Do you hold grudges?

by Annette Bridges. ©2009. All rights reserved.

I admit it. I’ve been a grudge holder. But I’m not proud to say so. Holding a grudge has never proven to be a good thing in my life.

Plenty of medical studies confirm grudge holding is not good for you — increasing stress, raising blood pressure, causing ulcers and producing a multitude of other harmful side effects. I suspect we all would admit to the lousy way we feel when we’re angry with another person.

I’ve never held a grudge toward someone that I’ve not eventually regretted.

Holding onto a grudge has generally proved to be the greatest waste of my time and I suspect caused me more grief than it did the person I felt injured by. I’ve never found holding a grudge to serve any good purpose, and it often has cost me a good friend. In fact, I’ve had friendships that never fully recovered, and for that, I’m sad and sorry that I ever let anything permanently hurt my feelings toward a friend.

When I think about where and how some grudges began, I usually can’t understand why I took offense in the first place.

Nineteenth century philosopher and author, Mary Baker Eddy, has a short writing she titled, “Taking Offense” that I’ve referred to when I’ve found myself feeling irritated by someone’s words or actions. She quotes English religious writer and philanthropist, Hannah More, in the opening paragraph: “If I wished to punish my enemy, I should make him hate somebody.”

Holding on to resentment, bitterness, hard feelings or hatred is emotionally draining and physically destructive. So why do we do it?

Once upon a time my defense for a grudge came when I felt a friend stuck her nose in where it didn’t belong. I not only didn’t want her opinion — I disagreed with it. And I guess my arrogance took precedence over patience and tolerance, and I lost a good friend. Another time with another friend, deep-seated hurt feelings led to my suffering with chest pains and headaches.

Eddy says we let pride, self-will and egotism cloud our reasoning and determine our reactions. But she wisely cautioned, “Well may we feel wounded by our own faults; but we can hardly afford to be miserable for the faults of others.”

We can’t be responsible for the behavior of others, but we are responsible for how we respond back to them. Every action we take has its consequence. And as with any action, we should think more carefully about the consequences before we act.

Of course, in any relationship there are times when honest and sincere discussions of feelings are needed. My grandmother advised me before I married to never go to bed mad. I’ve not always heeded her instruction, but I have tried. No doubt she got her wisdom from the Bible, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26) And I’ve learned that this is good wisdom for all relationships — not just with my husband.

Eddy’s message in “Taking Offense” is helpful to those who feel someone has “wronged” them. She wrote:

“We should remember that the world is wide; that there are a thousand million different human wills, opinions, ambitions, tastes, and loves; that each person has a different history, constitution, culture, character, from all the rest; that human life is the work, the play, the ceaseless action and reaction upon each other of these different atoms. Then, we should go forth into life with the smallest expectations, but with the largest patience; with a keen relish for and appreciation of everything beautiful, great, and good, but with a temper so genial that the friction of the world shall not wear upon our sensibilities; with an equanimity so settled that no passing breath nor accidental disturbance shall agitate or ruffle it; with a charity broad enough to cover the whole world’s evil, and sweet enough to neutralize what is bitter in it, — determined not to be offended when no wrong is meant, nor even when it is, unless the offense be against God.”

Some say it’s human nature to hold grudges. Perhaps so, but even still, we always have a choice.

We can choose to brood, ruminate and rehash the details of how we’ve been hurt or disappointed by someone — torturing ourselves by playing the same scene over and over in our heads. Or we can implement a simple, ancient practice — the practice of forgiveness — and dismiss painful memories and move forward with our lives and our relationships.

I gotta get out of this place!

by Annette Bridges. ©2008. All rights reserved.

Lately I’ve been singing a line from the 1965 hit single by The Animals — “We gotta get out of this place.” Except I’ve been singing “I” gotta get out. I found it interesting to learn that this was a popular song among soldiers during the Vietnam War and that this song is on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 greatest songs of all time. A bit more research informed me that the verse is talking about the singer’s father, who at the end of his life had little to show for it.

