“It’s all right.” Sandy had his arms about me. “You have to go all the way through your feelings before you can come out on the other side. But don’t stay where you are, Polly. Move on.”
– Madeleine L’Engle, in A House Like A Lotus
Those words were encouragement and freedom when I read them (again) the other day.
In Madeleine L’Engle’s beautifully written tale of love and friendship and coming of age, Polly O’Keefe finds herself far from home – literally and figuratively – and processing the events that led her uncle Sandy to offer those words of wisdom.
Uncle Sandy was right. We have to go all the way through our feelings before we can come out on the other side. But oh, Church – we are so bad at this sometimes, aren’t we? We don’t mind about going through emotions we consider positive. We’ll take as much joy and happiness as we can get, but we don’t do quite so well living with emotions we don’t value as much.
Like sorrow, and sadness – and anger.
Oh, anger… Christians can get so weird about anger.
I’ve written before about anger being a secondary emotion, and that can be true. Anger will often show up to protect us, to keep us from experiencing the full depth of the hurt or fear we are actually feeling until we’re ready to deal with it. Being “secondary” doesn’t make it less real in the moment; it’s just not everything we’re feeling, and once we’ve gone through it to the other side, we get to the deeper stuff – the hurt or the fear that caused it – and then we go through that. And it’s good and right and healthy… except for when we don’t actually go all the way through and get stuck in one of those emotions indefinitely, or when we don’t go through all the way through them properly at all.
Somewhere along the line, a lot of us picked up the idea that anger is bad, that it’s something we’re not “supposed” to feel. Maybe it’s because (we think) we know it’s “secondary” and therefore discount it. Or maybe it’s because of all 268 references to anger in the Bible, the overwhelming majority relate to God being angry, and there are negative consequences that resulted for the people with whom He was angry (as in, people died). I don’t know. I suspect it’s a little bit of both, with a dash of normative culture thrown in for good measure.
But here’s the thing: while the Bible talks freely about God’s anger and wrath, it also says (at least nine times) that God is slow to anger, and makes it very clear why God gets mad. Ultimately, the things that really make God mad are injustice, idol worship, and sin.
Our anger isn’t always just. We’re human, and because of that, we will inevitably get mad over things that really aren’t worth that much energy. We will say the wrong things, we will do the wrong things, we will yell and cry and hurt each other (sometimes on purpose), and in those moments we need grace, and we need to repent of our anger – not because anger is wrong in and of itself, but because in some instances our anger is not just; we’ve gone through it the wrong way and behaved badly as a result, and repentance is the justice those scenarios require.
But sometimes our anger is just, and when we’ve done the soul work we need to, we can lean into it fairly, and without fear.
There are things worth being mad about, Church.
There are things worth being mad about, Church.
But what we do with that anger matters.
We have to go all the way through it. And most of the time that “going through” will lead us to prayer, and sometimes it will lead us to action. Some of us are going to take our anger to God and watch Him transform it into love. We will cross oceans and city blocks and hallways in our offices to tell people there’s a better way than the one they’re walking now. And some of us are going to hit our knees and do the hard work of filling the censer written about in Revelation 8 with our prayers, until an angel hurls God’s answer down to earth and justice reigns once more.
Some of us are going to have to learn to pray all over again.
We’re not comfortable with prayers like David’s in Psalm 54. He so matter-of-factly asks God to destroy his enemies. David expects vindication, and it’s clear what he thinks that means. But there’s something else that David also makes clear, as you read through all the psalms: justice ultimately belongs to the Lord. And what form that takes is up to Him, not us.
That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t fight for justice. It simply means we need to look for how He’s bringing it,and work with Him towards it.
Anger isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s wrong to let it rule us, to allow ourselves to get stuck in it too long, to move through it the wrong way, and to react out of it poorly. But most of the time, anger is simply there to tell us something.
Stuffing it, ignoring it, or pretending it’s not there (until we explode with it) isn’t healthy. What we really need to do is learn how to sit with our anger: to not rush through it, but actually allow ourselves to feel it, to understand it, to lean into it, and to figure out how to move through it with Him.What if we stopped being afraid of our anger, and learned to listen to it instead? Click To Tweet
(This post is part of a Synchroblog link-up. Here’s a list of other bloggers who are writing about anger this month; be sure to check out their posts!)
Simple Felicity is, at its heart, a blog based on the unshakeable belief that happiness really isn't all that complicated. Sometimes finding it can be - but happiness itself is pretty simple, and it's often found in the simplest of things: good food, good books, and good company. So those are the things I write about, along with a few other things that really matter to me, including faith and feminism.
A bit about me: My name is Happy. I have an amazing talent for misplacing my keys, a deep appreciation for whomever looked at the coffee bean and thought, "Hey, I wonder what would happen if I roasted this?", and road trips to Michigan are pretty much my favorite.
Contact me anytime at simplefelicity7 (at) gmail (dot) com! I'd love to hear from you.
"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it." —Helen Keller via @momentumdash
"Watch carefully the magic that occurs when you give a person just enough comfort to be themselves." —Atticus via @momentumdash
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