I’ve been a closet hater.
I have never considered myself to be an angry person. There’s not anyone whom I could say that I hate, although there are people I don’t gel with or who rub me the wrong way (my mom calls such people “heavenly sandpapers”). But this isn't unusual, right? The first time I even had to deal with someone deeply hurting me and needing to work through forgiving them was following a breakup in my mid-20s. But that’s normal. So you can see why it would be something of a shocker for me to have it pointed out that anger is something I struggle with.
But that’s what happened this spring. And it took taking a class on “problematic emotions” for me to recognize it.
Irritability. Frustration. Impatience. Passive aggression. These were my symptoms. These were all things that were internal, which is why they weren’t as easily identified, even by me. My anger stayed concealed in these forms instead of revealed through quarrels, venting, volcanic explosions, physical aggression, etc. It all had to do with what I was feeling and thinking inside.
I felt irritated, frustrated, impatient, etc. in response to things that were happening around me. There was provocation. A dirty kitchen. Driving on 280. Constant interruptions when I’m trying to focus and finish a project. But my response to such provocations highlights my belief system and thoughts.
Should people clean up after themselves? Yes. Should people drive the speed limit and not 20 under? Yes. Should people be considerate of each other? Yes. There is a personal perception of right and wrong happening here. But there’s also entitlement and selfishness happening in my heart (as well as inflexibility, control issues, and a lack of understanding on my part). I get bent out of shape when things and people do not abide by my plan (Type A, anyone?). I often act (and think) that the world revolves around me. I’m inclined towards selfishness and self-absorption.
Hurt, irritability, frustration, disgust - these are all derivatives or symptoms of anger. Intentionally and also unintentionally, I’ve realized that using these other words instead of just calling it “anger” have been ways that I’ve rationalized my feelings and downplayed the severity of my anger.
My circumstances are never the reason for my anger because anger is internal, not external. Anger comes from inside of me, stemming from my beliefs and my thoughts. Things such as a dysfunctional family, present hardships, unmet “needs,” and physical factors (like that time of the month) might influence me, but they do not “make” me angry. They’re not determinative.
And thank goodness! The fact that they’re not causative means that I can respond differently to circumstances. We are not defined or controlled by the things that happen to us. The root is our sinful desires and the choices we make in pursuit of those desires (Jas. 4:1-3; 1:14-15).
To better understand what I’m saying, fill in the blank of the following statements (from The Peacemaker by Kevin Sande):
- “I must have _____________ to live a meaningful life.”
- “What I think I need or desperately want is _____________.”
- “You must give me _____________, or I’ll be angry at you or cold towards you.”
- ‘If only _____________ would change, I would be satisfied or content or joyful.”
Do you see how the root of our anger is not external but internal?
The Correct Outlet
So to deal with anger biblically, I need to first identify why I am angry. What’s the perceived injustice? Have I truly been wronged and need to approach the person who has wronged me? But if the “wrong” showcases my own idolatry or sinfulness, then I need to address that particular sin in my own heart. Am I demanding a particular action or behavior or result because of my own desires? Am I judging and punishing people when things do not happen how I want when I want?
Second, whatever desires I’ve placed before Christ, I need to submit to His Lordship. The sin is not my desire; it’s the inordinacy of my desire. I’ve given it greater authority in my life than God. So I need to confess my sin and turn to Him for forgiveness, asking Him to give me a greater desire for Him. I cannot heal from anger if I do not own that it’s there and that it’s a sin.
Third, I need to renew my mind. I have a tendency to internally stew on the things other people have done that offends or irks me. I replay it over and over in my mind, which only makes me more angry. So I need to get off the mental merry-go-round. I need to stop thinking about the offense and replace that thought with something else, something more along the lines of Philippians 4:8’s requirements (lovely, pure, just, etc.). Renewing my mind also means that I reflect on the character and promises of God. I find that it’s hard to be angry when I remember His love, His forgiveness, His grace, and His mercy towards me.
Along the lines of renewing my mind, I need to replace my sinful, angry behavior with Christ-like behavior. This involves being proactive and intentional in loving and serving the people who “frustrate” me. I think about and make a plan to do something for them, even if it’s a note or a word of encouragement.
And for me, I have to do a lot of praying. Praying for God to change my heart towards that person. Praying that He would help me see that person as He sees them. Praying that He would help me be more compassionate and understanding and patient with them. How can I thank God for them? How do they reflect Him (because we all do in some way as image-bearers)? Thinking on these things helps change my heart towards them.
Also, if I have been sinned against or if someone has hurt me (intentionally or unintentionally), I need to do what Matthew 18 says and approach the person (after first dealing with my own heart). I don’t need to talk about the conflict with everyone else but them. And I don’t need to try to let it “roll off my back” or “sweep it under the rug.” Sweeping it under the rug just creates a pile of dirt under the rug, which gets pretty noticeable after a while. You will reach a time when you can no longer ignore that it’s there because it has built up, and the result is not pretty. If I do not have a conversation with the person (in a respectful manner), then I am indulging in the sin instead of addressing it.
You may be like a turtle and hide from conflict or be like an ostrich and stick your head in the sand regarding the fact that it exists between you and another person. But you cannot have unity in the Body if you have anger towards another person. Anger affects your relationship with God, your relationship with other people, and your witness.
If you deal with either revealed or concealed anger, included below is a journaling exercise that you can do to help you process how you are feeling.
- Summarize your situation. (Who? What? Where? When?)
- Summarize your response to the situation. (What did you say, do, and feel in response to what happened? These can be positive as well as negative responses.)
- Summarize your thoughts, motives, and desires. (What were you thinking or wanting in the midst of that situation? What motivated your wrong behavior? What motivated your right behavior?)
- Summarize God’s answers (How would God want you to deal with this situation now or next time something like it occurs? What changes in your thoughts, feelings, or behavior is needed? What steps can you take to change?)
*This journaling exercise is from Dr. Robert Jones.