by Afton Rorvik
Anger makes me nervous. I grew up in a family where it frequently spilled over in unpredictable ways. I just wanted to hide. And usually did, often in a book.
I vowed that when I had the opportunity to live on my own and perhaps create a family of my own, anger would not find a welcome. Evil, destructive, no-good anger would not define me.
And then I got married, had kids, and found myself getting angry, sometimes really angry, at all the chaos family life brings. When I exploded at a family member, guilt set in. After all, good Christians don’t get angry, right? They just pray and smile and forgive and swallow what feels uncomfortable.
Some of the messy bits of the Bible, particularly the Book of Job and the Book of Psalms, have helped me do some hard thinking about anger. Both these books contain honest words, some of them spewed in anger.
Psalm 139, for example, starts out with these lovely sentiments: “You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head . . . I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!” (verse 5 and 7) But then, awkwardly, toward the end of the Psalm, we find these words: “O God, if only you would destroy the wicked! Get out of my life, you murderers! (verse 19).
Much to my surprise and relief, God seems able to handle David’s angry outbursts and does not disown him. He responds similarly to Job.
Over the years, I’ve begun to realize that I had it wrong when I thought of anger as evil and wrong. I have begun to understand that God created us with emotions, including anger, for a reason. What if instead of trying to shove anger aside or letting it fly and then wallowing in shame, I could learn to embrace it?
A wise counselor once told me some version of “Anger means something isn’t right.” That phrase has helped me to think of anger as an early warning sign. When my car has a problem, such as needing gas, an indicator light flashes on my dashboard. Anger, I have come to believe, does the same thing—it gives me a visual, auditory signal that something in my life, my relationships, needs addressing.
So if I get angry with a friend (or my husband) about something, I need to pay attention to that feeling rather than trying to squash it and muttering to myself, “I’m sure this person meant well. It probably won’t happen again. I’ll just ignore it.”
I continue to learn that when anger arises, I need to find some time and space to ask myself some questions before I let loose angry words on someone: What does my anger tell me about this relationship? Does hurt lie beneath the anger? Does fear? Jealousy? Does my issue really even involve this person or has a difficult circumstance shortened my fuse? If so, what can I do to address that situation rather than angrily attacking this person?
Once I talk to myself about my anger, I know that then I also need to find a quiet, calm way of talking through things with my friend (or husband). SO challenging! But when it works well, we both begin to shed layers of guilt and frustration and misunderstanding and replace them with layers of honesty and gratitude. We take one step toward each other and toward building a stronger relationship.
Dare I say that I’ve become grateful for the early warning gift of anger?
Afton Rorvik writes about living connected, something that matters deeply to her even as an introvert. In her book Storm Sisters, she talks about the power of friendship in hard times. Afton and her husband John have two adult children and love to walk and hike in Colorado. You can connect with Afton at https://aftonrorvik.com/ or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/LearningtoLiveConnected/