In these angry days of national division, I have been thinking about that old trope of crazy advice from Jesus, to “love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” It is, on the face of it, spectacularly absurd advice. Upon closer inspection it is practical healthcare.
It turns out that having an enemy creates hazardous plaque within our own heart with little or no impact upon the enemy. Like actual plaque in the bloodstream, what goes into forming an enemy hardens and narrows the flow of life to and from our own heart. All the damage is to us and none to our enemy.
Political and economic rage aside, no one I know is without an experience of alienation whether family, co-worker, friend, or neighbor. In the heat of struggle surges anger, bitterness, condemnation, moral outrage – a veritable tornado of tangled emotions. There is absolutely nothing to judge about it.
Emotions are not subject to morality. Emotions are simply a direct reaction sparked by an external event. See it, feel it. Feel it, have it. Emotions are the chemical-effect of a stimulus-cause. They river through us like electrical current. But once an emotion is initially experienced it dissipates unless we store it.
We do have a vault for special emotions though. Think of it as a battery storing electricity. Its name is resentment. The word comes from Latin and means, “to re-feel.” We pull an emotion up from the vault and re-feel it.
Resentment is where we store and keep emotions hot – an ember we can retrieve at will and blow on to reignite the feeling. The thing that caused the emotion – its stimulus – is in the past and doesn’t exist anymore, but when we reactivate the emotion it becomes fully present. In other words, we are feeling an emotion that is no longer stimulated by an event but rather, reactivated because we enjoy feeling it. It sounds demented when described that way, but we have a whole host of nasty, ugly emotions we actually enjoy re-feeling: Anger, disgust, melancholy, hostility, blame, envy, jealousy, outrage, righteous indignation.
That weird old advice about doing good toward people who are against us, is nearly impossible if we are sucking on the uglies of resentment. Likewise, refraining from or letting go of our judgments and condemnations in order to figure out how to forgive and do good, simply will not happen if we continuously re-feel emotions instead of allowing them to dissipate.
Keeping the emotions associated with old wounds alive builds up the plaque in our veins and slowly but surely narrows the flow of life into our hearts. Doing good and forgiving is not a gift to our enemies, it is a source of health and life for us.
So, learning how to reduce the contents in that vault of resentment is all about our own wellness and health. Love toward our enemies and anyone from whom we are alienated, is a process of figuring out how we can practice the art of basic human dignity toward people we may not like, while still doing what needs to be done to empower our own life and wellness. In these days of rage, that is basic healthcare.
sandra steigerwald says
This is very helpful, Cam. Thank you.
Cam Miller says