Revenge is a dish best left untasted

We are created with an innate understanding of justice – gather together any two toddlers and give them sweets, ensuring one gets more than the other, and you’ll see immediately that the child who has less knows and wants it set right. From the very earliest times in our life, we know when things are fair and when they are not.

None of us likes to think of justice going undone, and ultimately as a species, I think we strive for equal treatment, at least for ourselves, and we recognise selfishness and injustice when we see it, and are affected.

Yet there is another side to Lady Justice, for if the hurt caused by unfairness is taken and mixed with anger, all too often she can twist, darken in appearance and her sister, Vengeance, appears, and the rallying battle cry “an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth!” begins to be heard.

The desire for revenge on those who have hurt us can be hugely powerful. I would be surprised if there’s a person alive who hasn’t felt the swelling darkness of rage building in their belly, tasted its strength and wondered what it would be like to unleash.

It’s addictive, too. It can captivate the thoughts, whisking the imagination away on flights of tainted fancy as the mind provides suggestions for how to extract that justice in the most pain-enducing way possible. How can I get my own back? becomes a vile treasure, gloried in and examined frequently to see what ways there might be to bring the thoughts to fruition.

If we’re not careful, it can consume us and become the purpose of our life, and all the while, life slips away beyond our distracted gaze – we miss the beauty and goodness around us whilst we are held captive in that initial moment of pain and the poisonous thoughts we’ve allowed to bloom in response.

How to get out of it, then?

It’s something I struggled with for many years. Experiences as a child and adolescent left me incandescent with rage and the desire to get my own back, to bring pain to those who’d hurt me was sometimes overwhelming. I’d siphon off small portions of that pain and anger into poetry (oh, so teenage-angsty), some I turned against myself, and most of it just sat there, simmering, keeping me hooked into all the bad circumstances which had affected my path through life. I was trapped.

And forgiveness? That pure-white concept preached to little-girl me from shining pulpit – that paragon action of virtue and spirit and faith? The one paraded in each rendition of the Lord’s Prayer – “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”?

I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to let any of them off the hook – not for anything. I wanted to cause pain like they’d caused me – I wanted to see them suffer and panic and beg. I wanted to see the terror in their eyes as they realised that I would show no mercy for the things I’d been through at their hands. I wanted to deliver their punishment and watch and revel as vengeance was exacted. So what if it meant I could never be forgiven? My transgressions were smaller than theirs anyway!

And yet…

…there was always that nagging feeling that I was wrong to want this, and that made it worse, because I so, so, wanted it. And feeling guilty and tainted and off-kilter about it was discomfitting.

Then one day, it clicked. I ‘got’ it! Forgiveness – Christian forgiveness – isn’t quite like that, which is a relief, as it makes it easier to stick with the faith (and goodness knows that’s hard enough at times).

It’s not ‘letting them off the hook’. It’s not forgetting what has happened. It’s not ‘being okay’ with it or some magical way to avoid the consequences and hurt and pain of what happened. It doesn’t condone their actions or suggest in any way, shape or form that what they did was allowable or acceptable.

It’s transference. And with that transference, freedom – freedom from being hooked into those moments which have caused such hurt. Freedom from the ever-churning of the mind seeking vengeance. Freedom from captivity to those thoughts of rage. Freedom to engage in life, in light,  in the Good things which come our way, without that ever-present, brooding darkness.

We learn that God is a God of love, yes, but also of justice, and He takes very seriously the transgressions people make against one another.

Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”- Romans 12: 17-19

It’s not easy, because the hurts and consequences outplaying of the wrongs done to us are real and challenging and can be awful to endure. We might need to forgive those wrong-doers once, or twice, or every day, or every minute, but it can be done – it needs to be done, so we can get on with our lives.

And it seems so simple on paper, but in truth, we don’t even have to wait until we feel like forgiving (because goodness knows we’d wait forever!) – it’s a CHOICE. We leave it to the wrath of God – we take them off of our hook, and put them squarely onto His.

And believe me, that’s a MUCH bigger hook.

