Have you ever thought of anger as being a healthy emotion? I believe most of us think of anger as a very unhealthy emotion. Anger gets a bad rap because, it is an emotion that is usually expressed in very negative and destructive ways. Yet, anger is an emotion given to us by our Creator for a reason. It is not always a bad thing. There is a righteous anger that moves men and women to action. An emotion felt by those who are called to defend, protect and speak up for the weak in our society or to stand up to the injustice in this world. I will talk about this in future posts. Today, I am writing about my own personal struggle with this emotion. I am revealing how unchecked anger almost destroyed my relationships. But, more importantly how God in His magnificent grace used this emotion of anger to lead me through a season of healing. Then ultimately to a life of freedom!
Afterall, anger is really just an emotion right? Emotions don’t possess life until we give them power to live. Sure, we feel them but, we are not to give emotions power over us. The word of God tells us in Ephesians 4:26-27 Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,and do not give the devil an opportunity. So, according to the Word of God, anger itself is not a sin. It is simply an emotion like happiness, sadness, fear, joy and all the rest. This verse teaches us that sleeping on our anger and allowing it to stick around is opening up a door for the devil (you know the one who is seeking whom he may devour) to walk in and have a picnic! The sin is in what we do with the anger. The sin is in how we handle the anger. It is what we do with the anger that makes it a sin. We are told above “do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.”
So, I have a confession to make. I lived in the shadow of anger for years and didn’t even know it! I am bearing my soul and being completely honest. I realize that might not be a “politically correct” thing to say among church people, I mean, we are supposed to be Christ-like right? But, the ugly truth for me is that I was an angry woman! I believe with all my heart that honesty and vulnerability are essential elements in the healing process. Facing up to our uglies and sharing our struggles with one another, in safe places, where we feel loved and accepted can help us become more Christ-like. Together, we can be real and move toward spiritual, mental and emotional holiness and wholeness! So there, I said it outloud. I was an angry woman! The problem was, I didn’t realize it…Yet!
Several years back, I went through Celebrate Recovery at my local church so I could “help” counsel others. Little did I know, I was the one who needed the help! God has such a great way of intervening in our lives to help us deal with our junk. He does it with such grace and mercy not with condemnation. My “junk” was unchecked anger. It ruled my life. It had the potential to destroy my marriage and all my treasured relationships. I had definitely alienated some people in my life. At one point, my unchecked anger and critical spirit isolated and insulated me in a very lonely place. God in his gentle, graceful way used that “wilderness” experience to heal a very broken place inside of me. He showed me I was living in the “shadow of anger”, due to my disappointments because of my control issues. By far, the most profound thing He revealed during that time was that I had lived in the shadow of others my entire life! Which fueled my anger. My Abba used the anger to help me make a hard move. I had to choose to move out from under, living in the shadow of others and to begin truly living in the shadow of The Almighty!
I had been living as Celebrate Recovery defined it “in Denial”. When someone is in denial, they can’t see who they really are. The Bible tells us in the book of James 1:23 – “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks at his natural face in a mirror for once he has looked at himself and gone away, he has immediately forgotten what kind of person he was.” DENIAL! Oh boy! Doesn’t the enemy of our soul just love that? When we are living in denial, not matter what our issue is; we think it is everyone else’s problem. Or maybe we just dismiss our bad behavior by saying things like, “Well, I just have a quick temper” or “that is just how I am”. We say things like that to justify our actions and move on. All the while, not realizing the path of destruction we have left in our angry wake. I mean, of course we recognize we get angry, everyone gets angry sometimes. We know when someone or a situation makes us angry or pushes our buttons; but we may be in deep denial that the anger is controlling our life. Others around us see it, feel it, hear it, experience it; but we can go through life virtually unaware that we are indeed an angry human being. It is UGLY!
If you have seen the movie, Madea Goes To Jail, you will remember the scene where she is arrested and the judge orders Madea to attend anger management counseling, with none other than the famous Dr. Phil! If you have seen this movie you will recognize the clip below:
(disclaimer: sorry it is a little crude, but so funny!) https://youtu.be/AHsBK722Yqw (click link to watch). This is a hilarious and extremely exaggerated example of a woman who definitely doesn’t realize or recognize she is an angry person. Everyone else knows it but not Madea! She is in what Celebrate Recovery calls Denial with a capital “D”! Denial keeps us in the destructive pattern of anger. It affects every aspect of our life. Anger can be used for good or for evil, for lack of a better word. It is an emotion often used by broken people to control their environments and also the people they say they “love.” The first step in Celebrate Recovery or any recovery program is to Recognize you have a problem. To step out of DENIAL and face up to your problems whatever they are. When we are able to recognize and realize the destructive hold that problem has on us, then we begin taking the first step to freedom.
