Is Your Anger Off The Hook?
Anger is not a "nice" emotion is it? As Christians, we may have an idea that we're not supposed to get angry, and that we should turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39). Scripture also tells us anger is for fools (Job 5:2, Prov 14:17, Ecc 7:9); that we should be slow to anger (Prov 14:29, Prov 15:18, Prov 16:32), and that anger may even kill us (Prov 5:2). We might tell ourselves: but we're human! We are going to feel angry; so what are we supposed to do? ignore it? or stuff it? Just what do we do with our anger?
As it turns out, anger is a God-given emotion given to make our hearts burn with righteousness for the things of God, against evil and the things that God hates. We mirror of our Creator in many ways, and from scripture we know that God feels anger too; however, God instructs us to leave responding to unrighteousness to Him. He said, "Vengeance is Mine" (Her 10:30). Where we run into trouble is, unlike God, we tend to sin in our anger, when we don’t deal our anger in healthy way; instead, we stuff it (perhaps getting sick over it), explode, or act out in some other (displaced) way. It's bewildering really; we can have such good intentions to deal with our anger in a Godly way, but fail to achieve that objective. Why is this you may ask? Well, one difficulty we can have is when we don't know why we're angry. Or maybe we know, but our anger is disproportionate to what's going on. Actually, our anger serves it purpose best, when we can view it as a message.
So, what is our anger really trying to tell us? And what do we need to do about it? As it turns out, anger can be a motivating factor; it can motivate us to take action. Sometimes, we might feel like we need the anger, for example, to set a much-needed boundary, or to motivate someone to stop behaving a certain way. What's sometimes hard to see, is that we can't be effective if stay angry. Anger is like a ringing telephone; it's a message that something is amiss and we need to take action on it. If we stay angry it's like the phone is off-the-hook notifying us in an annoying way that we need to hang it up; but we can't hear the message above the noise of our anger. We need to listen to the message that they anger is trying to give us, then hang up the phone (let go of the anger), so we can be effective; but how? Most of us have no clue, have never learned how to do this. Just how do we turn off the anger in a Godly, healthy and non-destructive way?
If we stay angry, its like we are leaving the phone off the hook…"beep, beep, beep". The thing is, we don’t have to leave the phone off the hook (stay angry) to get what we need. We must hang up the phone, and examine the message to be effective. What is the message trying to tell us? What is the underlying message? What has this triggered in us? Did someone cross our boundary? Is there an old message that is no longer true? Is the message distorted in anyway?
So, where did we get the idea that we have to stay angry to get what we want? From childhood? From Television? Movies? Music? The reality is, to be effective in getting our needs met, we need to simply pick up the phone (listen to the message), hang up the phone, then get to work by examining the message, so we can figure out what we need to do about it.
So just how do we stop feeling angry? Prayer is how we hang up the phone. When we can step back, take a deep breath and reach out to the One who knows how we feel, Who listens to us, Who is there for us - good or bad, when we can talk to Him about what's really going on, the anger starts to drain away.
What follows is loosely based on Melody Beattie’s book, Codependent No More, with some "recovery" adages and some Biblical truths mixed in:
First, when you notice you are angry, 1) Step back; remove yourself from what you are reacting to, mentally or physically if you have to. Make sure that you are safe. Get quiet. In this sacred pause, let your soul commune with God, where you can be restored to peace.
2) Examine what has happened? Did someone violate our boundaries? Were our needs not met? Are we responding to old tapes (from childhood)? What instincts got triggered? Were we coming from a place of entitlement? What just happened here - is it really as important as it seemed? Is it the end of the world, or just sad and disappointing? Do we need to set a Godly boundary? Is this a problem we can solve? Is now a good time to solve it? Is this a hill we want to die on? What is the stronghold (deep underlying thought about our situation, which may be ancient history repeating itself)?
We must ask ourselves: 3) What do we need to do to take care of ourselves? Do we need to pray about releasing this? Ask God to show us our part in it, ask Him to set our instincts-gone-awry back in balance, ask Him to give us forgiveness? Do we need to have a heart to heart talk with someone? Do we need to set a Godly boundary? Do we need to go for a walk? Have a good cry? Journal about it? Call someone for support and encouragement? Read our Bible? just what do we need to do? Enquire of God...and wait for the answers...He is not silent.
4) Launch into action: Pray and ask God for direction. If this is not a problem we can solve, or now is not a good time to solve it, or we don’t want to die on this hill, we must let go, and let God take care of it. We need to accept that we are powerless over this situation or this person, and it's God's job to work on this individual or on this situation, or even to get vengeance (Ro 12:19). If the answer is: yes, we can solve this problem now, we may need to have a heart to heart talk, or set a Godly boundary; perhaps we will have to have a good cry first, pray some more, go to sleep and see if all is not better in the morning. We must wait to take action until our mind is clear and our heart is calm.
As to long standing resentments, well, we can pray for these individuals daily, praying that they may have love, peace, prosperity, and a personal relationship with Jesus. We can pray that God softens their hearts. We may have to do this every day for several days. The surprising thing is, often God softens our heart instead and we no longer feel a burning resentment.
We can look to God as a model for how He handled anger; when He should have been very mad, He often turned away and forgave us instead (Ps 78:38, Is 12:1, Is 48:9, Jer 3:12, Jer 32:37, Hos 14:4). Ultimately, giving His only Son to pay for our transgression so that we could be reconciled to Him. We remember how much we are loved by the Creator of the universe, and we pray for the fruits of the spirit in our lives and in the lives of others: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness , faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. We set our mind on things above (Col 3:2-4), and know that God will help us, if we ask.
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© 2016 Susan Grove