Anger as a Gift of Grace

 

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!
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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.

What?!?

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.

 

 

 

Amazing Love

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We’ve often heard the buyer-beware expression, “If it looks too good to be true, it’s probably not true.”

That expression is not always true.

Darkness is all around us in this world. We read about it every day, and for those of us who have known loss and deep depression it feels like darkness has saturated every cell of our being. It wraps itself around our thoughts and imprisons our dreams. Sometimes it’s been so long we stop looking for the light. Sometimes we chase something that appears to be light, something that soothes our pain for a while, but it only leads to a path of even deeper darkness – if that’s possible. We come to distrust flickers of light as cruel illusions.

There is no greater depth of darkness than loss of hope.

I know. I was there – for far too long.

But I had friends who were relentless. They had light and love in their lives and I resented them for it. That light didn’t go out when their circumstances were bad. They had a weird kind of joy even in tears and brokenness. I dared to raise my eyes to the source of light that shone in them.

Charles Wesley wrote these words:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

My chains fell off! My heart was free!
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

He understood the risk of trusting something that seemed to be too good to be true. What? How can it be?

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

Oh, my God! You did that for me? Can it be?

You matter. He knows your name and every detail of your life down to the number of hairs on your head. You are not an accident. Darkness cannot put out the light. In the battle between light and dark, light always wins. There is no such thing as a flashdark – only a flashlight.

Jesus is the light of the world. This is amazing love!

Baptizing Babies in the Birdbath

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Baptizing Babies in the Birdbath

We were baptizing babies in the birdbath,
me and Beats,
plastic pouty babies
with hard dimpled bellies
and yes or no eyes.

I baptize thee, Betsy Ann Wetsy
(in my most Godly voice)
I baptize thee
in the name of the Father,
(pouring water over sculpted hair)
and of the Son,
(swishing clicky head in basin)
and of the Holy Ghost,
(pressuring bad bubble spirits out of
off-center hole in bum)

There.

Having fulfilled requirements
for all our grandparent’s denominations
I held Betsy by rigid foot
and rained blessings
on the sidewalk.

Um, said Beats.

Um.

You blasphemed.
You said Holy Ghost.
You committed the unpardonable sin.

Um.

My life for yours, Betsy.
You take that kind of risk sometimes
for babies you love
when you don’t know all the rules.

 

When I was a child it was easy to believe that God was angry with me for doing something I didn’t know was wrong. I don’t know where the idea came from, but I know that it was strong enough to leave me fearful that come the great judgment day I would be rejected for failing to keep all the rules and having unconfessed sin in my life (because I didn’t know it was a sin.)

This poem seems light-hearted, but it is about a real experience. I was about five-years old. Beatrix and I had just come from enduring another sermon we didn’t understand. (My grandson defines a sermon as “when people talk about God but don’t let you ask questions.”) All we picked up was that there was an “unpardonable sin.”

For years I didn’t have the heart to tell Mom and Dad that all their efforts to send me to Sunday School and Bible clubs and camps were in vain because I was already damned. It took a long time before I realized that Jesus is the perfect image of the Father. He absolutely loves children – and adults. He doesn’t set them up for failure. He didn’t come to condemn.

I needed to let go of the lie that God is angry and capricious and impossible to please before I could see his eyes of love for me. It wasn’t easy; I struggled to let go of the only security I had known – keeping rules and striving to be good enough. But setting out on a journey to search for the real God has been so worth it. He healed my heart, took away my fear, and created in me a place to hold on to his love.

I decided to post this poem today because I know there are others who, for whatever reason, have the same picture of God – and you are tired and depressed and ready to let go. You’ve tried about as hard as you can try. You’ve gone through rituals and attempts to meet man-made requirements but are still afraid it’s not good enough.

I met someone who was old and ill. He was busy “covering all the bases,” going through all sorts of religious rituals and donating to several denominations. I saw in him the same old familiar fear. What if I am too bad for God to accept me?

I told him all God required of him was to let Jesus do what he came to do – love him just as he was. He found it hard, but the last time I visited him he sang, with steady voice, an old Kris Kristofferson song.

Why me Lord what have I ever done
To deserve even one of the pleasures I’ve known
Tell me, Lord, what did I ever do
That was worthy of you or the kindness you’ve shown

Lord help me, Jesus, I’ve wasted it so
Help me Jesus I know what I am
But now that I know that I’ve needed you so
Help me, Jesus, my soul’s in your hand.

I believe Jesus heard him.

Save

Poopyface!

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I could hear the hollering from out on the deck where I was watering flowers. I didn’t need to run to see if there had been an accidental amputation. The door flung open and our little grandson howled, “She called me a poopyface!”

She — the accuser of the brother and temporary devil’s advocate in disguise — was his pretty little sister and now she was sitting on the couch, happily in possession of the iPad abandoned by her brother in his frantic search for justice.

“And are you?” I asked.
“Are I what?” he said, wiping tears with the back of his hand.
“A poopyface.”
“No! I am not!”
“Let me check.”

I examined that handsome little face he held up to me and sniffed it dramatically.

“No, indeed you are not. If you were I would tell you and we would clean it up right away, but you are as good-looking and good-smelling as ever. You are not a poopyface, so what she said means nothing. She just wants to upset you. Don’t give her the satisfaction. Ignore her and she will leave you alone.”
He went back in the living room and announced, “I am not a poopyface and hey! You can’t have the iPad. I was using it.” Amazingly she gave it back without a fight.

Earlier all three of us had been playing dinosaurs in the garden. T-Rex was always lurking, ready to harass a hapless parasaurolophus just minding his own business. But our parasaurolophus and triceratops knew how to flee such threats, jumping geraniums and running through the giant lobelia forests to get away.

One of the ways our peace can be stolen is when the accuser of the brethren ambushes us and distracts us from our true identity – essentially calling us “poopyface.” Look at that disgusting stuff in your life. Everyone can see it and smell it a mile away! Did God really forgive you, because you look like a poopyface to me!

When we go running to the Lord he says, “You are clean and beautiful.” More than that he tells us who we are in his eyes. In the first couple of chapters in Ephesians alone we find his reassurances. This who you are now:

You are blessed
You are chosen
You are holy
You are blameless
You have a destiny
I have adopted you (in that culture adoption meant being made a partner in the family business with full signing authority, as one who represented the father)
You are lavished with grace
You are wise
You have understanding
You are for My praise and glory (I’m proud of you)
You are sealed in Christ
You are saved
You have a guaranteed inheritance
You can have a spirit of wisdom and revelation, enlightened eyes, knowing hope
You are raised from the dead
You are seated with Christ in heavenly places
You are greatly loved by Jesus
You are made alive in Christ
You are being prepared to receive My incomparable riches
You are My masterpiece (my poema – poem)
You are part of one new man, eligible for all the promises given to the chosen people
You are under My peace
You are called for a purpose

And according to his words in the book of Peter you are a royal prince or princess and a fully qualified priest granted permission to come into the holy presence of God – because the Creator of the universe absolutely adores you.

Have you been accused of being less than who Jesus says you are? Wipe your tears and go get your stuff back. Don’t let anyone steal your identity. You are not a miserable orphan sinner who has to try to live by your wits and create a purpose for yourself anymore. Know the truth and let it set you free.

 

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