You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin;
you shall reprove your neighbor, or you will incur guilt yourself.
You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge
against any of your people,
but you shall love your neighbor as yourself:
I am the Lord.
Four years ago, I got a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad grade on a final exam in graduate school. It was worth 60% of my final, so I was about to get my first ever Terrible Final Grade that I’d ever gotten, in anything academic, ever.
Panicked, I emailed my professor. Would it be possible, I wondered, to sit down in his office and talk about the final grading?
His response was instantaneous and curt. Grades were final. He had meticulously assembled a team of TA’s to grade the exams and he trusted them implicitly. We could certainly talk, but there was nothing to be done.
I was crushed. Crushed by the grade, shamed by his curtness, embarrassed because I wondered if I had committed a Graduate School Faux Pas by emailing, and stuck reading and re-reading my essay answers. I lay in bed, eloquently explaining the material until imaginary Professor Z was nodding delightedly at me. I took a shower, persuasively demonstrating to the shampoo bottles that my essays did show a firm grasp of the material. I went running, giving mental speeches and watching my professor’s face turn from stern condemnation to impressed respect when he sees my competent and articulate understanding of the topic.
I really held on for a ridiculous amount of time.
You shall not take vengeance
or bear a grudge
against any of your people
Every person is unique, and so it makes sense that the way we bear grudges is unique. We all have a different way of “holding on,” so some of us assume we aren’t “grudge bearers” or “vengeance seekers,” and verses like this don’t apply to us. I’ve never obsessed over punching someone in the face, or smashing their car windows, or even deliver a really cutting remark to someone who has hurt me.
But don’t confuse that with letting go, because I sure as hell am not letting go.
I’ve picked up that wrong and am carrying it around in my backpack, just like the guy who’s fantasizing about smashing his ex’s windshield or the little old lady who can’t stop talking about how her sister always got preferential treatment when they were in elementary school. When someone hurts me, I package that sucker up in a waterproof Tupperware and stick it in my bag, and spend months, weeks, maybe years, anxiously chewing over that rejection or complaint or hurt.
Damn, it takes a lot of energy to carry that wrong in my backpack. We use up a lot of time and space and emotion gnawing at old problems, nursing old wounds, tending to hurts that should have naturally healed long ago if we didn’t keep picking at the scab.
Unless we learn how to take those waterproof Tupperware out of our backpacks and leave them on the side of the mountain, we’re going to be slower. We’re going to be more tired. Our ability to move forward into our callings and lives and relationships with clear eyes and focus and clarity is going to be muddled by our insistence that we hold on, whatever holding on means for us, to that one time when that one person said or did whatever it was that they said or did.
Taking that wrong out of our packs is always harder than it looks, though.
Taking it out and leaving it, abandoning it on the path? So much harder. Some days it can feel impossible.
But you shall not bear a grudge against your neighbor,
but you shall love your neighbor
Do it for love.
Do it because of love.
Because we all carry grudges for different reasons, some of y’all needs to put down that baggage because you need to learn to love your neighbor more richly, more selflessly, and more carefully. Some of y’all need to examine the resentment and bitterness that is not only preventing forgiveness from growing, but seeping into the ways that you care for your partner or roommate or father or coworker.
And because we all carry grudges for different reasons, some of us need to put down our baggage because we need to take better care of our own souls.
Some of us need to look in the mirror and see that our own souls are worth respecting, protecting, caring for. That we are worth fighting for, and we are worth having compassion on. And the only way that we can have the courage to take this God-awful, dead weight out of our backpack is if we think that we deserve to travel light and deserve to travel free.
You shall not bear, whispers Leviticus. You shall not bear. You shall not bear – because if you truly love your neighbor, then you’ll put it down. You shall not bear, because if you truly think you’re worthy of love, you’ll put it down.
Lord knows it’s a process, learning to take it out, and learning to leave it on the road. Maybe today all you can do is take it out, turn it over in your hands, and then put it back in your pack. That’s ok. It takes awhile to be gentle enough, and brave enough, to leave it.
But keep taking it out. One day, you may find that you’ve dropped it on the road, and didn’t even notice.
And oh how light your travels are now.