So why has this verse been ringing in my head?

Perhaps I need a break from all the Presidential campaign rhetoric? Maybe I feel pushed to the edge with lots of unwanted family drama? Maybe I’m tired of worrying about stock market losses and what we’re going to do next? Or perhaps I, too, am frustrated and dismayed at how little I’ve accomplished with my life?

It seems I’m not alone. A new national poll suggests that only a quarter of Americans think things are going well in the country today, while the rest of those questioned are angry, scared and stressed out.

When I was growing up and my mom and I needed a break or wanted to chill out, we would head to the beach (about a thousand miles from our home) for some recoup time. There was something calming about listening to the ocean waves crash and enlightening about gazing at the endless ocean horizon. Problems that seemed huge and unsolvable became small and fixable as we soothed our feet in the infinite grains of cool sand.

I guess lately I’ve been feeling the desire to escape the way my mom and I used to do. Taking a day off or time out to gain perspective and restore confidence is often a good idea. Even Jesus had days when he took the time to be alone to pray and I suspect search for clarity and peace of mind.

We read in the Bible, “he went up into a mountain apart to pray” (Matthew 14:23) and another time when he told his disciples, “sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder.” (Matthew 26:36) Jesus also gave us instruction about how to pray. He said, “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut thy door, pray to thy Father…” (Matthew 6:6)

This prayer tip has been helpful to me many times in my life, and I think it may be what is impelling my current desire to escape.

I don’t know that I’m going to be able to head to the beach this time because it is still about a thousand miles away from my home, and it is difficult for me to justify the gas expense of the drive. But the beach isn’t my only option for a “prayer closet.”

I have found it imperative to look for opportunities to be alone and quiet — wherever that takes me. This might be a candlelight bath, a walk in the country side, a drive to a nearby lake, or sometimes it is just shutting my office door and closing my eyes and pondering how much greater God’s love is than any problem I’m facing.

Have you read Psalms 23 lately?

I love the verse, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” It’s very comforting to know that no matter where I am or what I’m dealing with, God is going to give me a table — a chart, graph or plan — to face and conquer whatever battle I’m confronting.

There is a healing solution for any problem we face, my friends. Have no doubt about it — God only wants good for His children. And He is always with us, sustaining and strengthening us, and ready to give the guidance we need.

It now occurs to me that the place I’m longing to get out of is the mental chaos I’ve been living in. And I can change that residence right now. It doesn’t require a long drive or money or even a lot of time.

I only need to fill my thoughts with God’s assurances and promises to find the peace of mind I long for. And that spiritual perspective will also enable me to accept and support whoever my new President is, deal with the latest family drama as well as calm financial fears. And a spiritual perspective is already telling me that God’s plan and purpose for my life doesn’t end when I reach a certain age.

If you feel angry, scared or stressed out, you can get out of the mental chaos that is causing it. God has a table ready for you, too!

A marriage saved from the green-eyed monster

by Annette Bridges. © 2008. All rights reserved.

In my early married days, I often struggled with bouts of extreme sadness and anger as well as paranoia and fear. Unbeknownst to my dear husband — and myself, actually — I was suffering from a bite by the green-eyed monster. Jealousy is a nasty beast. And its wounds, if left undetected and untreated, can devastate a relationship. I was yet to learn that jealousy is not the same as love. Sometimes people equate feeling jealous about someone with loving them. I’m here to tell you that jealousy is not love but rather the fear of losing love.

Sadly, jealousy is all too familiar in human relationships. In fact, it has been reported wherever researchers have looked, in every culture, taking a variety of forms. Indeed, jealousy is an enduring topic of interest for scientists, songwriters, romance novelists and theologians.

