Holding a Grudge

Written by Sherry E. Hietpas, Associate Pastor of Digital Ministry, Andrew Chapel UMC in Vienna, VA (currently residing in Bangkok Thailand)

Trees with light coming through. A Voice in the Wilderness

Jonah chapters 3 and 4

In the early 2000s, Sandra Bullock starred in a movie adaptation of the book The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood. And while the movie was not a box-office sensation or even very memorable in her list of cinematic accomplishments, there was one line from that movie that always stuck with me. Ellen Burstyn played her mother, Vivi, and in describing herself, says, “I take a problem and chew on it ‘til all the flavor’s gone, and then stick it in my hair.” I can think of no better description of holding a grudge. It is one of those aspects of human nature that people love to hold onto, even when there’s no redeeming value, and it does more to truly make our lives a mess.

As we remember the story of Jonah, most of us recall him running away from God, being held in the belly of a fish for three days, and eventually going to Nineveh. But most of us forget the part where Jonah went kicking and screaming the entire time, angry at God the entire way for God’s mercy and love. He was so focused on his grudge and holding onto his anger that he could barely see straight. He didn’t want to go at all because if he went and they listened, they might repent, and God would forgive them. And that would be too much for him to bear.

How often do we find ourselves in Jonah’s shoes? Jonah is so fixed on the wrongs that were done by Nineveh, the ways that they had hurt others, the ways they failed. He didn’t think they deserved forgiveness, so he certainly didn’t want to be an instrument in bringing them peace. When I think about our role as followers of Christ, if we aren’t careful, we can end up like that: bitter, frustrated, believing that we are the only ones who deserve God’s mercy and love. We look outside our doors at the world outside and think we don’t have to make space for others who are different. We don’t have to extend grace and love to those who don’t deserve it. They vote the wrong way, they believe the wrong way, and they openly support causes that we vehemently disagree with. Why should God offer them mercy? And why should we have to be a means of offering it to them?

It can be so easy to fool ourselves that we alone are righteous and that we have it all figured out. In a culture where so much of our day-to-day is driven by outrage and conflict, whether it be the news cycle, social media feeds, or the upcoming elections, our world really likes to divide people between “us” and “them.” You’re either with me or against me, and if you’re against me, well, then you’re dead to me! It’s one of the reasons we should remember the sacrament of communion. Because at Christ’s table, all are welcome. We are to admit our failings, ask for forgiveness, make peace with our neighbors, and come together as one, as equals to the heavenly feast. At Christ’s table, it’s not about us versus them because we are all one in Christ.

We rejoice at God’s goodness and grace. And if we are honest, there are times when it can be hard to see God’s goodness and grace extended to those who have harmed us. Christ has called us to more than holding onto our anger until all the flavor is gone. Christ has called us to love others and reflect God’s love and grace to the world. It’s not always easy. And thankfully, we don’t have to do it on our own. God is with us. God can handle our anger and help us through to the other side. And thankfully, for all the times that we mess up, God doesn’t hold a grudge.

A Voice in the Wilderness: Lent 2024

Find all entries from A Voice in the Wilderness online here: haymarketchurch.org/lent24