Releasing grudges in the name of healing and peace
When the Prince of Peace was born in Bethlehem, angels appeared in the sky with a timely message: “Peace on Earth, good will to men (and don’t forget women).” What would you do for that kind of peace today?
In our age, the angels would have to change their message to “Peace on Earth, good will to Democrats and Republicans ... and Independents too.”
It reminds me of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, the “Christmas Bells,” written at the height of the Civil War. It began:
“I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on Earth, good will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on Earth,’ I said,
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on Earth, good will to men!’”
Not many people seem to want peace. America is being held hostage by anger and resentment born of political differences. Even family members are warring. But if the only people we can get along with are the ones who share our political views, then Christmas may as well be a Joe Biden rally, a Donald Trump clambake or a Pete Buttigieg fundraiser.
Anger and resentments are spiritually corrosive and not just when it comes to politics. I knew a woman who nursed a resentment for several decades. She couldn’t stomach her sister-in-law and never went to a holiday event if she was there. No one knew what provoked it, although everyone had a theory, but even their worst theories could not justify holding a grudge that long.
Christmas is a time to forgive old hurts, not invent new ones. I wish I could say I excel in this area but I don’t. Nevertheless, let me tell you about one Christmas miracle I experienced, and without it, my life would be much different today.
Fifteen years ago, my father and I had a terrible argument about the care of my mother, who was dying of cancer and Alzheimer’s. We didn’t talk for months, so I know how easy it is to cling to a resentment when you believe you’re right. Years later, a fellow in Alcoholics Anonymous said something that hit me right between the eyes: “How important is it for you to be right?” (Remember those words because they come in handy.)
On Christmas Eve, we were leaving for New Hampshire when my wife said, “We have to go to your parents’ so the kids can see them and we can give them their gifts.”
I resisted. She persisted. She won. It was going to be another tense encounter. When we arrived, I sat in the kitchen while gifts were being exchanged ... and then my father came and sat down beside me and asked, “How are you, son?” We talked and as we talked, the anger and resentment melted away. I know it was a Christmas miracle because I couldn’t have done that by myself. I needed help, we all need help, we just have to ask for it.
As we were driving to New Hampshire, I felt better than I had in months. I felt relieved because a heavy weight had been lifted from my soul. Holding a grudge can do that to you.
That Christmas Eve, we celebrated as we watched the snow fall on the mountains ... and then we got the phone call. My father had died driving home from my nephew’s Christmas pageant with my sister and her family.
I can’t imagine what would have happened if we hadn’t reconciled. Would my resentment have been replaced by bitter regret? Or would I have continued to cling to my self-righteous anger?
This year, don’t look to be right and don’t look for an argument and don’t look to perpetuate old grudges. Look for the love. Look for the miracles.
One last thought — forget politics. It will be there long after you’re dead. Celebrate the reason for the season. Merry Christmas. And peace on Earth.
Joe Pisani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.