Of the human emotions, sociologists say jealousy is one of the most powerful and painful. And it is deadly. Statistical studies rank jealousy as the third most common motive for murder. Jealousy certainly seemed to be Cain’s motivation for killing his brother, Abel (Genesis 4:1-8). It seemed to be what impelled Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery (Genesis, Chapter 37). And it probably was part of the reason the Pharisees hated Jesus.

But — is jealousy normal, natural and unavoidable?

Without a doubt, it is impossible to think clearly when you are jealous. Truth gets distorted, reason becomes clouded and emotion turns irrational.

For me, jealousy could have been defined as the emotional reaction to a scenario in my mind that was not true. I often perceived situations and people as threats. I also had a deep fear of loss or betrayal, although this belief was completely unfounded. While I sensed my insecurities were without basis, I didn’t know how to make a change.

Overcoming jealousy is like changing any emotional reaction or behavior. It begins with awareness.

In my search for help, I read Mary Baker Eddy’s writings on marriage and wedlock. The first statement that grabbed my attention was “Jealousy is the grave of the affections.” She wrote of the “narrowness and jealousy” that seeks to confine a wife or a husband. And she emphasized that home “should be the centre, though not the boundary, of the affections.”

I was beginning to understand that living by the “Golden Rule” was imperative in marriage, as in all walks of life. As Jesus put it, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them” (Matthew 7:12). I certainly would not have liked my husband restricting my time spent with my friends or family. And I would not have liked being made to feel guilty about the time I did spend. But my husband was never the one who did these things — only me.

I knew my husband loved me and wanted me to be happy. He endeavored to do whatever he could to make me happy. He was a good friend to his many friends and a faithful and loving son to his parents. Should such admirable qualities and actions be punished by his wife?

So where did my unwarranted fear of losing his love come from?

It seems I needed to learn more about God’s infinite and unconditional love for me. And I needed to become more aware of my spiritual identity as the woman God created — a whole-souled woman who, too, loves unconditionally.

Such a woman knows well the spiritual strength and fortitude her Father endowed her with. And she knows well how to live love, as Paul defined in 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13. This love “cares more for others than for herself; doesn’t want what it doesn’t have; doesn’t have a swelled head; isn’t always ‘me’ first; doesn’t keep score of the mistakes of others; doesn’t revel when others grovel; always looks for the best; never looks back.”

She has great patience and sees and appreciates goodness in everyone. With a congenial temperament, she is not easily agitated. Her love is expansive enough to neutralize any friction. And she is determined not to be offended when no wrong is meant.

It turns out God had given me the antidote for bites from the green-eyed monster. It was my whole-souled womanhood. Putting these qualities into practice in my marriage healed my jealousy wounds and built a permanent and powerful defense, enabling me to ward off any future approaches of this nasty beast. And my romance and marriage with my husband is 28 years strong in love.

I said, “Enough!” to a bad temper

by Annette Bridges. ©2006.  All rights reserved.

“You have your daddy’s temper,” I was told growing up. After my dad passed on when I was 10 years old, I remember my mom saying, “I think he spent most of his life mad about something.”

I didn’t want to get angry so easily, but for years I couldn’t help myself. A sociologist might say I was trapped in a cycle of temper and abuse—a behavior learned from my family environment. I recall many a time when I screamed such horrible words I would be filled with regret afterwards. I also slammed doors, stormed off, or threw whatever was in my reach. Again and again after such uncontrollable outbursts, I felt sorry and ashamed.

Those words, “You have your daddy’s temper,” replayed in my head every time I got mad. I had accepted those five words as part of my identity. And because of this, I felt I had an excuse for my uncontrollable temper.

I became aware of how spirituality shapes my life.

Around the same time as my dad’s passing, I was introduced to the Christian Science Weekly Bible Lesson that led me to find the book, Science and Health. (You can find the Internet version of the lesson on this Web site. See link below.) Over the course of the next 30 years, I became aware of how spirituality shapes my life. Studying and pondering spiritual ideas slowly transformed my self-concept. I gained an improved understanding of my heritage and parentage. I learned of the infinite power of God. And I learned I could turn to God for help with any situation.

