Proper 15A; Pentecost 11; Genesis 45; 8/16/20
Have you ever been betrayed? Have you been healed from it? What do you do with betrayal? Betrayal is a bitter pill to swallow.
Joseph had his fill of it for sure: Sold into slavery by his brothers; Sold again to Potiphar, the Pharaoh’s chief steward who elevated him as curator over his home affairs; Betrayed by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison; Joseph’s fortunes changed when he was finally appointed as Chancellor to Pharaoh himself after revealing his wisdom in interpreting his dreams. Joseph’s life was full of ups and downs.
After more than a decade of never knowing if his father was alive, Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt seeking food because of the famine that had taken over the continent. Joseph’s reaction to seeing his brothers is mixed with joy and resentment. He first plays his resentment out against his brothers by playing tricks on them to make them look like thieves. Eventually, Joseph’s resentment finally breaks down. Joseph’s love for his brothers wins out and they hug one another and are reunited.
That’s a long time to hold on to resentment. What is the longest period of time that you have resented someone? What did your resentment do to you—to your quality of life, to your relationships with others, with your mental, physical, emotional and spiritual health?
Resentments affect every part of our health and even other relationships.
During times of stress, such as five months of having our lives controlled by an unseen virus, patience can wear thin and we can become hypersensitive around others, taking offense at things that usually wouldn’t bother us.
Resentment is one of the greatest challenges we meet along the spiritual path.
Resentment means to hold onto anger and “re-send” the anger in a feedback loop. The feedback loop is re-triggered either when a person who has betrayed us returns into our awareness—or another person or event creates a similar scenario as the initial violation. Our minds think that our anger protects us from being hurt.
The anger feedback loop is a kind of force field that maintains distance between others and ourselves. The downside of resentment is that we are living in the past, in a state of alert. We’re tied to the others that hurt us, and this impinges on future trust. Our inner peace is covered by a thin layer of resentment covering a potential volcano.
The way out of resentment is forgiveness. But we often resist fearing that forgiveness will leave us vulnerable to being hurt again. This is due to misunderstanding what forgiveness is.
Let’s begin by reflection on what forgiveness is not. Forgiveness is not a sign of weakness but of strength. We don’t need our anger to protect ourselves.
Strength comes from our security in God.
If we over identify with our wounds we fall prey to victim consciousness, which is a blend of learned helplessness and resentment. There is a pandemic of victim consciousness in our culture today—much of it politically driven.
The idea of forgiveness creates anxiety due to the fear of the loss of our counterfeit identity of victimhood. To create a belief system that our identity comes from another who has hurt us leaves us with an empty soul. We may have been victimized by others but we are not victims. We have the liberty of choosing our true identity as children of God who have been empowered to live in the Way of the Spirit—not the way of resentment, hate or vengeance. Retaliation will not heal our wounds but the love of God will—when we offer our wounds to him.
Forgiveness is not forgetting, condoning or absolving another who has wronged us. Forgiveness does free us form being tied to them and their action.
Our willingness to forgive depends not on the offender seeking reconciliation.
Jesus on the cross, taught us unilateral forgiveness. The Jewish authorities who accused Jesus and the Roman authorities who executed him were too lost in their egos to see the reality of what they were doing—thus the words of Jesus: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Forgiveness goes through a healing process in phases similar to grief. The phases of forgiveness are: claiming the hurt, guilt and shame, victim, anger and then all is released into wholeness. Expanding on this will take more time than is available at present.
To leave you with a closing thought about what Joseph’s life can teach us is: Abandonment, betrayal, unfairness and hardships do not have the final word—that is unless we allow them to. Our God is a God of deliverance, healing and wholeness.
Then next time you get the raw end of a deal, begin to change your focus from the perpetrator and the event to God. The Spirit will lead us from our wounds, pain, dark memories and loss into the holy Light of God.
We don’t have to hang on to our resentment like Joseph did. God’s love and compassion can set us free.