Stamp Out Grudges

Unless you’re ancient enough to qualify for a senior coffee at Hardees, you more than likely aren’t familiar with Green Stamps. Please allow me to explain:

As late as the 1980’s, certain gas stations and grocery stores used to offer a bonus of stamps, as a reward to equal a dollar amount that was spent on purchases. I’m not talking about postage stamps. I’m referring to S & H Green Stamps (issued by the Sperry & Hutchinson Co.) which could be redeemed for future merchandise after you collected a required amount. There was a little booklet in which you stuck your trading stamps, and after you collected enough for an item (you thought you couldn’t live without), you turned it in to be redeemed. A catalog, chock full of merchandise for which you could trade your book-filled stamps, was always available for your lust. It depicted items like electric blankets, appliances, cameras, jewelry, linens, furniture, etc. It was always so exciting when my parents would turn in their full books of stamps to be redeemed, even though I never had the opportunity to get anything I wanted because the catalog didn’t offer any exciting necessities, like roller skates or BB guns. Mom and Dad always seemed to pick out the useless, boring stuff, like a toaster or a new-fangled gadget of some kind. Anyway, half the fun of the program was licking the stamps and sticking them one at a time in the little outlined blocks on each page of the booklets. There would often be a serious “discussion” with my siblings as to who would carry the honor of being licker-of-the-week.(Fortunately, no one was ever killed, but a few injuries probably occurred.) More often than not, my family would collect for weeks before we were able to turn the full booklets in for redemption. But, when the precious booklets eventually got filled, we’d excitedly drive to the Redemption Center in our way-cool 1955 Chevy for a chosen reward.

Speaking of stamps….the same redemption process applies to something we all know….grudges. They’re remarkably akin to Green Stamps. We all carry around a mental booklet whose pages contain outlined “grudge” blocks. Each time someone offends us, we remember their offense by mentally sticking a stamp in the booklet’s blocks. If left to fester, we continue to place the “grudge stamps” in our mental booklet, until the blocks are full of personal offenses. When that happens, and we can no longer endure the bulge of our over-filled booklets, we’re finally ready to redeem them. At long last, we can receive our overdue reward by exploding in anger….either passively or aggressively.

Have you ever wondered where someone’s anger came from who may have blown up at you for seemingly no good reason? Their book was full. Or, have you found yourself seething at someone who may have done little to offend you, but it felt larger than life? Your book was overflowing. We all walk around with a full assortment of booklets that would make any serious librarian faint. There are books of offenses on just about any subject where we have felt slighted, cut-off, embarrassed, unacceptable, verbally attacked, disrespected, or just plain annoyed.

Grudge-holding and its evil twin, resentment, aren’t always easy to identify, but one thing’s for sure, they come from the same angry place in our hearts. To refresh your memory from an earlier post, “The Masks of Anger”, these feelings come out of a blocked goal or an expectation. Simply put, we want something, and someone/something gets in our way. This principle isn’t very complicated….just witness a dog’s reaction if you steal a much-wanted bone from its personal space. Grrr. When someone or something withholds from us what we want in a relationship, i.e. respect, admiration, loyalty, truth, then we usually endure them by tolerating, at least for a time. As nice as this looks, a grudge is born out of irritation and resentment….the raw materials needed for anger.

So, knowing how grudges happen, at whom are you irritated these days? Who do you perceive to be standing in your way of getting what you want? Maybe, it’s someone at work who shows you no respect. It could be a non-communicative spouse who doesn’t seem to value you, or a parent who misunderstands you and you don’t feel heard. Maybe there’s a friend who stirs your envy by the way they flaunt their success, or someone else who has rejected your thoughtful advice. Maybe, you even feel God is the culprit. There are a zillion ways we are let down in life, and our stamp books continue to get full. As a result, sooner or later, someone or something will receive the full brunt of the booklet redemption, and it may be redeemed over some minor infraction…. the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back”. Someone will be the Redemption Center, and they’ll receive the full brunt of your long-held grudge. They may not even be the real culprit.

