A Resentment Averted

It’s all well and good that I share the things I have learned from my years in AA, but it is better still when I can relate the principles to things that are actually happening in my life.

Such was the case a few days ago. I was in Rochester Hills, my old AA home, sitting at a table with a few people I knew and I few I didn’t. (In Michigan, we break into separate discussion tables.) The table was small (six people) and everyone was indulging the luxury of not having to limit the length of their “share.” The person who spoke before me talked for a fairly long time and then it was my turn.

Those of you who know me well are aware that I am prone to speaking longer than I need to, or at least longer than people are willing to listen. I guess it was one of those days. I finished a sentence and before I could start the next one, the man who had just spoken said, in a loud voice, “Thanks Steve.” This is something only the table leader should say to stop someone from rambling, but he wasn’t leading and I (in my opinion) wasn’t rambling. He was wrong. I was insulted. And before the sound of his voice had echoed off the wall, I had the glowing hot seed of a grade-A resentment burning a hole in my normally serene and extremely spiritual self.

Here I am, loved by all, and in the bosom of my old company and this upstart was putting me in my place. I thought to myself, “Do you have any idea who I am? Have you never heard of Mr. A.A. and his triumphant return?” I do not say these things out loud for obvious reasons, but clearly if he knew who I WAS, he wouldn’t have done that.

So here I was, faced with some unsavory alternatives. I could take him aside, point out that he had no business doing what he did, and make sure he was just as uncomfortable as I was. But I know enough about the program to know that was a lose-lose, so I scratched that from my list of “to-dos.” I thought perhaps I should just walk away and say nothing. But I didn’t want to leave a meeting feeling that way. As I simmered, I tried to think what the best course of action should be, what the way of humility would be. In other word’s, God’s will.

Then I remembered a line in the Big Book regarding the Ninth Step:

It may be he has done us more harm than we have done him and, though we may have acquired a better attitude toward him, we are still not too keen about admitting our faults. Nevertheless, with a person we dislike, we take the bit in our teeth. It is harder to go to an enemy than to a friend, but we find it much more beneficial to us. We go to him in a helpful and forgiving spirit, confessing our former ill feeling and expressing our regret.

Step Nine is about restoring relationships, but it is also about creating healthy ones. Was he totally wrong and was I totally right? Did it matter? Even if I couldn’t find where I had been at fault, I certainly harbored ill feelings.

The table finished, we held hands and said the Lord’s Prayer and I turned to him. “I guess I may have been going on too long,” I said. “Thanks for keeping me on track.” He laughed it off and the problem went away. I may have made a friend when I might very well have made an enemy.

Lest you get the idea that I’m some kind of spiritual giant, let me be quick to point out that I was a millimeter away from storming out (or worse). But the more we attempt to live a life based on humility and service to others, the more natural these things become. The next time I am faced with a similar situation, I may not act as well. (In fact, I went off on a customer a few weeks ago and am still paying for that lack of restraint.) But I will go into it with the memory that I found a way through it before and, by God’s grace, I can find a way through it again.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Christianity, Recovery

2 Responses to A Resentment Averted

  1. hherman12

    Steve,
    These 2 posts are incredibly timely. Shaylee and I have had several conversations regarding self, self-reflection, and fallen man. Before I started opening my heart to God and his Word, I used to think that God was unreasonable, requiring fallen man to strive for perfection and a sinless life. In my cynisism and disbelief I disregarded God’s grace and plan. You have stated so clearly God’s plan, PEOPLE. It amazes me that God uses imperfect people to further his plan. I can recall times in my life when I was solely focused on myself and my pain. These were dark times full of self loathing and yet, a distorted intoxication of self. It was not until I began to focus on others (through school and teaching) that my pain became a tool that allowed me to reach out to others. I of course, took all the credit for this; I am so educated, I am so brave, I am so strong (Self self self). Now, I realize the absolute grace and mercy of God was present, using others to open my eyes and heart to his plan. I hear others state that the negative things they do or say are, “just my personality.” Yes, this is probably true but, that does not mean it has to stay that way. Through the power and help that God offers, and my willingness to reflect and change, the initial responses and reactions of my personality do not have to become how I proceed. I can choose to proceed with a kinder and more people oriented heart. Who knows, this could be the optimist or idealist in me spouting popular cliches, or this could be the new hope I have for the future allowing me to see that no matter who I am today, I do not have to be that person tomorrow, and by God’s grace, I am not the person I was yesterday.

  2. Steve

    In my opinion, a cliche is an expression that becomes overworked because people avoid critical thinking and fall back on the familiar. A better word is aphorism (“a pithy observation that contains a general truth, such as, ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’) AA is full of them as is the church to a lesser degree. Overuse does not not imply that they have no merit.

    Jesus teaches us that, if our brother has a grievance against us, we should first make peace with our brother and then and only then go to God. The vertical relationship rests on the horizontal one. And if you approach it logically it only makes sense. How can we claim to love God, whom we can’t see, if we can’t love our brother whom we can.

    And there’s a perfectly rational reason why this is such a challenge. We often love a God of our own creation who not surprisingly asks very little of us in the way of sacrifice. We play tennis without the net and think highly of ourselves because we always make the shot. And even when we get serious about becoming selfless, there is that one sin, the greatest of them all that grabs us on our way through the gates of Heaven: Pride. Pride is not arrogance nor is it even the good feeling we get for being recognized for what we do. Rather, it is the private and often unconscious state of mind that tells us that we are doing something. It is the original sin and it is the anti-God state of mind. It was through Pride that Satan fell from Heaven and it is by pride that we are foiled by our own attempts to do good.

    This seems like a hopeless conundrum. And in my other post “An Abundance of Pitfalls” I make the same case. We should always make the correct efforts in the right direction knowing that we will always be beset by Pride but we must do them just the same. For to do otherwise would make us useless in God’s hands. A clear sense of our unworthiness coupled with our faith in God’s grace means that we are no longer the one acting, but rather the Grace of God acting through us. When we lose sight of that, we become less than useless in His hands.

    Part of the difficulty with being useful in God’s hands is being in the right place at the right time. He often arranges it in unexpected ways (like our meeting each other), but some ways are more obvious and worth making the effort. I go to AA not because I am worried about picking up a drink and need the support, but because that’s where I’m more likely to find people who need what I am able to offer and, just as importantly, where I find people who have what I need. They’re often the same person.

    It may be too emotionally difficult, at least for now, but as you come through this time of self-reflection and examination, you may have something to offer someone who is in your old church facing the same dilemmas you did. You can’t believe that you’re the only one who ever felt this way? In AA we say that the one gift we have is experience. We’re not experts, we’ve just been there. Someone right now is starting a path you once trod yourself. You got lost and are finding your way back. How much better of they don’t have to repeat your mistakes? I would put my self in a position to be of service and trust God for the opportunity. It may not come right away, but as we say in AA (this is an aphorism) “There’s a wrench for every nut that walks through the door.” Be the wrench and the nut will show up some day, maybe sooner, maybe later. But the mere act of obedience will have benefited you all the same.

    Too much for now. Charlotte wonders what’s so important that I sit pounding away at a keyboard for hours on end but her talents lie in another direction. I should be back in therapy soon, but I’ll keep the blog going anyway.

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