Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4: 31-32.
This week, I was angry! I don’t get angry easily but when I do, it goes from mad to rage in seconds and it can last a long, long time. I’ve learned to compartmentalize my anger and put it aside instead of blowing up at unsuspecting people but sometimes my compartment breaks and it did this week.
Over the years I’ve developed some healthy ways of venting my anger to avoid the big blow up (which doesn’t always work as in the case of this past week). I do something physically active to expend the explosive energy fueled by anger. I write out the thoughts and feelings that play over and over again in my head like a skipping record and then try to let go and move on from them by destroying the paper in some creative way. I might share my thoughts and feelings with someone who isn’t intimately involved in the situation that set me off. Often the circumstance that caused the initial irritation passes by the time I do all these and the bad feelings dissipate on their own in time. But that was not the case this time.
I started wondering why God created anger in the first place. Especially after I typed “being angry” in my online bible search and found a multitude of warnings against being angry. After more research, I found that anger is a natural God-given emotion and in itself is not sinful. God created us so that when sensing a threat, our minds generates anger—the emotional energy we need to fight against a perceived threat of harm.
So why so many warnings against being angry in the bible? That same emotional response mechanism is triggered when the “threat of harm” comes in the form of emotional pain which occurs when one of our personally held standards, values or beliefs has been or is being violated by someone. A girl’s belief that she is worthy of love is violated when her boyfriend breaks up with her. An employee’s belief that he is an asset to the company is violated when he is passed over for a raise or promotion. We can become instantly incensed when we feel we are being treated unfairly because our standards tell us everyone deserves to be treated with the same respect.
Anger is power and powerful. It enhances our resolve, and makes us a force to be reckoned with. It is the armor that guards against attack and the muscle that strikes out in battle. Anger washes through you like a drug and like a drug can control your life behind your back. Venting takes the energy out of your anger momentarily but anger will build up again and blow up in someone’s face if you don’t diffuse it; if you don’t dig it out by the root. And what is the root? Pride. Our pride nurtures and sustains our righteous indignation. It our pride, and the sense of entitlement that comes with it which assumes that our standards, values and beliefs supersede all else.
The bible exhorts us repeatedly to deal gently with people, rather than in anger. We are clearly responsible for how we treat people in our anger. Too often we tell ourselves little white lies to minimize our responsibility like “He deserved it” or “I can’t help it.” This just give pride and anger a little stronger hold over us. Fear not. In Christ we can overcome.
So how do we overcome our anger?
- Admit to God that you are angry. Pour out all your thoughts and feelings to him. Admit that your own pride is at the root of your anger. Ask God to help you seek humility. Give up your worldly right to be angry and give back to God the job of judging what is right and wrong.
- Ask God to fill you with the Fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control especially for and toward all those involved. Ask him to help you see the situation through his eyes and hear through his ears and respond with his heart in his grace.
- When you lose your temper, apologize to the person(s) involved for the hurt feelings your words and actions caused. An apology does not mean you are saying that others did no wrong. It’s you, in God’s grace, offering a balm for the emotional wounds your anger causes. It means you are letting go of the moment and moving forward in peace and wanting to bring them with you.
Don't expect it to be easy. Do expect to fail a lot. Forgive yourself when you do. After all, swallowing your pride and giving up your "right" to be angry is like trying reel in Moby Dick with a Disney princess fishing rod. That's why we need God in the boat with us.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You want something but don’t get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. James 4:1-2