Lately, it seems, I’ve run into a lot of people who are angry. Angry at politicians who seem to be more focused on their ego and political games than helping people. Angry at the amount of violence that keeps occurring around the country. Or angry at hurtful situations in their lives. The anger is targeted at people, situations, or God (and by the way, God can take it, if you're angry at God).
It used to be that when I saw someone angry, my first (arrogant and judgmental) thought was, “I’m so glad I’m not like that.” But as I’ve been preparing for our upcoming retreats on the different ways God speaks to us, I’ve come to respect anger, see the importance of it, and care about recognizing where God is (or isn’t) in all of it.
I think anger can be one of the more confusing, complicated, yet significant feelings to discern. You may have been brought up to rise above your anger. Maybe you've gotten in the habit of ignoring it so well that you don't even know it's deep down simmering below the surface, manifesting in unhealthy ways. Maybe you think you're not a good Christian if you're angry. Or maybe you’re angry I’m bringing up anger for a monthly reflection when you really want to think about something much more peaceful! (It’s okay if you feel that way…. keep reading… we’ll get there…)
is it okay to be angry?
If you read scripture, it's easy to be confused and think feeling anger is a sin when Jesus says in Matthew 5:22, Anyone who is angry with his brother will have to answer for it before the judge. For guidance on how to interpret this I turn to author and Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr who compiled essays on anger in a very interesting book called, "Oneing" and sees this verse as a warning to not let anger overwhelm us, rather than as a warning to never be angry.
…I believe that Jesus is also saying that chosen and sustained anger can be its own kind of murder. It is a murdering of one's own soul, which often leads to justified killing for "godly" purposes. We cannot afford to be angry for long or the emotion has us instead of a self-possessed individual having a manageable emotion.
Rohr sees anger explained better in Ephesians 4:26. Even if you are angry, do not sin because of it. Never let the sun set on your anger or you will give the devil a foothold. In this verse, Rohr says, you see a distinction between having a feeling and being controlled by that feeling. In other words, it's not bad to feel angry - angry is a feeling and having a feeling is neither right nor wrong - it's bad to act out on it in a violent or hurtful way.
The importance of anger
Once you give yourself permission to feel anger, it's important to honor it. Give it the time and space necessary to understand what it's telling you. As we’ll be talking about in our upcoming online and day retreats, “What if you began to say YES!”, God speaks to us through our feelings. Listen to the anger to see what it’s telling you about yourself and about where God may be calling you to respond. In the book, "Oneing", Sara Jolena Wolcott talks about the importance of anger.
"Researchers point out that anger arises from a sense of something being "wrong"-and understanding that it could change. Anger can help us to get unstuck and lead us into action, which is desperately needed for us to create the world we want to live in."
Anger can tell you it's time to stick up for yourself if someone is treating you disrespectfully. Anger can tell you it's time to leave a toxic or unfulfilling work situation. Do you find yourself angry at something unjust globally or right in your very neighborhood? This can be a nudge from God calling you to work for an important cause.
What do I do with the anger?
If you’re like me and you have a hard time being angry or even noticing if you’re angry, spend some time listening to yourself and really honoring what’s inside of you. Recognizing, listening, and working through anger can be an important part of a spiritual growth process.
If it’s easy for you to be angry and you’re full of anger right now, take some time to pull back and listen to what it’s telling you. You don’t want to be stuck in a place of anger for too long. As Rohr warned above, you don’t want the emotion to own you as opposed to being “a self-possessed individual having a manageable emotion”. If you’re stuck or find anger is your comfortable (and maybe even enjoyable) “go-to” emotion, ask yourself, "Where is my anger coming from?" “Is my anger coming from fear, an unjust situation, or my ego and pride or unresolved hurts and resentments?” “How can this anger help me?” “How is this anger hindering me?”
The root of anger
Anger is usually masking another emotion, says Shayne Hughes, in the HuffPost article dated December 7, 2017, “Vulnerability: The Counterintuitive Antidote to Anger.”
It is a coping mechanism, a sign that something that matters to us is not as we want it to be -- and we feel powerless to change it. This last point is crucial. If we believed we could effectively change the situation, we already would have and wouldn't feel such intense frustration.
We choose (unconsciously) to get angry because the powerful feelings of anger are less painful and uncomfortable than the more raw emotions beneath them. Feelings of powerlessness, inadequacy, shame and failure are common instigators of anger, and avoiding them helps me feel invulnerable, in control, and numb to what is hurting me in that moment.
Your invitation to listen
The more time and energy you spend listening to the voice of God - within yourself, in others, and in the many ways God is speaking to you - the more you’ll be able to honor your anger and discern whether it’s the voice of God or the voice of your ego. Are you stuck and using it as an excuse to say hurtful things? Or are you being called to speak out and make change in an unjust situation at home, work, or within government, education, or religious institutions? These questions require serious and honest discernment. But with time, work, and maybe some help from a counselor or spiritual director, you can dig into your anger and uncover your call to grow, your call to serve, and your call to love. And that’s where you’ll find your peace. (See… I told you I’d eventually get to the peaceful part…)
God of passionate life, who sends the sparks, who lights the inner blaze and tends the flame, fill us with your radiance. Enkindle us with your love. Touch us with your goodness so that we will be the kindling of your generous compassion. May the truth we seek and accept shine through all we are and do. God of passionate life, stir up the embers of our joy. Amen.
By Joyce Rupp, “May I Have This Dance?”
Let’s talk more about this in my online retreat
I’ll be talking a lot more about the different ways God speaks to us and our call to respond in our upcoming online retreat, and day retreat, “What if you began to say YES: A look at the many ways God speaks to us and our call to respond.” I hope you’ll join me.
I’d love to hear if what you thought of this reflection. Did it make you uncomfortable to think about anger? How is this reflection urging you to listen to your anger more?
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