Thanks a bunch, Creative Buzz Hop, for inspiring all this with this week’s prompt – revenge

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40 thoughts on “Revenge is a dish best left untasted

  1. It's normal, absolutely, but whether or not it's good for you or leaves your soul filled with anger and hatred and vile thoughts, is up to you. The people who do these things for the most part (I think) are so twisted that they feel very little, if anything. And the thing which is so sad is that all the time you (or anyone) feeds these negative, vile thoughts, is that it does NOTHING to the person who really deserves it, whilst it gnaws at your psyche, tainting it and staining it with hurt.

    This is why I like the idea of a God who'll punish them PROPERLY if they stay on His hook, because I can't. And I couldn't possibly think of anything awful enough to make them pay for the extent of the pain they've inflicted. And I reckon God can.

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  2. This is the reason why my post for the sunshine award hasn't gone up yet. This question has been nagging me. There have been a lot of things that have happened in which I think warrants vengeance. The guy who sexually assaulted me for one. I will never forgive that ever. It doesn't consume me though. When I hear about a woman being accosted like I was, I do think of what was done to me and it is the most vile, hate filled emotion.
    I picture killing him and then laughing and then I feel better.
    That's normal right?

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  3. Yes, you are right, our posts are dancing to the same tune.
    I know from experience the difference that forgiveness creates within a person. I spent years feeling resentment and it was miserable. I'd say I didn't even feel truly, fully me when I was like that. Now I know for sure that the others don't win when we forgive – we do. I just read your reply to Jean and I agree that it's completely appropriate to forgive the person and to hold them accountable for their actions. So someone committing abuse or any crime may very well have lived through terrible circumstances that created in them the conditions to commit crime – we can forgive them, and see in our hearts the innocent child they were once were, and we can still put them in jail to protect others and really to save them from themselves.

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  4. No, absolutely not, and having hands tied (I've been there, working with preschoolers and being utterly powerless to protect, and watching the child betrayed by the authorities supposed to keep them safe) is the most frustrating, painful thing.

    This is the thing which comforts me – the idea that somehow, someday, vengeance will be taken – just not mine. Which isn't to say that if crimes are committed, punishment shouldn't be meted according to the rules of society – it absolutely 100,000% should be, wherever possible.

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  5. I think that's an important part of it – because they – the perpetrators of hurt, are likely continuing on their merry lives, completely blithe to the pain we still harbour, if we hang onto it. In the end it hurts us more.

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  6. I read this thinking of a horrible relationship and when I went through the comments I saw that you mentioned a training you attended about child abuse- I went through many of those, every year as a teacher and then dealt with the real deal every year too. It is very horrible and the frustration of feeling like my hands were tied ate at my soul. I never came up with a good way of dealing with it to be honest. Then again, things like that shouldn't be able to be reasoned away, should they?

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  7. This has always been a tough one for me. I've always had the feeling that it's letting them off the hook. But you're right; there is freedom to it. Because holding onto all that negativity does more damage to the one holding on. Now I just remind myself not to give anyone that much power.

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  8. Thanks Roshni. I'm afraid I'm pretty ignorant of what other faiths have to say about forgiveness. Perhaps it's something I should learn. I reckon Buddhists would have much to say on the matter.

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  9. That happens. Because I don't think that actively choosing to forgive someone necessarily makes the feelings go away. It certainly doesn't mitigate the hurt or consequences or anger or agony of knowing that as far as that other person is concerned, it doesn't matter whether we forgive them or not. And forgiveness should rarely wait until others are prepared to seek it, because that rarely happens, and we remain there, trapped by their behaviour and our reaction, and it sucks.

    Anger is normal, and it will continue. But the choice to forgive can still happen, and yes, sometimes it needs to be chosen repeatedly.

    Glad you found it helpful.

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  10. Beautifully written and so true! I know I've been under the impression I forgave a certain person in my family more than once, only to be riddled with anger again and again. I evidently need to still work on it. I'll be re-reading this post to help me. Thank you!

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  11. Fathers can inspire a very particular kind of deep rage, and you're right – the time spent on hatred is agnoising, because they always win. But in the end, the time comes to draw a line under it and get on with life, either with them in it, or without.

    Really, really not easy, and I feel for you on this one, because it's so heartbreaking to be in that position. I'm glad you've seen that some good has come out of it though, in strengthening your resolve to avoid vengeance in future.

