This is a short piece on ANGER. Recently Joan and I had an opportunity to do some counseling with a couple, and one of the issues that surfaced was the issue of “anger.” Over the years I have certainly had to confront this issue in other couples, individuals, with my own marriage, and inside myself.
Joan and I haven’t done a lot of counseling as a team, although I really respect her insights and ability to discern the truth and honestly call things for what they are. I confess that I usually enjoy this more when she does this with, and for, other people than when she does it with, and to, me. Lord have mercy!
One of the people we were counseling said in a moment of insight, “I think anger is my safe place” (italics mine.) I almost jumped up and celebrated because I thought it was a great moment for that person to see and admit that. Anger is a powerful emotion and it substitutes for many other things. Sometimes it substitutes for power when you actually feel powerless to change your circumstances, sometimes it substitutes for grief when you really want to blame God but you are not sure who to blame and deep down know it won’t change the reality of death. American grief often reveals itself in a court suit because somebody has to be blamed, and that is more of a sign of anger than of sadness. Many of us don’t know how to emotionally deal with suffering, despair, fear, or loss. We don’t how to lament, so, we get mad.
Sometimes anger substitutes for a relationship when your hurt, pride, or fear won’t let you reconcile with someone you actually made vows to love. Anger becomes the emotion you begin to recognize, know, and like so it seems to become your friend. It is in reality a dragon-monster kind of puppy thing of a friend that people often nurse, and nurture, and come to need. It is a lousy friend because it tends to lie to those who carry it, making them think the poison they drink will kill everyone else. (That idea is not original with me but I don’t know who said it first). Anger grows up inside you, and then it seems to own you.
Anger sometimes makes you feel in control, and the truth is sometimes it really does give you a sense of power in a manipulative sort of way. People can be bullies in the use of their anger, when they figure out the people they want to control are terrified of that anger, or will give in to their will lest they fall prey to that anger. Sometimes, especially in marriage, people get away with terrible bouts of anger because they have an illusion that the legal relationship will protect them from seeing it end.
The image of a boxing match might be useful here. People who constantly use anger in their relationships think there are ropes around the ring, assuming that their partner or family member will just bounce off those ropes and they will somehow get back into an upright balance. There are no ropes, and if you pummel people enough you will lose them, you will knock them right out of the ring. You might stay legally married but only to a closed, protective, and hardened person who no longer lets you in, and no longer feels they can afford vulnerability.
Angry words and actions are like shooting an arrow at random, or throwing a rock over a hedge, once it leaves your hand you cannot control the consequences. You can’t keep taking bites out of people without devouring them. You can’t be angry as a habit in your relationships, or in the face of frustrations and disappointments, and think you are living by faith. If anger is your habit you are not trusting God! Anger at anything other than evil is usually a mistake, and it is your mistake, not that of the person with whom you happen to be angry.
If you aren’t forgiving someone because you are still angry then you should be aware you have several potential problems. One is that instead of their behavior being the issue, or their attitude, or their personality, or their tendencies, you and your anger will soon become the main issue. If you aren’t forgiving someone because you enjoy being mad at them and this is your way of punishing them, then you are putting yourself in the place of God and giving Him no room to take vengeance on that person. You keep getting in His way and he might just out and completely forgive them, and leave you totally frustrated, like He did to Jonah.
If you aren’t willing to forgive someone, and keep holding onto your anger when you could have reconciled, what will you do when the Master calls you to account for what you owe? Here is one suggestion; the next you time you get angry at someone and can’t let it go make this your prayer, “Lord, please treat me just like I am treating this person.” If you think this is too harsh then I invite you to study the Scriptures for as I read it I sense that this is one area in which God doesn’t play games.