Nouwen defines resentment as “cold, agonizing anger” (p. 59)–the feeling that arises in us when we feel that we have been let down or failed to have received what we think we should have.
Resentment impedes spiritual formation because it cuts off one of the primary ways God shapes us—through human relationships. When we are resentful of others, we do not connect with them, learn from them, or value them. The result is a life of isolation that avoids contact with others in anything other than superficial and temporary expressions.
I’ve been thinking about heaven and hell in some new ways. I like to do that sometimes with familiar subjects, as a way to get a richer perspective on things. Here’s what I’ve come up with, and it relates to resentment the way Nouwen is writing about it.
If egotism is the essence of sin (erithea: the heart turned in upon itself), then hell would be the place of utter and eternal individualism. Hell would mean being absolutely and forever “alone.” And with the false filters of pride removed, what could be worse than having to live forever with your “self”—a self even you cannot stand.
That’s what resentment produces. It may start as an expression toward others, but as it continues, it ends up poisoning our own hearts. In the end, resentment comes back in the form of a haunting question: “What was I thinking?”
Thankfully, we have time to answer that question before it defines us eternally.