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  12. Yes, I can relate to this. In a big way. Not with the crazy ex– I didn't even have to seek revenge, he did it to himself– but with my father. I lost YEARS of my life trying to expose him and all it did was punch holes in my soul. I still mourn that lost time because I can't help wondering what I could have done with it but it's definitely helped keep me from ever choosing that path again.

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  13. That's one way of going about it. I still prefer the idea of combative (slightly vengeful) forgiveness (if that's possible) than resignation. I've resigned myself to too much in this life already and enough is enough.

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  14. I absolutely LOVE this title and this post. You have such a way of pulling me into your words. I feel like you wrote this just for me, as if it were a letter that started, “Dear Mandi,” and ended, “Love, Lizzi.” I just have to…sigh.

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  15. You are a much better, bigger, kinder person than I! I have gotten better about letting go, the “forgetting” part, but the forgiving part is harder. At the end of the day, the result is the same, why keep pushing a mountain that isn't going to move? But deep down inside in places I don't talk about at parties, I just let go because I'm tired of fighting, not because I'm enlightened or have forgiven, and I almost never forget. I just try not to think about it 🙂

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  16. I'm so glad that thinking that way has helped you to move forward, and good for you. I'm so sorry to hear that you had the experience though, and that others have been unable to move on as you have. I hope the situation improves for you soon, and the animosity lessens.

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  17. I'm still working on this, Lizzi. I had one of those experiences last year, a big one that has had an impact on me at work. I've kept telling myself, they reap what they sow. That helped me move on and I feel so much better. It took months to get there. They aren't worth me wasting any more of my time on them and I think these people are shocked when they see me so happy.

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  18. No matter the topic, I enjoy reading your words. This is one topic I am certain affects us all in some manner or another. The concept of “letting go” is difficult to grasp. More so for some than others. Bottom line is self. What is one willing to sacrifice of oneself? Holding onto the anger, the rage, the negative thoughts especially when the object(s) of those feelings most likely are walking around in their world clueless – you have to ask yourself if it's worth self sacrifice. Because that's what it is.

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  19. And yet, and yet, and yet there is always that unspeakable Grace, extended even to those who hurt us, because to be extended to any of us it has to be open to all…it's hard to get the brain around, that.

    But no, me neither. I had to endure a child protection training session at work recently and it just left me reeling in hurt and SO MUCH anger when the lecturer showed us pictures of horribly beaten children and calmly told us the number of months before they could rescue them, or that they were able to support the family and keep them together, or (the worst) “this was a bad one – the child died a few weeks after this photo” and I came out seething and barely able to speak. Truly, truly awful things happen and so often it feels totally unforgivable.

    But somehow, we gotta live. And I'm just SO glad of that big hook…

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  20. I hope it's been helpful. It's not meant to make anyone feel like a clod.

    Forgiveness is rarely a 'soaring' feeling. It's hard bloody work and bogged-down-in-mud and mired in HUGE hard feelings and anger and upset and REALLY not wanting to let go of that hurt and NOT wanting to forgive…and somehow deciding to anyway, because it's better for YOU.

    Ack. If I made it seem easy…I wrote it wrong. But it *is* possible. I guess that's what I wanted to say.

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  21. Lizzi, you are such a gifted writer and reading this incredible post, I think that God must have given you this talent so you could use it to be an instrument of his piece. I can only guess that whoever hurt you when you were little inflicted unspeakable pain unto you. Nothing makes me angrier than knowing that someone hurt a child. I believe there is a special place in hell for people who hurt children. And that really is confirmed by the verse that you quoted from Romans 12. I have also come to the understanding recently that if I wait around waiting to 'feel' forgiving, that it's never going to happen – that I have to choose forgiveness to set my heart free. You put it so well – if we hold onto poisonous thoughts, life truly does slip away from us and we fail to see all the beauty that is right in front of our eyes. I'm so glad I visited your blog today so I could read this post; it really is so uplifting! lots of love and hugs. xx

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  22. Leave it to you, Lizzi, to be so well-spoken on such a difficult topic and make me feel like on one hand I could be awesome and soar above my own lack of forgiveness for a thing or two in my world and on the other hand like a total clod for not being able to get off the ground. Or not wanting to, more likely. Too long and irritating a story to blather about here and now. It's all part of the great frustration I've mentioned before. I just keep lurking in my horrible little hole on this one. Grr.
    But your message is right and true and I am glad to have read it because I probably need to hear it.

