Advent 3: How do I relate to grievance?

How do you relate to grievance?

How do you relate to the damage done to you by the world or by the individuals who people your story?

Some difficult things have happened you, injustice has occurred, trust has been broken. Maybe some particular instances still rankle.

So, how do you relate to these experiences?

Some people don’t relate to them; they deflect from the matter by saying things like, ‘I’ve nothing to complain about compared to people in Afghanistan.’

It sounds virtuous. But if you cannot listen to yourself you cannot listen to anyone else.

Other people avoid the matter; they sugar-coat their story. I remember one young man coming to see me with the opening line: ‘I had a very happy childhood and I don’t know why I’m here.’

Within fifteen minutes, they had told me, as something of no consequence, that their mother tried to run them over with a tractor and that they were an alcoholic by the age of twelve.

It is an extreme example but a common truth: because of the difficult feelings involved, we sometimes avoid our sense of grievance. We don’t wish to go there.

Jesus’ relationship to grievance is interesting. There is a clear sense of family grievance when he refuses to see his mother when she comes to find him.

‘Who is my mother?’ he asks those listening. His family, he says, are those whodo his father’s will.

The snub and humiliation is both public and shocking; and clearly an expression of grievance about his family’s attitude towards his work.

He had already lied to his brothers about going to Jerusalem. (John 8) It seems he didn’t trust them.

We’ll come back to Jesus in a moment. But first, we return to our own story, and my sense that accessing feelings of grievance can be a significant step towards sanity.

We think of the young man who declared a happy childhood when it had been anything but happy. It had been trauma.

When he saw me, he was not ready for a relationship with his grievance; not ready to be well. He needed his fiction more.

I think also of a senior bishop in the Church of England who told me that if he let his anger out, he would pull the skies down.

So, he tried to keep his anger in, pushed down inside and hidden. But it seeped out regularly in passive-aggressive behaviour. He also was not ready for a relationship with his grievance.

But the price his high. Both anxiety and depression, and the particular suffering they bring, are intimately related to unresolved grievance.

Others reveal it in their sense of entitlement – ‘The world owes me!’ –  or their eternal ‘victim’ status.

Jesus, in the end, left his grievance behind. On the cross, he encouraged his disciple John and his mother to share a home, make a fresh start. There’s a great sense of reconciliation here.

And then, again from the cross, one of his most shocking lines to the world: ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’

When to all intents and purposes, everyone knew exactly what they were doing.

I know a woman who speaks spitefully about her husband. This is not unusual. But they divorced fifty years ago and he died thirty years ago. Her grievance has become part of her identity; she can’t give it up.

And she’s hardly alone in that. Many hold on to grievance believing it is part of who they are.

‘If I let go of my grievance, who will I be? I’d be unfaithful to my past to let go!’

But while the acknowledgement of grievance is a stage-post on our journey, it is never the destination. And ultimately, it is not who we are.

Grievance needs to be felt, acknowledged and then left: ‘Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.’

Feel it…name it…leave it.

There’s no set time on this process, no deadline. The deeper the pain, the longer it takes; though sometimes it occurs in a moment.

But today, and without judgement, we ponder our own relationship to grievance.

We do this kindly and we do this truthfully.

It determines our relationship with so much else.

Leave a Reply