I no longer felt helpless, fearful or hopeless when confronted with challenges. I gained confidence in spiritual answers and developed an expectancy of positive, healing results.

But with all I was learning, with all I had overcome and witnessed, I still couldn’t control my temper. Although the abusive nature of my angry outbursts did diminish over these years, it still plagued me occasionally. Actually, I think I was still accepting temper as a response in which I had no choice. There were other feelings that also fueled my temper—feelings of aggravation, impatience and frustration.

I didn’t want to be a willful person.

Not long ago, a friend gave me a definition of frustration that has stayed with me. She defined frustration as, “unsatisfied self-will.” Since there were many things causing me frustration (or so I thought), it was disturbing to think I was perhaps being willful. I felt justified when my anger was a result of being frustrated by the behavior of someone else. The idea of being willful was putting responsibility on my own shoulders. I didn’t want to be a willful person. My love for God was such that I truly wanted to follow His will and not my own.

I found in my study of Science and Health that Mary Baker Eddy warns of the misleading human will. I began to wonder if my view of people or perception of situations as frustrating and annoying was confusing my ability to behave appropriately.

Eddy speaks of freedom of choice in how we think and act, and instructs us how to make decisions that lead to good results. She reminds us we have responsibility for our thoughts and actions. And she helps us see how our thoughts determine our actions. I love, in Science and Health, her analogy about a sculptor. Eddy writes, “The sculptor turns from the marble to his model in order to perfect his conception. We are all sculptors, working at various forms, moulding and chiseling thought. What is the model before mortal mind? Is it imperfection, joy, sorrow, sin, suffering? Have you accepted the mortal model? Are you reproducing it

I had to choose a new model.

Well, yes! I had certainly accepted a model of abusive and uncontrollable temper for myself and was reproducing it again and again in my life.

In recent years, I have become determined to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions and no longer allow uncontrollable outbursts or reactions to disrupt the harmony of my life and those around me. To do this, I had to choose a new model—the woman God created. One who is poised, full of grace, patient, composed, just, gentle and loving. And I’ve been pretty successful, for the first time in my life, at controlling my temper. Sound too easy?

Honestly, it’s been easier than I imagined it could be or thought possible. It has required pausing before every action for a prayerful examination of thoughts and motives. It’s been amazing to see the powerful effect of these momentary prayers. I can’t say that I never forget to take these prayerful pauses and never ever get angry about anything. But I can’t even remember when I lost my temper in an uncontrollable rage. In fact, it truly feels impossible for that to happen now.

The cycle of abusive temper has been broken.

Asking God for direction on every thought and action doesn’t require a lot of time. In fact, the answer comes as quickly as I pause.

My husband, John, and I just celebrated our 23rd anniversary. And I don’t think that would have happened if I had not chosen a new model of behavior for my life. In the early years of our marriage, it would not have been unusual for me to completely and irrationally lose my temper, often throwing something or being quite abusive in my speech. And back then, it didn’t take much to make me mad. Now those days are truly gone. It’s actually really difficult for me to even feel uncontrollable anger. And if I am confronted with a hint of those feelings, a “prayer pause” gets my thoughts clearly and accurately focused on the issue at hand and a temper fit is never the appropriate response.

Speaking about this with a friend, John said, “Annette has truly taken control of her temper. Her lack of control in our early years of marriage is gone. I believe her change came as a result of realizing the damaging effects of her actions. Also, in motherhood she saw the need to raise our child in a calm atmosphere, or else the negative would perpetuate itself.” He also attributed my change to what he refers to as a “fresh commitment to the study of Science and Health.”

The cycle of abusive temper has been broken. It has become easier and easier to make the right and appropriate choices of behavior. God doesn’t leave us at the mercy of evil to confuse and misguide us in our behavior and actions. God is always with us at every moment to guide us down the right path.