My first step into freedom began in Celebrate Recovery and continued as I asked the Lord to reveal the root of my anger. Everyone knows you can treat the symptom, but it is so much better to get to the root of any problem whether in our physical health or mental health. If the root is left intact the problems will resurface in our life. This pattern of reacting in my anger had become such a part of my normal behavior it was hard to break. It was such a deeply ingrained behavior that to break free, I had to begin forming new patterns. Which I learned in counseling. It’s called dying to the “I”. Crucify the “I, me, and mine”. What scripture describes as “dying to self”.
My next big leap into freedom came from my husband. I was ready to know the truth, so I asked him to be honest with me about some things. You see, people avoid angry or irritable people like the plague! At least they try to avoid setting them off. Which is a miserable way to live for anyone. He had withdrawn from me. We were not growing closer but further apart. I wanted to know why. Because he had grown accustomed to walking on eggshells around me, it took a little coaxing from me for him to open up and be completely honest. I knew I needed help and assured him I was ready to hear what he had to say. In his gentle and tender way he was very truthful with me. It was so hard to hear the cold, hard truth! It was also, the first time, in a long time, I couldn’t argue back. I didn’t even get mad or try and place the blame on him or others. After he spoke from his heart with tears falling from his eyes, because he didn’t want to hurt me; I just sat there, unable to open my mouth and tears pouring down my face. We both cried and held each other. I was humiliated in a good way. It was my “breakthrough” to step out of a dark and depressing place of self preservation and into true freedom.
The next leg of my journey out of the shadow of anger was committing to godly, biblical counseling. I was blessed by a wonderful counselor. He was an older man, who was filled with the love of Jesus and gifted in his calling. He would mostly tell me stories, then just listen to me talk and cry. Towards the end of our sessions he would always ask me a question. Not just any question, but a very pointed question. The type of question that like the woman in War Room told Ms. Clara, “has a way of backing you into a corner and making you squirm!” At first I became, well… angry! I would leave his office with a smile on my face, a book to read and homework to do. I would make it to my car and out of his parking lot, then I would vent the whole way home talking to myself, saying things like, “who does he think he is?”, “He doesn’t even know me!”
The truth is hard to hear. Dying to self is not an easy thing to do. It requires participation in the form of surrender. You can’t die to self if you are still fighting against it! Many times I seriously thought about not going back to those counseling sessions. I was sick of me! Henry Cloud says, “We change our behavior when the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of changing. Consequences give us the pain that motivates us to change.” I was committed to experience real change. So, back I went and it was so worth it! I read all the books I was given and did my “homework”. I journaled, prayed, confessed, forgave a lot of people and agreed with God to do this thing His way. By the end of that summer my counseling sessions came to an end. By the next year I was truly set free in that area of my life!
So, I have learned that anger is just an emotion. It is not a sin to be angry. It is a sin to live in that anger. There are definitely different levels of anger. My anger came from a place of rejection. Feeling like I was invisible and unheard most of my life. Situations where I felt invisible and unheard were triggers for my anger. The feelings that came from being virtually abandoned by my earthly father’s contributed to my brokenness. That was the root of my anger. Today, I can say I am thankful for the emotion of anger; not for the damage that was done but, for the gift of the emotion. The anger I was feeling was like an alarm telling me something was very wrong. Doctors tell us that our bodies are wired in such intricate detail that when something is wrong our body warns us with symptoms. The body triggers us to make an appointment with the Doctor and make sure all systems are operating properly. The same is true with our emotional health.
Now, don’t hear me wrong. We all get angry from time to time, it’s perfectly normal. Unchecked anger that is acted upon can be devastating. But when we learn to respond to the anger in healthy and even holy ways it can indeed be a gift. A good indicator that there is something not right. Then we can bring it to the Lord in prayer asking him to reveal the root. The bottom line with unchecked anger or out of control anger is the one phrase I heard repeated many times during my time at Celebrate Recovery, “Hurt people, hurt people.” So true.
Through this experience of transformation God has and is redeeming my marriage. We now have trust back. My husband feels safe now to share his heart with me. We are closer now than we have ever been. We are going on 28 years of marriage. I am a happier person. I laugh much more. I have learned to embrace the ME that God has made me to be. I am blessed. More importantly I am free from living in the shadow of anger!
Emotions are a good thing and are hot wired into our very beings to help us navigate through the rough waters of life. Emotions are to be felt, they are a gift! We are to feel them but not to live on them. Anger can be a healthy emotion – just don’t live in it’s shadow!