When we are offended, the way we respond will determine whether or not we live a life burdened with grudges. What will you choose?
We all know the feeling. Your heart begins to race as you feel anger and hurt building up inside you. You’ve just suffered an offense. It might’ve been from a close friend, a family member or even a total stranger. The person said or did something that wounded you.
Now begins a critical window of time in which you must decide how you will respond to this hurt.
The natural human response
The natural response to situations like these comes quite intuitively, and you’ll find these steps easy to follow:
- Assign blame: Since you are undoubtedly in the right, there’s no need to stop and consider whether or not you contributed negatively to the situation. Instead, focus on what others did wrong and the lack of responsibility they show for their actions.
- Dwell on the offense: Now is an excellent time to obsess over what others did to offend you. Better yet, take the opportunity to contemplate all their past offenses too. Focus intensely on all the character flaws that have caused them to offend you repeatedly.
- Refuse to reconcile: Avoid any opportunity to settle the problem with the offenders. Doing so might cause you to see your own fault in the matter or diffuse your indignation. Opt instead to drive a permanent wedge between you and the other person by creating an atmosphere of distance and hostility, preventing the wounds from ever healing.
- Never forgive: Since the offenders have done nothing to deserve your forgiveness, why would you grant it? Let them know how much they hurt you by refusing to forgive their mistakes.
- Allow bitterness to take root: If you follow all the previous steps, you’ll find that bitterness develops naturally all on its own. Feelings of anger, hurt, disappointment and resentment will naturally overtake you.
As you’ve likely figured out by now, these six steps offer bad advice. We should quickly identify the sinful nature of this advice and reject it entirely. And yet, in practice, we often respond by taking several—if not all— of the steps above.
The question is, If we can easily see the flaws in these steps, why are we still tempted to fall into this trap of harboring bitterness, resentment and ill will or, in other words, holding a grudge?
Satan tempts us to hold grudges
We are highly susceptible to this trap because it exploits our innate behavior patterns.
If we knew a trap was being set for us, we would do everything possible to avoid it. However, by leveraging our human nature against us, Satan is able to make sin—“which so easily ensnares us”—seem right and feel natural (Hebrews 12:1).
Grudges cause significant self-harm and damage our relationships—both with others and, more importantly, with God.(To learn more about Satan and his tactics of deception, read “Satan: A Profile” and “Don’t Be Ignorant of Satan’s Devices.”)
Every action our adversary takes is strategic, and his ability to persuade us to hold grudges is a powerful weapon in his tool belt. The misguided points listed above are just a sampling of the logic Satan entices us to follow in order to hold a grudge.
By preying on our human nature, Satan can even convince us that holding a grudge will bring us satisfaction, appealing to our desire for justice.
In reality, the grudges we hold do not harm others. They do, however, cause significant self-harm and damage our relationships—both with others and, more importantly, with God.
Fortunately, God has given us His Word, which provides the knowledge we need to counter each aspect of this deadly mindset Satan tries to instill in us.
Let’s examine how we can combat this human tendency, learn how to let go of grudges and find happiness and peace in our relationships.
How to not hold a grudge
Here are six keys to avoiding a grudge.
1. Take responsibility.
Most strained relationships involve some degree of fault on both sides. However, Satan doesn’t want us to see it that way. If we let him, he will leverage our pride to render us blind to our own mistakes. So how do we fight this temptation.
Though it may be painful, we can resist Satan’s trap of pride by being willing to identify and take ownership of our mistakes. We will need God’s help to do this. Thankfully, we have the ability to go to God in prayer and ask Him to reveal any wickedness in us so that we may see ourselves as we truly are (Psalm 139:23-24).
Only when we humble ourselves before God will we be able to recognize and acknowledge how we contributed to the problem and thus be able to beat Satan at his own game.
2. Dwell on the good.
We can choose what thoughts we allow to linger in our minds. We can choose to let negativity fester, or we can intentionally determine to think positively. If the individuals who offended us are people we know well, we should ask ourselves if we’ve shared any positive interactions or memories with them in the past. If so, can we use these experiences to help counteract our negative feelings?
When we find ourselves wrestling with the temptation to harbor a grudge, we can ask God for wisdom in handling the situation. Even if we don’t have fond memories to look back on, there is still much good in our lives that God instructs us to consider.
By focusing on the good, we can develop a deeper appreciation for what we have and avoid spiraling into negativity. It’s much harder to focus on a stinging offense when contemplating the many blessings God has given us.
Amid a perceived injustice, think about “whatever things are just” (Philippians 4:8).
(For a deeper dive into the meaning of Philippians 4:8, read our series “Meditate on These Things.”)
3. Seek wise counsel.
It is vitally important that we not indulge our human nature by seeking validation over sound advice. In 1 Kings 12, we see the example of Rehoboam, who dismissed the wise advice of the elders in favor of affirmation from his peers. Even worse, there’s no indication that he sought counsel from God. This approach didn’t work well for him, and it won’t work well for us.
Anytime we find ourselves in a battle against our human nature, we must seek God’s help. When we find ourselves wrestling with the temptation to harbor a grudge, we can ask God for wisdom in handling the situation.
James emphasizes the importance of this step: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
4. Initiate reconciliation.
Once we have taken the matter to God, we can begin the reconciliation process. If it is safe, we should reach out to the individual privately to address the offense.
In Matthew 18:15-17, God instructs us on how to approach reconciliation. Sometimes the other person may show no interest in initiating reconciliation, even if he or she is primarily at fault.
When this happens, it can be all too easy for our anger to reignite and our pride to swell. This is simply another trap, and we must not allow ourselves to fall for it. When our pride threatens to take over, we must counter it with humility.
Suppose we humbly approach the other person and begin the conversation by acknowledging our own mistakes. In that case, we stand a much better chance of regaining our brother or sister (Matthew 18:15).
(For additional resources on how to approach reconciliation, read “The 5 Rs of Healing Relationships: Reconcile and Retry.”)
5. Forgive always.
With God’s help, we can practice forgiveness, even toward those who caused our deepest hurts. But that doesn’t mean that the forgiveness process will always be easy. In some cases, forgiveness may seem nearly impossible. The individual may not show any remorse or even any desire for forgiveness or reconciliation.
However, we must give forgiveness anyway.
It may take significant time, prayer and meditation to achieve, but we must forgive. If we genuinely desire God’s forgiveness for our trespasses, we cannot withhold forgiveness from others, regardless of the circumstances (Matthew 6:14-15).
6. Avoid bitterness at all costs.
In Luke 6:27-28, we are implored to learn one of the most challenging and unnatural—yet crucial—lessons: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.”
We simply cannot do this if we allow grudges to go unresolved, gradually settling into bitterness over time.
One of the most dangerous things about bitterness is how quickly it can become permanent once it enters our lives. Once we’ve grown accustomed to living with it, it becomes a constant toxic companion.
If we make a genuine effort to extend love and understanding, we can uproot bitterness. Once it’s uprooted and left with nothing to sustain it, bitterness has no choice but to wither and die.
Win the battle against grudges
Grudges are a tempting trap, and Satan will use them to separate us from God and each other. He wants us to hold grudges, become bitter, fail to achieve our goal and stay unhappy for the rest of our lives.
But he doesn’t have to win. With God’s help, we can avoid this snare, replacing grudges and bitterness with forgiveness, love and (as much as depends on us) living “peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18).