Either asking me or those closest to me, people often wonder if I ever get angry. I usually respond by repeating a line from the old T.V. show The Incredible Hulk: “You won’t like me when I’m angry.” While kind of cool and mysterious, it’s also an ashamedly apt descriptor of what people feel when I’m angry. While I have yet to meet anyone whom I like when they are angry, I despise myself in those moments because the worst part of who I am comes out.
The truth is that I don’t know how to deal with my anger which is why so few people have witnessed me in that emotion, and why I don’t often express it. And just like any emotion, if it’s not utilized, it can be destructive when it rears its head. On those rare occasions when I do pop the top on my bottled up anger, it all comes out. I’m like a bottle of Coke and a Mentos has just been dropped in. Everything that has been making me angry since the last explosion comes raging out of my mouth, and God help the people who are around me in that moment.
I usually start with the immediate thing that set off the chain reaction and in an extended rant, I use every foul adjective I can come up with to describe it all. And then the stuff that’s been hiding comes spewing out: that thing that happened yesterday; that person that cut me off in traffic last week; the time a fellow student said something ridiculous in class. I don’t always know where this stuff is coming from and am often surprised by all the hidden history that exudes from my mouth. When all is said and done and I’m exhausted – mentally and emotionally – I put the cap back on the bottle and go on with my life.
I’m not proud of the things that I say when this happens, and I’m definitely not proud that I don’t have a better handle on this emotion. I often wonder if I don’t express my anger because I don’t want to hurt other people’s feelings or if I bottle it up because anger isn’t an attractive personality trait. I wonder if anger is ‘Christian’ (whatever that means) or if I hold it back because I know how ugly I get and don’t want to subject others to my tirades.
If I’m to be wholly ‘me’ and all that I am, I have to recognize that anger is part of me. I think it’s part of all of us – it’s a God-given emotion. But it’s how we deal with it, how we act it out, how we use it that makes it either ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Anger can be a good thing and is a valid emotion that can produce good and useful outcomes: MLK and civil rights, Gandhi and Indian Independence, the 1968 Prague Spring.
I’m reminded of Ephesians 4:25-26: “So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…” We are given the opportunity to be angry, though it is followed by one condition – do not sin. We should always speak the truth with whomever we are with, and we can be angry (if warranted), but we shouldn’t sin in the process.
In my anger I sin because I don’t speak truthfully to my neighbor. I don’t voice my anger at what they are doing and allow the offense to continue. In my anger I sin because I direct my anger at the person and not at the content which made me angry: You’re making me angry! vs. Your action is making me angry.
I think it’s important to understand this small distinction because it keeps anger from being hurtful: be angry at the offense, not the offender. Be angry at the systems, not at those people in power. Be angry at the issue, not those around it. We can be angry at what we do to one other, and it should be called out and resolved, but we should cover those offenses with love after they’ve been dealt with.
In no way am I saying that this is easy. In no way am I saying that I’m going to do this correctly from here on out. But I’m going to try. I’m going to call out what angers me, tell those around the situation that it angers me, and I’m going to direct my energy toward fixing it. And I’m going to love…as much as I can, I’m going to love.
much love. sheth.