I am naturally not an angry person. Due to a life philosophy based on my values and experiences with my family, I have made it a point, my entire life, to express anger as little as possible, to think of how a situation is my fault when something goes wrong. There are pros and there are cons, but I've seen firsthand, in the people close to me, the angry and aggressive type of person I didn't want to be. Anything else, for me, would be a success.
That's why recently, I've been dismayed that I have felt flashes of anger and resentment, towards others, towards the world, and even towards God. The circumstances in my life have not been easy. People in my family have been dealing with a wide affliction of illnesses. In the transitional and uncertain period I'm currently living, I simply cannot survive bearing the burden of everything being my fault, all the time. I once wrote an article about why you shouldn't ask God "why?" when it seems like so many things are going wrong in life and crashing down, and here I was going against the very grain of my wisdom, hypocritically exhibiting the very thoughts I once condemned.
I know I cannot control how I feel, so I sought out help for what to do about my newfound resentment and anger. Left unresolved, I knew it was poison, to myself and to the people around me. I have always been kind, peaceful, and loyal to others, and believe it to be my life goal to get people to believe in themselves. People didn't blame me for my resentment, as my life circumstances and pain have been consuming, but I did not want myself turning bitter.
The truth is whether I'm right or wrong to be angry doesn't matter: I could defend and argue millions of ways in which I'm righteous or justified in any situation. But doing so does not make anything better. I only turn more resentful, and at the end of the day, it is more important to me to be kind than to be right. Fortunately, I had the maturity to notice these patterns in my thinking and behavior, and I sought out the advice from counselors, ministers, and trusted friends.
"I just get these pangs and flashes of resentment nowadays," I told each one of them. "And I hate it. I hate feeling this way. What can I do to stop it?"
Almost all of them had the same answer: gratitude. Resentment and gratitude are two sides of the same coin, so to resolve anger, I had to be more thankful for the ways other people showed up in my life and for the ways God showed up in my life. Every day, make sure to think of three things to be thankful for.
Renowned priest Henri Nouwen wrote, in Spiritual Formation: Following The Movements of the Spirit, that "resentment...replaces faith, hope, and charity with fear, doubt, and rivalry. It makes an enormous difference in our personal and communal lives whether we respond to life in anger and resentment, or in love and gratitude." Catholics often preach living a eucharistic life, and the root word for eucharist is the Greek word, charis, which means graciousness. So a eucharistic life is a life of gratitude.
So how do people go from resentment to gratitude? How was I supposed to go from resentment to gratitude? Nouwen goes on to state that "resentment is exactly the complaint that life does not unfold the way we planned; that our many goals and projects are constantly interrupted by the events of the hour, the day, and the year." I do have too much of a tendency to plan out how I want my life to be and where I want my life to go. I have a tendency, consequently, to view anything that happens that drives me off course as an inconvenience or interruption.
But Nouwen offers us an analogy against that strict grain of thinking. He once saw a stonecutter cut off big pieces of a big rock, and in his imagination, he condemned the stonecutter for wounding the rock. But as he looked longer, he observed the figure of a dancer appear from the rock. The longer we live, and the more we relate to others, the more it will feel like someone or something is chiseling away at our hearts. I know firsthand that as early as two years ago, my heart was an impenetrable wall of stone. Gradually, being in connection and conversation with my close friends led to that wall breaking down more and more, so much so that I made it my 2018 New Year's Resolution to be more vulnerable. For the first time, I succeeded in a resolution.
Just writing that, I'm thankful for how far I've come. I can't believe I'm in the place I am now and that I have grown, matured, and transformed exponentially in the past four years. It was not part of my plan when I first came into college: the plan was initially to go in, get a 4.0 GPA, get a perfect score on the MCAT, run really fast times on the track, and get a lot of medical-related extracurriculars to pad my resume and look good for medical school. I accomplished none those plans fully. Instead, I've written 210 Odyssey articles, most of which are very meaningful, found my friends for life, found my faith and spiritualism, and discovered a passion for mentoring people to believe in themselves. That passion grew so strong that for the next few years, instead of going straight into medical school, I'm going to teach English at an inner-city high school for a couple of years.
According to Nouwen also, "resentment makes us blind to God's carving hand, but gratitude helps us recognize the process - that slowly but surely, we are being formed into a beautiful work of art." Through gratitude, we become people who can offer our pain as healing for others. Any time we lose things, whether it is a plan, behavior, friendship, or community, it is going to hurt a lot. There is a void and open space where that thing we lost used to be. I currently have that space, and lately, I have been filling it with too much bitterness, too much resentment and regret, too many thoughts of "what should have been."
When I am grateful for people in my life, however, my perspective begins to resemble that of the dancer, who leads me to "believe again, even amid my pain, that God will orchestrate and guide my life." Mourning and dancing are part of the same movement. That means recognizing that everything is part of the plan, even the very things we are angry and resentful for. "Everything is grace," Nouwen writes. We can't remember our pasts as ties where the good should be remembered and the bad should be forgotten, but all of these events as opportunities to grow and convert our hearts.
"Let us not be afraid to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now, receive it with gratitude, and see it in the light of a loving God who guides us day to day."
Most of my friends are not very religious or spiritual, but the point still stands. We aren't who we are in spite of the good or bad in our lives; we are who we are because of the good and bad in our lives. That means we must see everything that has happened in our lives as a gift. Having that attitude and perspective is saving my life. Terrible things have happened in my life, as have terrible things happened in all your lives. Death, grief, sorrow, depression, loneliness and suffering are phenomena pervasive to every person in the world.
But I am thankful to God for all those things in my life, because I wouldn't be carved the way I am any other way.