Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor [perpetual animosity, resentment, strife, fault-finding] and slander be put away from you, along with every kind of malice [all spitefulness, verbal abuse, malevolence]. Be kind and helpful to one another, tender-hearted [compassionate, understanding], forgiving one another [readily and freely], just as God in Christ also forgave you.
(Ephesians 4:31-32 Amplified Bible -AMP)
I last wrote about empathy and the necessity to understand others. Sometimes we need to understand them when they don’t understand themselves. We need to recognize when someone’s behavior is a problem or only the symptom of a deeper, troubling issue. The reality is hurting people hurt people. James 1:19-21 (AMP) says, “Understand this, my beloved brothers and sisters. Let everyone be quick to hear [be a careful, thoughtful listener], slow to speak [a speaker of carefully chosen words and], slow to anger [patient, reflective, forgiving]; for the [resentful, deep-seated] anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God [that standard of behavior which He requires from us]. So get rid of all uncleanness and [a]all that remains of wickedness, and with a humble spirit receive the word [of God] which is implanted [actually rooted in your heart], which is able to save your souls.” As Christ followers, we should not be quick to anger, but we should try to minister to the greater need that produces the anger.
A few years ago, I felt as if my life were out of control. I’m not sure I could’ve articulated my feelings of helplessness at the time, but I recognize it in hindsight. I couldn’t control the circumstances in my life. I couldn’t make good out of the bad. There was no justice for the wrongs that were committed against my family and no help I could offer to make it better. My husband’s brother had been an innocent victim of robbery and murder. I’d been a victim advocate for years and I couldn’t do anything to help my family. My dear friend at work died of a sudden heart attack. During the same time period, I was powerless to help family members battling cancer. As one that loves to encourage others, I couldn’t make it better. There were other life circumstances out of control as well during this two-year span. I couldn’t change any of it. This loss of control and feeling of helplessness in these circumstances created an anger in me and I didn’t even realize it.
So, if God created us in His image, is it okay to be angry about the circumstances of my life? We have emotions, because God, first, had emotions. The Bible says God is angry at times. However, just because He has been angry about situations does not mean His character is that of being an angry God. The same is true for us. We may be allowed to experience anger temporarily, but anger should not be our character. More importantly, we should not sin due to feelings of anger that we experience. Be angry, but sin not.
Be angry [at sin—at immorality, at injustice, at ungodly behavior], yet do not sin; do not let your anger [cause you shame, nor allow it to] last until the sun goes down. And do not give the devil an opportunity [to lead you into sin by holding a grudge, or nurturing anger, or harboring resentment, or cultivating bitterness]. (Ephesians 4:26-27 AMP)
Unfortunately, I walked in anger for a long time and sin I did. Anger has always been my go-to emotion. Some people get sad, some people become destructive, some people rebel . . . I get angry. I get angry when I’m just plain hurt or embarrassed. So, why don’t I just let someone know that I’m hurt? Well, duh, that would leave me way too vulnerable! Anger is definitely a safer way to go! Okay, maybe NOT! The worst part is that I had a tendency to obsess about my anger. I talked about it and perpetuated it, and words gave more fuel for the fire.
The fire of anger is not easily extinguished. Most people have constructed perfect scenarios in their minds of what would put out the fire. They may be waiting on the perfect apology or swift justice. In many instances, it just doesn’t happen. We don’t effectively communicate to the individual or address the circumstances that may be the source of the anger; therefore, the genuine feelings being masked by the anger that might prompt the apology or find resolution to the situation aren’t acknowledged. When you’re that angry, it can be intimidating for someone to come forward and apologize. Your anger will cause everyone to focus on the symptoms of the anger rather than addressing the problem that created it. The Bible’s very clear–no good comes from harboring anger. The results of holding on to anger are sin and rotten fruit. By any worldly standards, I’ve had the right to be angry. But I don’t live by that standard. I’m to live by the principals set forth in Scripture.
I loved my last criminal justice job . . . until I didn’t. Seriously, it was where I had wanted to work for a long time. I enjoyed the work. I loved my co-workers. I felt accomplished. I just really loved so much about it. Unfortunately, change came to the agency and it wasn’t good change. It had never been perfect, but it had been really good. I was proud to say I worked there with other respected professionals. When bad administrators took over the agency, I got angry. I didn’t let go of my anger and it led to sin. My sin was murmuring and complaining. circumstances were out
As a result, I let the symptom of anger overwhelm me.
[ Bear One Another’s Burdens ] Brothers, if anyone is caught in any sin, you who are spiritual [that is, you who are responsive to the guidance of the Spirit] are to restore such a person in a spirit of gentleness [not with a sense of superiority or self-righteousness], keeping a watchful eye on yourself, so that you are not tempted as well. (Galatians 6:1- AMP)
So, what do we do when we find ourselves in the crosshairs of someone that is hurting and acting out in anger? We start by distinguishing between the symptom and the problem. We should make an effort to understand their behavior may be indicative of pain rather than anger. It’s easier to have empathy than to meet anger with anger. The Bible has wonderful instructions on encountering anger. We must be the example of how taking on God’s yoke of gentleness and humility renews the soul (Matthew 11:29). The wisdom of Proverbs 15:1-2 (AMP) says, “a gentle answer will calm a person’s anger, but an unkind answer will cause more anger. Wise people use knowledge when they speak, but fools pour out foolishness.” Proverbs 25:15 says, “By patience and a calm spirit a ruler may be persuaded, And a soft and gentle tongue breaks the bone [of resistance].” When people are upset and angry, you can watch a person’s resistance break as a kind word delivered in love breaks the spirit of animosity.
For those of us that love the Lord but struggle to surrender all, there is a breaking point. We were never meant to carry the burdens of this world. For years, I tried to carry too much of life’s pains and disappointments and I broke. I came to the end of myself. It was good.
… to be continued.