I’d like to clarify something at this point which I hope will help you to understand an important fact. Manytimes, we hold a grudge against someone because we perceive we’ve been sinned against. Surely, there are times where real sin does occur. However, it’s important to be able to distinguish the difference between knowing someone has genuinely sinned against us, versus someone who merely likes to do things differently than we do. One is clearly sin, and the other is merely preference. Sometimes, when someone prefers to manage life in their own way, and we don’t approve, we take it personally, as though they set out to vindicate themselves by ignoring or irritating us. They haven’t violated any legal, ethical, or moral law, but still, they persist to do it their way. This isn’t sin. Yes, it’s different, however it doesn’t break any of God’s laws. To us, it may feel they’ve broken the law of love by not doing it our way, but is there a genuine law which insists our way is the only “right” way?

For years, I (unknowingly) held a grudge against my husband, Joe, for the “relaxed” way he likes (and still does) to maintain his home-office desk. I’ve always preferred things to be organized. No wasted time having to look for things. Seems like the right thing to me. We’ve had a fair amount of discussion in the past years about which of us was thinking about the system of (dis)organization correctly. It seemed to me as though he didn’t regard my feelings about it. It felt like my opinion had no real value to him. Joe would assert that since this was his desk, he should be able to keep it as he wanted. He felt as though his opinion had no value to me. At some point, just in the last few years, the Holy Spirit has prompted me to think differently about the situation. Joe really hasn’t been sinning against me. Granted, he still searches for papers at times, but there’s no law against paper-hunting expeditions. No sin….just preference; a different way of doing things. There’s no personal violation involved which should be enforced by desk-police, but I proudly saw myself as a potential recruit. I’m still a work in progress, but my Turn Around Time has become shorter by God’s grace. At times, I’ll even help Joe search as we unearth artifacts beneath the piles of paper….particularly if I sense he’ll be swallowed up by evil desk monsters.

I firmly believe, if we’d all spend less time focused on having to be “right”, and more time learning to grow in righteousness, our grudges would be substantially reduced. (I need to be reminded of this constantly.) Having to be right kills relationships. Our sin nature loves to be right because it feels powerful. However, it puts the other person in a defensively, difficult position. Think about it. Either they’ll give up out of frustration, because they know they’ll be proven wrong, which in turn, gives them the message they’re inferior, less informed, stupid, and/or a loser. Or, they’ll have to argue, fight, and claw for the power seat which is exhausting and debilitating. Either position will eventually get old, and the other person will retreat or walk away from the relationship. This may be fleshed out physically or emotionally, but they’ll eventually withdraw. No one likes a “know-it-all”. Ouch. Having to be right means we think we have something to prove to others because we want others to see our competence. Growing in righteousness means we’ve taken hold of the confidence offered to us in Christ, and we don’t have to strive for man’s approval.

Instead of seeking vindication or revenge through your grudge-holding against the one who has offended or annoyed you, strive for peace by not keeping score or holding accounts. Love keeps no record of wrongs. (I Cor. 13:5) Instead of dwelling on the memory of the offense, choose to remember the mercy and grace God has shown to all of us who are full of sin. (Matt. 18:21-35) Who are we to refuse mercy toward others? If our thought is that we haven’t done to others what they have done to us, then our biggest problem isn’t the other person… it’s blindness to our own sin.

Turn Around and repent. Look inwardly at your heart that dwells on “being right” in having your own way. Be willing to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal those areas which crave approval and attention from others. Think of those people who own a “stamp” in your book, and release them from having to meet your agenda of doing things your way, and meeting your perceived needs. Jesus has met the only real need you have…. enjoy the freedom that brings to the relationships you have with people who choose to do things differently. If someone has genuinely sinned against you, talk to them (not others) about the offense. Seek to forgive. (Matt. 5:23-24))

Believer, aim not only to throw out the stamps, but endeavor to close the booklet as soon as possible. The only redemption you need has taken place at the Cross, and your reward is eternal.