I have been spending a lot of time thinking about anger lately. I suppose that might seem like a funny thing to be thinking about, but I’m finding it to be deep, complex, and insidious in my life. I started along this path some time ago because I knew I struggle with some unprocessed emotions from traumatic experiences in my life. Let me tell you a bit about my journey.
Most people that know me would say that I am one of the most easy-going, gracious, and kind people they have ever met. Measured in my speech, always looking for a way to compromise, and certainly never prone to angry outbursts. My children can attest to this, having only ever seen me lose my cool a small handful of times over the years. I do know that I am capable of anger, strong anger. When I was about five years old, I got really mad at my dad. Honestly, I don’t remember why. Regardless, in my anger, I told him I hated him. Repeatedly. Loudly. I remember to this day the tone of his voice in response to my outburst. I had hurt him deeply. My anger hurt others. I felt horrible. I remember a few other scenarios like this during my childhood. I wasn’t sure what to do with it other than to vow to control my anger so as to not hurt anyone. And, I did learn to do that for the most part, or so I thought.
In a small devotional I have been reading on anger, the author Edward Welch (2017) says that anger can look one way but feel another. He says that anger can feel like fear, being misunderstood, fatigue, depression, guilt, and shame (pp. 41-42). Reading the list, I knew that I have felt all of these things, often and recently. I thought about it. I haven’t felt angry. In fact, I rarely feel angry, and I had worked hard not to be an angry person. But, I have felt all of these other things. Could anger be causing these emotions? Were they just cover-ups for anger? I spoke to my husband about it. He encouraged me to write a list of all the times in my life that I had thought something was unfair, someone had done something wrong, or where I felt “morally superior” to someone else. My list was long, really long. When I started diving into the list, I realized that for many of the things on the list, I felt the emotions Welch listed. I had felt a lot of fear over the years. I was often frustrated because I felt misunderstood. Fatigue has been a constant companion for many years. Guilt and shame seemed to knock on my door regularly.
How could this be? How could I be such an angry person? Nobody would say that I was! I had tried so hard to be a kind and loving person, understanding and slow to anger. James 4:1-3 tells us that our anger comes as a result of our selfish desires and our unwillingness to ask God in humility for what we rightly don’t deserve. We are “instinctive haters” (Welch, 2017, p. 58). So, why had I struggled with anger despite the outward appearance of being slow to anger and abounding in love? The ugly truth is that I had used self-will to behave in the correct manner but had not sought God’s help for the change of heart that only he can provide. Wow. What a revelation! In all honesty, I’m still processing it.
I know that I have made the first step of surrendering my will to God and coming before him in humility. The list my husband encouraged me to make is the start of a listing of my wrongs to take before God. I know that I will need to make some amends to people along the way. In the end, however, I can be assured that I will find rest in God and his forgiveness.
My friends, don’t let anger simmer disguised as something else. Anger eats away and weighs down even the most ardent follower of Christ. Christ desires us to live freely in his peace and under the full freedom of his grace and mercy. But, we can only do that when we humbly surrender our will and our lives to him, including our anger. Make a list. Talk through the list with God and another person. Make amends. And, thank God for his endless forgiveness.
Contributed by Liz Hunt
Welch, E. (2017). A small book about a big problem: Meditations on anger, patience, and peace. New Growth Press.