Is Your Anger Off The Hook?
Anger is not a "nice" emotion. As Christians, we do have an idea that we shouldn't get angry, and we should turn the other cheek (Matt 5:39). Scripture 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 might even kill us (Prov 5:2). We might tell ourselves: but we're human! We're going to feel angry, so what are we supposed to do? Ignore it, or stuff it? Just what do we do with our anger?
Anger is a God given emotion because we are a mirrors of our Creator, and we know that God feels anger too (more about this later). Where we run into trouble as Christians is when we don’t process our anger in healthy way; instead, we stuff it, explode, or act out in some other (displaced) way. It's bewildering; we can have such good intentions to deal with our anger in a Biblical way, but fail to achieve our objective. Why is this? One difficulty is when we don't know why we are so angry. Or maybe we know, but our anger is disproportionate to what is going on. What is our anger really trying to tell us? And what do we need to do about it?
Anger can be a motivator to take positive action. Some of us might feel like we need our anger, perhaps to set a much-needed boundary, or motivate someone to stop behaving a certain way. What is sometimes hard to see, is that we can't be effective if stay angry. Anger is like a ringing telephone. 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; we won't hear the message above the noise. Our anger is a message that something is amiss and we need to take action. Once the message has been heard, we need to hang up the phone (let go of the anger), or we can't be effective; but how? Most of us have never learned how to do this. How do we turn off the anger in a healthy non-destructive way?
If we stay angry, we are leaving the phone off the hook…beep, beep, beep. 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 it triggered in us? Did someone cross our boundary? Is this an old message that is no longer true about us? Is the message distorted? Is this message from the Enemy?
Where did we get the idea that we have to stay angry to get what we want? From childhood? From Television? Movies? To be effective in getting our needs met, and deal with our anger in a healthy way we need to: pick up the phone, listen to the message, hang-up the phone, (stop feeling angry), examine the message, and figure out what we need to do to take care of ourselves.
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, and talk to Him about what's really going on; the anger starts to drain away. One useful model for dealing with anger comes from Melody Beattie’s book, Codependent No More. What follows is based on her formula, with some "recovery" adages and Biblical truths mixed in:
1) When you notice you are angry, step back; remove yourself from what you are reacting to, physically if you have to. Make sure that you are safe.
2) Examine what has happened? Did someone violate our boundaries? Were our needs not met? Are we responding to old tapes (from childhood)? 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)?
3) We must ask ourselves: What do we need to do to take care of ourselves? Do we need to pray about releasing this? Do we need to have a heart to heart talk? Do we need to set a Godly boundary? Do we need to go for a walk? Beat the bed with our pillows? Have a good cry? Journal about it? Call someone for support? Read our Bible?
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: let Go, and let God take care of it. We need to radically accept that we are powerless over this situation or this person, and it's God's job to work on this person or 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 that heart to heart talk, and set a boundary; perhaps we will have to have a good cry first, and just go to sleep for the night and see if all is not better in the morning.
As to long standing resentments, well, we can pray for these individuals daily; pray that they may have love, peace, prosperity, and a personal relationship with Jesus. We can pray that God softens their hearts, every day for several days. The surprising thing is that often, God softens our heart and we no longer feel this 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, He gave his only Son to forgive our transgression so that we could be reconciled to Him!
Wait until our mind is clear and our heart is calm before we take any action. Remember how much we are loved by the Creator of the universe, and pray for the fruits of the spirit: Love, peace, long-suffering, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Set our mind on things above (Col 3:2-4), and know that God will help us, if we ask.