What Does Spite Look Like?

I was talking with God recently about a person who had offended me. The offense was not deeply wounding—my toes had been stepped on and there was some money involved, but really, it wasn’t a big deal. I kept telling myself that: This is not a big deal.

But then if it wasn’t a big deal, how come I couldn’t stop thinking about it?

Eventually, when the offense kept nagging at me, I reluctantly decided to pray about it. “Reluctantly,” I say, because I was embarrassed that such a small thing could consume me so.  I wished I didn’t have to admit to God how stuck I was.

But I pulled out my journal and began telling Him exactly what so-and-so had done and how angry it made me feel. My prayer was full of justifications for why it made sense for me to feel as I did. Reading over it now, I can tell you it was neither pretty nor “spiritual.” But it was honest, and I know that God desires truth in the inner places (Ps. 51:6).

After I’d poured it all out, I gave Him a chance to reply. What He said was gentle but firm: Forgive her.

Well, that’s hardly a surprise. Of course God would tell me to forgive her. The problem was, I really didn’t want to. I wasn’t proud of that, and I sure wasn’t trying to rebel against God! But despite the fact that my head agreed with God—of course I needed to forgive!—my heart was like a two-year-old about to have a tantrum.

What’s going on, Abba? Please help me! I can’t do this without your help!

His reply was immediate: What does spite look like?

An image of a woman with a permanent scowl on her face came to mind. I recognized her as someone who all her life had inwardly nursed petty offenses while saying outwardly “It’s no big deal.” If the woman had ever been attractive, she wasn’t now because her countenance was full of resentment and spite.

Oh, Father! I don’t want to look like that! I don’t want to be like that!

I immediately realized that to choose unforgiveness was also to choose resentment and spite. They are inseparable. And they have ugly consequences.

Then Father helped me to see the peace and wholeness that could be mine if I would forgive my offender and give Jesus the hurt.  My anger started to dissipate. And soon my heart joined my head in wanting to forgive her. So I did.

And they all lived happily ever after. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you that, would you? So here’s the rest of the story: thoughts of the offense still return from time to time. But never as powerfully as they did before I forgave. When the thoughts come now, I remind myself that I have forgiven and I choose peace instead of spite. I ask God for help, and before long, I am peaceful again.

Moral of the story? I can’t narrow it down to just one, so here are three:

  1. Forgiveness is a spiritual power struggle which cannot be won apart from the help God offers through prayer;
  2. To choose not to forgive is to invite ugly emotions to take up residence in your heart and eventually your countenance;
  3. Pouring out your heart to God—even (especially?) when what’s inside isn’t pretty—is always the best thing you can do. God promises to give mercy and grace in your time of need (Heb. 4:16).





12 thoughts on “What Does Spite Look Like?

  1. Bob Yates says:

    This is so true. We must forgive just as God forgives us. Reminds me of a quote by Horace Bushnell — “Forgiveness is man’s deepest need and God’s highest achievement.”

  2. Mary Thompson says:

    Thank You Cynthia. It sounds like the way to freedom. My husband died in 2010. I’ve not had to deal with people as I do now. I could always hide. My identity has changed. You are affirming what I am just learning in experience. It is so wonderful to be able to go to Him at the cross where He has taken all that I don’t understand.

    • cbezek says:

      Oh, Mary, I don’t know you, but I feel as if I do. Yes, isn’t it true? How we have to let God “husband” us in the places where we used to let our husbands be strong for us. I hadn’t thought of forgiveness as being one of them, but you are absolutely right. As widows, we don’t deal with troubled and difficult relationships in marriage partnership–we do them alone with Jesus. May you sense God’s presence with you ever moment of your days and nights as He cares for you as the apple of His eye.

  3. David Brownlee says:

    The truth will set us free. Thing is we have to admit, confess our humanity. Thank you Cynthia! I have been in the Spite boat also. But it is great to step out and grab onto Jesus and forgive and be forgiven.

    • cbezek says:

      Isn’t that the thing, David? The freedom that can be ours through forgiving (hard as it seems at the time) versus the bondage we feel when we hang onto spite and resentment? Thanks for your comments.

  4. Wanda says:

    Thanks, Cynthia, for being vulnerable enough to talk about these very personal places, in order to expose our inner struggles when facing the need to forgive. I especially appreciate your first moral of the story: Forgiveness is a spiritual power struggle. Very true. And the outcome of the battle changes our lives.

    • cbezek says:

      I know you speak from your own experience, Wanda, and that is precious. Your life exudes the fragrance of Christ, the “crushed violet” that Nancy talked about in a previous comment. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Matt says:

    So good, Cynthia. Nothing like God making things concrete for the two-year olds in all of us. A good question for me in not only “What does spite look like?” but also “What does forgiveness look like?”

    • cbezek says:

      You’re so right, Matt. My home group has spent two months working on “what does forgiveness look like?” and I’m still not ready to settle on an answer. But I do think it has peace and grace and wholeness wrapped up in it–the ability to sleep at night and relax in during the day knowing that Jesus shepherds our souls and we don’t have to defend them ourselves. What are your thought? Knowing you, I’m sure you have some!

  6. Nancy Jobe says:

    So well said, Cynthia! Reading this, I was suddenly reminded of the quote attributed to Mark Twain. (I’ve always thought him a surprising source for such Godly wisdom!) “Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” Your article today reminds me that forgiveness is just too hard to do on my own! It only comes with His help and when my heart willing to ask for that help.

    • cbezek says:

      That’s a wonderful quote, Nancy! I’ve never heard that one before. The fragrance of Christ smells like forgiveness, I’m pretty sure of that. Thanks for sharing.

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