Sometimes, like storm clouds that roll in in the middle of a perfectly lovely day, my anger seems to come out of nowhere and crashes and booms in the most embarrassing way. I don’t want to feel it!
Yesterday’s blog on angry critical words as verbal assault weapons stirred up discouraging feelings for some people who wrote to me privately. I realize we need to talk about the other part about the words that flow out of our heart without piling on more “shoulds” What do we do with feelings of anger?
I get really mad at myself when I lose my temper. I’ve heard it said that depression is anger turned inward and perhaps that is true, but you don’t want to be in the line of fire when it’s turned outward. What do we do with anger when it boils over and spoils our carefully constructed version of ourselves? What do we do with feelings that fuel not-nice verbal assaults aimed either at ourselves or at others?
The Bible tells us, “In your anger do not sin.”
For a long time I didn’t realize that God gave us a sense of anger or righteous indignation or personal miffification (my word) for a good reason. Anger is like the indicator light on the dashboard of a car that lets you know there is a problem with the engine. When my dad taught me to drive he emphasized the necessity of paying attention to the dashboard information. Don’t let the RPMs get too high and never, never ignore the low oil warning. Stop and deal with it right away.
Anger can be a gift of grace. Anger allows us to admit there is a problem. Who we blame for the problem is the problem.
Anger is a secondary emotion. It’s like a warning light that lets us know something is wrong inside somewhere. Yes, there are false alarms and overly sensitive alarms sometimes. No one is thrilled to see the warning light suddenly glowing red. One time it cost me $87 to find out that I had only turned the gas cap one click instead of three after I followed my dad’s advice and drove directly to a mechanic’s shop when the engine light turned on. (That triggered my personal anger indicator light.) It’s tempting to ignore warnings after such events, but ignoring them can lead to nasty or expensive consequences later.
I’m suffering from ignoring a warning I was given a few weeks ago. It was just a toe. My doctor said I needed to have minor surgery to deal with an over zealous toenail that turned on me. When he mentioned recovery time I thought about my busy schedule and procrastinated. Last week I ended up having to get antibiotics to deal with painful infection. My toe (little thing that it is) screamed at me like a street full of car alarms set off by an rebellious teenager at 3 a.m.. Yesterday, my adorable three-year old granddaughter was asserting her newly discovered independence over whether or not she needed to wear a hoodie (which she calls a “heady”). In the process she expressed her opinion with a vehement stomp. Unfortunately my toe was under her stomp.
Now I love this child dearly but had it not been for the grace of the Lord in teaching me a bit of self-control by this point in my life I could have let loose some pithy words that carry emotional weight.
When we lose it and our tempers over-ride the mouth gate control, or when other people unload their verbal semi-automatic assault weapons on us, it is often because issues were not dealt with while they were still minor. Sometimes minor offences fester like a sore toe we have ignored for too long. Woe betide the one who brushes against a sensitive spot.
Some of the things we ignore are minor wounds that occur when people make demands that require us to give more than we think we can afford. This can feel like someone is stealing our time, attention, money, dignity – all sorts of things. One of the hardest I find to deal with is the implication, “You are a Christian. You are required to love and forgive so I expect you to forgive me immediately no matter what I do.”
Gayle Erwin talks about the problem of relating to people who say, “So you want to be a servant. Well, I’ve always wanted one of those.” There is a difference between being a servant of God and a servant of a person who wants you to indulge their selfishness. Since when does love mean enabling poor choices?
Boundaries discussed and established early in a relationship can help avoid misunderstandings later. Love must be voluntary in order to be love. If I lay down my own needs to meet yours it must be because I choose to, and not because you have removed my options. The joy of giving is stolen when it is coerced.
Sometimes ultra-sensitive unhealed wounds caused by painful past events are protected by anger. (I wrote about that here.) Prickly people use anger to keep anyone from getting too close. Right now I am very wary of anyone who comes too close to my toe. This has nothing to do with you but if it looks like you might drop that armload of firewood I might yell at you to back off.
There are many triggers for anger – fear of lack, fear of being out of control, fear of being left out or unloved, fear of being deceived or taken advantage of. (There are also physiological conditions that produce feelings of irritation and anger.) I’m not going to join the accuser of the brethren here. He has enough helpers on the internet. But sometimes the accuser is owned himself when God allows satan’s nastiness to point out an area that is not working for us. Sometimes unpleasant feelings of being overwhelmed by anger, like feelings of pain, can be the thing that points to something God intends to heal next. If we seek the Lord to understand the reason behind our upsetting reaction he will be there waiting.
Yes. I need healing -inside and out. But who doesn’t in some way? The humble person who is aware of their weaknesses as well as their strengths, who knows their need for grace, who has known what it is to be forgiven, is in a place to offer that same grace when they see someone else boil over. They get it.
I’m making an appointment with my doctor to address the problem with my toe when I get back home – but I’m also praying for divine intervention in seeking healing not only for my toe, but for other little wounds of the heart I have ignored for too long.
If you find yourself in a place where you realize you need healing for something, but are not sure what, don’t be afraid to ask God. He loves you dearly and he is relentlessly kind.