases, exercise your God-given right to forgive. Allowing resentment to take hold only leads to bitterness and anger. The only one hurt is yourself.
I used all of these steps on more than one occasion and never regretted doing so. I soon learned the positive side of breaking the chains of resentment. Refusing to allow my heart to be controlled by negative emotions, kept it free to engage in more positive and healthy ones.
Just as my son discovered the immutable law of gravity, I learned about the destructive nature of resentment. Fortunately, I also realized, the healing power of gratefulness and forgiveness.
And that’s an absolute truth!
(1) The Applause of Heaven, by Max Lucado, 1996, Word Publishing, pages 100-103