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  23. I completely understand those sentiments. Fab Hub and I still have a hard time forgiving on some of our issues. It's a choice, absolutely. It's hard, absolutely. I don't know how to get to a place where it makes sense. Just still so freaking…angry. I don't want to feel bitter, but…yeah.

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  24. Awwwh thank you so much. I'm so glad that you think this is a good one, and that I'm not writing anything wrong or misleading!

    Any wisdom I have, I promise, is borrowed and often not well-stuck to, but I try, and I'll keep failing and keep trying and keep going around in that circle and in the meantime, try to keep Doing Good.

    If I can use my words or experiences or thoughts or musings or understanding (shaky as it often is) of these things to empower, that is AMAZING, and I hope that it's well received!

    I have to say, having tried both ways, I can't see any chance of forgiving without the knowledge of God's ultimate justice, nor any POINT in doing so without it. It's something I cling to – there's too much hurt and heartbreak in this life for it all to be just ultimately shrugged off. The things which happen – not just in my life, but in the lives of others – need reckoning brought upon them. I can see why it brings you peace. It brings me peace to continue, to know that I'm able to practice a form of combative forgiveness.

    YAY! Glad you like it, and that it makes sense 🙂 Thank you.

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  25. BRAVO!!!!!! BRAVO!!! Oh Lizzi, you are so GIFTED with your words!!! I think this is truly one of my favorite pieces from you!!! It is so well written and of course I ADORE the message- and you so beautifully wound through the process with both grace and fluidity that poured from your heart. You- your trials and hardships- are so raw and real, and yet you paint them with such wisdom and truth threaded through it all- that your strength can even empower the reader. WOW.

    There is so much God in this- I see Him shining through you- not just in the “Christian part” of this post- which is what makes it even more powerful. You own it. Because you have somewhere down your path, realized the freedom in giving it to God. It's so cliche, and easily dismissed as such. BUT- truly realizing that His ultimate power and justice will be taking on our painful scabs and scars… well, I find more peace in that than anything else on this earth.

    YES YES YES to every single word of this Lizzi!! You nailed it, hun. NAILED IT!!

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  26. Karma I can confidently debunk as absolute hokum – too many bad things happen to good people, and too many good things happen to bad people for me to REMOTELY accept that it has any credence.

    Forgiveness is always a struggle, and I don't mean to imply otherwise. But is it is a choice. Feeling satisfied when bad things happen to those who've hurt us is absolutely natural – it's a very basic human instinct, but I think that your feelings of regret about those feelings are also worth acknowledging. When we glory in the downfall of others, even others who have hurt us, I think we sully our character a little.

    I completely understand your fury and the relentlessness of your feeling, AND your desire for revenge. But as you say – it's not your place. All the right and ability we have in this life, is to control our own behaviour, nothing more. And remaining hooked in can make life hard.

    I hope that you find a way to move on, because staying hooked can be awful. I've done that. But unhooking can seem so much like defeat, even when it's not really.

    I shall hope with you for clarity and peace. HUGE hugs, my friend.

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  27. Well said, Lizzi. It's not being Pollyanna and saying “I forgive” with ease. It's never easy. But when we're ready, we've to do it, not just for others, but ultimately for ourselves.

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  28. Well, this is timely, Lizzi. Sort of. Timely as in we, in this household, are still struggling with this forgiveness thing nearly two years later.
    We have discovered, through the grapevine, that many of the people who wronged us (and they did; it's factual) have lost their jobs and are probably struggling. The Dude feels a lot of satisfaction, and I admit I do too (somewhat). But I also feel regret for feeling so (as you wrote). Part of me feels this hesitation and is glad to be moving one step or two down the path of getting over it, and part of me wants to remain relentless, as they were to us. And I'm still so FURIOUS at those who haven't been punished. It wells up in me at the thought of them. But I am not God. It is not my duty or right to decide who deserves to be punished.
    But I'm not sure I have any faith in the wrath of God. Or Karma. Or whatever. I know we need to move past it some day, but I'm not sure when that day will be.

    And sorry to be so enigmatic. Someday I am going to write all about this, but I keep hoping for more clarity and serenity.

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