Listenings: Moving from Resentment to Gratitude

One of the reasons I hope you have a copy of Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation (Harper Collins) in hand as you read these blogs is so that you can follow the larger journey which can get lost in the weekly posts.

As you know, we are exploring what Nouwen calls “midlife movements” in spiritual formation–dimensions of formation which follow the initial elements we previously examined, and movements which lead us into a mature spiritual life.  Nouwen used the Emmaus road experience to describe the first mid-life movement: from sorrow to joy.

Now, he turns to the second mid-life movement: from resentment to gratitude.

At first glance, we might wonder why we need to deal with resentment, but only a few pages into Chapter Four, the answer is clear.  Resentment is the temptation we face when we see ourselves as “haves” and others as “have nots.”  If that were not bad enough, it is amplified when Jesus seems to do things with the “have nots” that offend our sensibility.

Chapter Four launches with “Exhibit A”—the way the late-comers are paid the same as those who have worked all day in the vineyard (Matthew 20:1-16).  Right then and there, the Holy Spirit reminds us of times in our lives when we felt that folks were getting what they did not deserve–and resentment rises up within us.

But that’s the whole point, isn’t it?  Everybody gets what they don’t deserve.  And truth be told, none of us has worked in the vineyard all day long.  We all show up late in God’s total Kingdom work.  But since our spirituality can be easily quantified, we deceive ourselves into believing that our “more” is better than someone else’s alleged “less.”  And when we do this, we become strangers to grace–whether it’s at work in us, or in others.

I think Nouwen saved this movement from resentment to gratitude for “mid-life formation” precisely because we have to be secure enough in our relationship with Jesus to be able to hear him when he has to call us to account for genuine resentment, even after we become Christian.

The coming weeks in this post are going to be “very interesting.”



About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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