When anger remains unexpressed, it can often evolve into fantasies of revenge. At times, it bubbles over as passive-aggressive behavior. Today, we learn how to let go of our vengeful thoughts so that we can move forward in our journey toward forgiveness. Revenge is the sixth roadblock in my book, The Road to Forgiveness: Removing the Roadblocks.
Vengeful thoughts keep us in a state of ill health and inner turmoil.
Vengeful thinking stems from repressed anger. I’ve learned it’s not healthy to hang onto anger. It causes increases in our blood pressure, heart rate, cortisol levels, and cholesterol readings.
In addition to the physical harm we cause ourselves by remaining bitter, we also create one of the biggest roadblocks to forgiveness. When we think about revenge, we stay hyper-focused on our angry thoughts. Not only does this block us from forgiving, but it also prevents us from living with the type of internal peace that we must have to feel emotionally healthy.
Letting go of bitterness opens the door to healing.
If we think of forgiveness as something that we can only give away, we are missing half of the concept. We forgive, because it is a gift we can give ourselves. When we let go of our bitterness and thoughts of revenge, we free ourselves to begin a new life of inner calm.
Without thoughts of revenge, we can grow spiritually, find emotional renewal, express the truth, and regain our self-respect. This sounds wonderful, but perhaps you’re wondering how to find this elusive place in your mind. The process may take a long time, but I found that the following three steps were helpful to me.
Photo from campingroadtrip.com
1) Acknowledge that you’re angry.
Joe and I took a vacation a few years ago to a remote cabin in northern Michigan. The place was devoid of televisions, computers, phones, radios, and people. We thought it was going to be great, but there was one problem: I packed anger in my bags without even realizing it. And it was coming out in passive-aggression toward my innocent husband. I realized that when we remove all of the busy-ness of our lives, we find the junk that we’ve been carrying around all of our lives.
2) Get it out and get on with your life.
During this getaway, I was biting poor Joe’s head off. He looked so miserable, I decided that I’d better figure out what was bothering me. I wandered out of the cabin on a drizzly day and sat by the sodden fire pit. I asked God to reveal to me why I felt so enraged.
It didn’t take long for the answer to come: my mother had neglected my needs all of my life, and whenever we took family vacations, I felt even greater isolation. Our little getaway was triggering memories of my mother’s drinking and oblivion to my needs to play and explore our vacation spots.
A therapist had once told me to find objects that I could label with my unmet needs and anger. I decided to pick up small twigs that had fallen from the pine trees. After I had gathered a hefty pile of twigs, I found a hatchet. As instructed earlier in counseling, I named each twig and then gave it a whack. “This is for never reading me a bedtime story.” Whack. “This is for calling me worse than yesterday’s trash.” Whack. And so it continued, until I had named every reason for being angry with my mother. It took quite a while, but when I was done, I felt drained.
3) Let go and let God.
I sat there, staring at my pile of twigs. I hated the way my anger made me feel, and I didn’t want to haul it around during my entire vacation. It was time to let it go.
A light mist continued falling, and the odds of lighting a fire were slim to none. But I knew that I had to fully destroy this anger before it destroyed me. With a large box of matches, I worked and worked to set that bunch of anger on fire. When it caught at last, I sat back and watched the blue smoke curling heavenward. “Take it God,” I said. “I don’t want to live with it anymore.”
As I watched the smoke rising, I felt incredible release. I felt God’s presence in a way that I never had before. Suddenly, I understood the pain he felt over my abuse, as well as the sorrow he felt over my refusal to give it to him. I felt comforted and completely at peace.
Romans 8:6 (NIV) tells us, The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace. Holding onto revenge will lead us to an early death, and perhaps even spiritual death. Letting go and giving our anger to God allows his Spirit to fill us with life-giving peace.
Letting go is just the beginning of forgiving.
Please note that this process did not yet involve my forgiving my mother. I merely let go of the anger, the vengeful thoughts, and the bitterness that had been consuming me most of my life.
When we let go of vengeful thinking and the anger that causes it, we find a new inner peace. Nothing changes for the person who has hurt us, because this process is something we do for ourselves. Down the road, there may be time for healing in our perpetrator’s heart when he is ready for it. For now, we simply love ourselves enough to give our anger and vengeful thoughts to God.
Find some destructible objects that you can name with the vengeful thoughts and anger you feel toward someone who has hurt you. These might be twigs, balloons, clay pigeons, old china plates, and so on. You can name your revenge verbally or write your angry thoughts on your destructible objects. Find a way to destroy them that brings you physical release, such as stomping hard on balloons or hurling plates into a garbage can. Just make sure that you don’t hurt yourself or anyone else in the process. When you are finished destroying all of your anger, tell God that it’s his mess now. Spend a few minutes savoring the peace that follows. Write in your journal how you feel.
To read a selection from The Road to Forgiveness: Removing the Roadblocks, click here.