This week, we are exploring the movement Henri Nouwen describes from resentment to gratitude. Below are some exercises and spiritual disciplines to practice to help you join the Holy Spirit in this transforming movement.
A Diagnostic Checklist for Resentment
Do I feel like I should mask or hide “negative” emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, or anxiety?
- How can we break through the chains of resentment and free ourselves? Resentment has very deep roots in our human condition as is not easily cleared away. But once we confess our resentments within a safe and supportive faith community, we create space for forgiveness and freedom. When this happens, God’s liberating grace is able to make all things new. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.64
- Ask God to help you be honest in discovering the what and the why behind the actual state of your inner life. If you need help identifying what emotions you’re experiencing or where they’re coming from, bring that before God in genuine conversation and prayer.
Do I find myself feeling unhappy or jealous of other people’s successes?
- Spiritual formation is the way by which resentment can slowly be transformed into gratitude. Through the spiritual practice of letting go of jealousy and bitterness, and forgiving and affirming others, we can make rivals into friends and competitors into companions on the way to true greatness. Servanthood might sound like a pious idea, but it really asks for the humble recognition that our life is not our own to be defended but a gift to be shared. All we have has been given to us. Our part is to be grateful and to give thanks. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.65
- As you pray, focus on God as the Generous Giver, whose love & grace is inexhaustible. Instead of imagining that someone else’s success takes something away from you, ask God for a mindset of Kingdom abundance — where there is not only enough for everyone, but where joy is multiplied when it is shared.
Do I believe I deserve more than someone else because I’ve demonstrated more faith, virtue, obedience, or hard work than they have?
- Authentic Christian community occurs where there is fertile ground for gratitude to grow, for gifts to be received, and for blessings to be shared. Such a place embodies the true nature and function of what we call church no matter where it gathers or what name it bears. Authentic Christian community nurtures the spirit of gratitude and service in the spiritual life. It does so by inviting us to give constant attention to the condition of our hearts, where we listen to the voice of God and respond with thanksgiving. It calls for an ongoing willingness to remove our defensive armor and create inner space where the Spirit of God can live. It requires courage to scrutinize our compulsive selves and to open our hearts to new ways of being. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.65
- Ask God to help you see that getting to be a part of Jesus’ mission in the world, spending time with God, and working alongside sisters & brothers in Christ are priceless rewards, in and of themselves.
When things don’t go according to my plan, do I become overly annoyed or frustrated?
- Resentment is exactly the complaint that life does not unfold the way we planned; that our many goals and projects are constantly interrupted by the events of the hour, the day, and the year… The movement to gratitude involves the discover y that God is the God of history and that things are quietly and slowly unfolding as they should. My spiritual task is to learn to listen to all that is going on and trust that God’s hand is guiding me. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.66
- Ask God for the flexibility and adaptability that comes from trust in God’s plan (and not just personality type). Lift up those people or circumstances that cause interruptions in your life and ask God how they might be an invitation into God’s plan.
In all of these self-reflections, friends, please be kind to yourselves! It can be really hard to look inside. All too often, when we see something we don’t like, we end up feeling bad and kicking ourselves — but nothing changes (except, perhaps, feeling worse). If and when you hear the voice of criticism who is waiting to pounce on your mistakes, move past it and listen for the true voice of Love, who is patient, kind, and protective.
[The following two exercises are from Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation]
Given how destructive the passion of resentment can be in human life, the movement from resentment to gratitude is necessary. Once we enter into this movement of the Spirit, we can let go of our resentments and stretch out our arms to the God who sets us free for joyful service — service not as a religious obligation, but as a manifestation of our inner gratitude. Nouwen’s challenge is for us to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now in the light of a loving and guiding God.
Reflect and Journal
- Can you name one difficult stepping-stone that has brought you to where you are now, and reflect on it in the light of a loving God who guides your steps?
- For Nouwen, to be grateful means to live life as a gift — that wherever I live, whatever I do, or whatever happens to me, I see somewhere in the experience a gift for which to be thankful. What past experiences in your life that were hard at the time can you now be truly grateful for?
- The Apostle Paul encourages us to “give thanks always and for everything” (Eph. 5:20). Further, Paul reminds believers that “in all things God works for the good” (Rom. 8:2). In your journal, write down ten things that you can thankful for today. Share these with someone else.
- Read the parable of the lost sons in Luke 15:11-32. Write a page in your journal on the question, In what ways am I the older son in the parable?
Visio Divina: The Graceful Dancer
Russian troops entered Paris in 1815 with force and violence. In the aftermath of destruction and loss, an important acquisition was made for the Hermitage. Alexander I arranged for the purchase by private treaty of a collection of artworks belonging to Empress Josephine, former wife of Napoleon, housed in her Malmaison Palace. Among the priceless additions were four sculptures by Antonio Canova: Hebe, Paris, Woman Dancing, and Cupid and Psyche.
As you ponder the Dancer image, reflect on the following insight of Nouwen’s:
“I once saw a stonecutter remove great pieces from a huge rock on which he was working. In my imagination I thought, That rock must be hurting terribly. Why does this man wound the rock so much? But as I looked longer, I saw the figure of a graceful dancer emerge gradually from the stone.”
- In what ways do you feel the pain of the rock being made into a statue of a dancer?
- What chipping away at the protective wall of your soul do you feel God may be engaged in right now?
- In what ways are your resisting or resenting the process?
- In what ways are you open and graceful?
- As you look at Woman Dancing by Antonio Canova, can you feel the cold marble of the statue?
- Can you sense the movements of the dancer in motion?
- Can you see yourself alone or with another on the dance floor?
- What would it take to make you dance with joy?