Hey, Anger: Are You My BFF?
Mar 18, 2018 05:10AM
By Bonnie Lyn Smith
Relaxed. Coffee in hand.
A comfortable heart-to-heart with a very dear (and emotionally safe) person.
No expectations. Just sharing our thoughts together.
Doesn’t that sound so lovely? We may as well add some calming lavender essential oil in a diffuser, a dog to cuddle with, a warm blanket, a cozy fire in the fireplace.
Seriously, I was at my calmest.
But then that same painful topic came up again: the trigger. You know what I mean, right? The one where a deep gash healed over but the skin that covered it is thin and crackly? After spending two years praying, crying, healing, remembering, forgiving, talking it out, and back to remembering again, I really felt I had cycled through so many times I was in a good place.
And, overall, I am.
But wow, did that volcano of past emotion rumble only a few times before spewing it out. I had no idea it still boiled under the surface. I thought it was quiet—well, mostly.
I think we were both surprised that going back to that space in my head set sparks flying across the room again. I was back to fight-or-flight. Abandonment. This time, remembering was a piercing jab. How does that happen? How does our peace fly out the window like that?Here’s what James, the brother of Jesus, said in the Bible:
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
Okay, James, that’s awesome. It’s true that anger does not produce righteousness, but what about anger from wreckage someone dumped all over you? What about the shrapnel of betrayal? How do we ever get over that?
One part that is key in the verse in James is this:
The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.
See the distinction, there? Human anger cannot produce righteousness.
The Apostle Paul told the Ephesians to not sin in their anger. So, anger itself is not wrong. It's the sin it can produce we must be wary of. That is why he instructs us not to let the sun go down on that anger. We all know how if we brew in it, it festers until it swells, capable of spreading and infecting anyone we pass our attitude onto.
The anger must be taken to God, as we ask for help so that the enemy of our souls does not take the opportunity to lead us astray into temptation with that emotion.
As the Apostle Paul, points out, our mouths are the first place the anger spills out. He urges the importance of self-control.Ephesians 4:26-32
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you [emphases mine].
By doing so, and calling on God for help, we have the power to put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. That sounds like taking our thoughts captive and stopping the destructive power of anger in its tracks.2 Corinthians 10:5
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ….
The call to guard our tongues is certainly not new in the New Testament. Proverbs warns us not to “give full vent.” I don’t know about you, but I am guilty of many a vent session with a trusted friend or two when I am struggling with anger. Processing with godly counsel is one thing. It is good for us to have accountability with other believers in Christ. What we should not do is respond in the moment with all the anger we could possibly unleash on the person or situation we are frustrated by.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
So, what about this anger that rose up from the depths of my soul and surprised me after several years of healing? Am I, as this passage in Ecclesiastes points out, someone with anger lodged in my heart? Am I a fool?
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools.
What I do know is this:
1. When anger surfaces, we must submit it to God, taking our thoughts captive and asking Him to show us where it may indicate either a lack of forgiveness or residual bitterness. Bitterness can spread like a weed and affect many people.
See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled….
2. Anger takes up space in our minds, hearts, and souls, and that leaves little real estate for the presence of God. Anger makes our temple of the Holy Spirit messy and unwelcoming.
1 Corinthians 6:19
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,
3. Anger, even righteous anger, needs to be tamed and controlled, put under the yoke of Christ. If we come to Him in humility, He will lift us up.
1 Peter 5:6
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you….
4. God sees the cause of our anger and handles all justice. We are not invisible or unimportant to Him. His anger can be trusted because it is always righteous.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord."
5. Anger leads to bitterness, which can lead to hate, which can take us down a dangerous path where in our sin nature, we are capable of great harm. Knowing this about us, John offers a strong warning.
1 John 3:15
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
If, like me, anger has caught you by surprise by showing up at the table without an invitation, be sure to do the following:
- Humble yourself before God.
- Surrender that anger to God.
- Ask Him if there is anything He needs to show you regarding the source and any unforgiveness in your heart.
- Cry out for help in how to take all anger captive and put it under His yoke.
- Call out for self-control so you don’t sin.
- Tell Him you trust Him for the final outcome.
- Continue to pray.
- If you need to, process with someone who will spiritually hold you accountable and/or a Christian therapist to help you work through anger with deeper roots.
Anger is a normal emotion and, in and of itself, not sinful. But the potential for us to do harm with our unchecked hearts of flesh is very real. We must call on God to use those emotions to shape and grow us to be more like Him.
*All verses are ESV unless otherwise noted.
Author Bonnie Lyn Smith writes about mental health advocacy, special education, faith in the valleys of life, drawing healthy boundaries, relational healing, renewing our minds, walking with a Holy God, and much ado about grace. Join the conversation at Espressos of Faith.
She is the author of Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day and the founder and editor-in-chief of Ground Truth Press, a book publishing company.