What's Tony Thinking

The Corrosive Effect of Grievance and the Christmas Antidote


New York Times White House correspondents Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman today had a long assessment of the atmosphere inside the beleaguered Trump White House.

Here’s the paragraph that struck me:

“Mr. Trump is said by advisers to be consumed by the multiplying investigations that have taken down his personal lawyer, campaign chairman, national security adviser and family foundation. He rails against enemies, who often were once friends, nursing a deep sense of betrayal and grievance as they turn on him.”

“Nursing a deep sense of . . . grievance.” It’s really very sad. And I could feel sorry for the man if he hadn’t brought it all upon himself. And if he weren’t in a position to do so much that is dangerous to so many.

Baker and Haberman’s report brought to mind an observation from the late-great William Sloane Coffin.

“Nothing,” wrote Coffin, “separates us more from God and our fellow human beings than our grievances. If you want to avoid God concentrate on money, status, and health, but most of all on your grievances.”

I understand that it is Christmas Eve and that you might wish to take a Trump break.

So let’s think less about our sad, dangerous President and more about ourselves. Take Trump as a cautionary tale for us all. We, or at least I, am not wholly unlike this man knotted in his pique and resentments.

And the holidays up the ante on it all. They are a season of great joy, fun and festivity. The lights burn brightly against the dark night. The music warms our hearts. Glad gatherings mark the calendar. Our greetings to one another are less perfunctory and more heart felt.

But any such bright time has a shadow side. Perhaps, we get someone’s slightly triumphalist Christmas letter and wonder why our lives are not equally glorious or glamorous. Or instead of focusing on the invitation extended, we fixate on the one that wasn’t. Overlooking all the gifts given, we lament the one that wasn’t.

If Trump stews in a sense of grievance in a lonely White House, we too, all of us, are prone to fall prey to the sense of grievance, which as Coffin notes is sure to drive a hard wedge between us and both God and other people.

“I haven’t gotten what I deserve” thoughts begin to crease our brow or vex our hearts. It happens. In anxious moments, it happens to me.

The antidote to this, in my experience, is to turn the thing around. Perhaps we have all received so much more than any of us can possibly “deserve.” Honestly, that seems far more likely. And by “more” I don’t mean stuff. I mean life, love, help, comfort, opportunity, mercy and grace.

Yes, there are people in this world who have a legitimate sense or reason for grievance. Far too many.

But even then, nursing a sense of grievance isn’t all that helpful. Fight for justice. Work for change. But nursing grievance is corrosive to the soul.

It is, yes, Christmas Eve or perhaps by the time you get to this Christmas Day. It is a good time to call upon God to deliver us from any sense of grievance and to help us, instead, to be shocked by the grace of it all, and to practice gratitude.

“Unto you is born a child.” So the angels sing to the unlikeliest of step-parents, the shepherds. The “you” is plural. This child is born to us all, to Mary and Joseph, to shepherds and wise men, to you, to me.

And the birth of a child is, among other things, God’s way of saying, “Let’s start over. Let’s start as fresh as baby flesh, as new as squalling birth. Grievance free and glad as old Scrooge on Christmas morning. Glad that we are here at all, that we are loved in spite of ourselves and have a new day to live well and serenely. To add on to this check out this lovely¬†Daily Devotional.

So Merry Christmas to one and all, and even, yes, to poor, unhappy Donald J. Trump.




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