My phone dinged indicating I’d received a new text, so I glanced down, saw my teenage daughter Riley’s name, and the first words of her text, “I resent it…” My heart skipped a beat – what had I done that made her feel resentful? Then, I read the rest of the text, “I resent it to you” with a smiley face emoji. She’d sent a new version of a college scholarship essay for me to edit. She’d previously sent me this essay for initial edits and now she’d sent it again. Her use of “resent” now made sense to me. Why wouldn’t this be the proper word just like “replay,” “redo,” and “repeat?” Yet, without a hyphen (“re-sent”), its meaning was extremely different, and my brain immediately headed down a negative track.
After this wordplay confusion, I felt the need to look up the definition of “resent,” which means to “feel bitterness or indignation at a circumstance, action or person” (lexico.com). And then, being the word nerd that I am, I looked up “bitterness” and “indignation,” and they both involve anger resulting from unfair treatment. Resentment means more than just anger; it’s rooted in the perception or feeling that we’ve been the victim of an injustice.
The concept that life is unfair has always been a point of dissatisfaction for me. As a “right fighter,” I want justice to roll down like a river. I wish things in life would add up like a math equation: do good, play by the rules, be kind, and all will work out favorably. But obviously, that’s not my experience or anyone else’s.
I’ve realized that some teachings about God and spirituality that I’ve heard have added to my misconception that life should always be fair. Lessons like those found in popular prosperity gospel say that if one has strong faith and engages in good behavior, then one will be healthy, wealthy, and wise. The theory also implies that bad things happen to one because of mistakes or sin. The trite phrase that “everything happens for a reason” can send an analytical person like me down a scary rabbit hole looking for God’s “reason” behind everything. And the reassurance that God has a plan I don’t understand does not provide comfort in the face of suffering. I feared God’s disappointment, disapproval, or wrath if I wasn’t perfect. And when my best efforts didn’t lead to good results, I felt disappointed in myself because I wasn’t good enough and disappointed, maybe even a bit resentful, in God for not holding up his end of the bargain.
But God didn’t actually make that bargain with me or anyone. God did not promise a math equation in life that leads directly to reward or punishment. In one instance toward the end of Jesus’ earthly life, a woman named Mary anointed him with expensive oil, and the disciple Judas criticized her saying she could’ve sold the oil and given the money to the poor (even though the scriptures note he didn’t really care about the poor but wanted the money). Jesus rebuked Judas, saying “You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me” (John 12:1-8). To declare that the poor will always exist sounds completely unfair to me, but Jesus understood that in our human weakness, we make poor decisions, uphold corrupt systems of wealth and privilege, and act selfishly. We will never have a perfect world in which everyone gets what they deserve – good or bad. But God asks us to try to make the world a better place on his behalf. To work to cure injustice when we see it, in big or small ways. Life will not be fair, but we can help by lifting others up and showing them God’s love.
I’m not yet free from expecting or yearning for fairness in life for all people, especially those whom I care about the most. Just this week, I’ve told God on two separate occasions that I felt upset because these unrelated and completely different circumstances were both “not fair.” I’m sure God will never be free from my complaining about the lack of fairness. I inevitably ask God why the unfairness I see exists and further ask God what he’s going to do about it. But maybe God looks back at me and poses the same question in return: “You’re right. Life is not fair. Now, what are you going to do about it to ease my people’s burdens and relieve their resentment?”