All families are weird. We often don’t realize just how weird until after we leave home and get a little distance from them. But then we see it, and wonder how we hadn’t noticed it before. My family was weird in lots of ways ~ but then, mine was a pastor’s family, so some manner of weird was pretty much guaranteed.
Take anger, for example. Anger wasn’t allowed in my family. Well, that’s not quite true. Dad could get angry. He was allowed. But none of us kids could. At least, not openly.
I remember one time when I was around 7 or 8 I got so angry at my parents that I stormed to my room and slammed the door shut. Not quite understanding how sound waves worked at the time, I proceeded to yell and stomp and give my parents a piece of my mind (from behind that closed door). Some time later I learned that my parents had heard every word of my tirade, and apparently found the whole episode laugh-out-loud funny…which was really confusing to me, because I knew if I had so much as whispered to their faces any of the things I yelled from behind that door, I would have found myself neck deep in a steaming vat of trouble. So how did the presence of a closed door make forbidden behavior suddenly permissible, and even funny?
Like I said. Weird.
The Christian family is weird when it comes to anger, too (and by “Christian family,” I mean all us nuts who follow Jesus). We have this really angst-ridden relationship with anger. We know, technically, it’s not a sin to be angry, but in our everyday relationships, we pretty much treat it like it is. Maybe we think God misclassified it? Or maybe we think it’s okay to be angry so long as you don’t act angry? Regardless, we don’t like anger. We think we shouldn’t be angry. We think you shouldn’t be angry. Anger is bad. Not sin, maybe, but still bad. (Not sure how we pull that one off.) Anger is immature. Hurtful. UnChristlike.
Wait, what?! UnChristlike?
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.” ~ John 2:13-17
That’s not the only time Jesus got angry, either. He was angry with the Pharisees (Mark 3:1-5), and angry with Peter (Matthew 16:21-23). He even described himself as an angry master in the parables he taught (Luke 14:16-24). And you definitely don’t have to go far into the Old Testament to find an angry God.
But that’s God, we say. God’s anger is righteous anger.
So Dad can be angry, but the kids aren’t allowed?
Anger is an emotion. Like joy or sorrow or peace or any of the others. And every one of them is healthy and essential to a rich, full life. Is anger dangerous? Yes. But here’s the thing: Anger is dangerous because it’s supposed to be dangerous. It needs to be dangerous.
Here’s what I mean: Like all emotions, anger serves a specific function in our lives. In the case of anger, its function is to establish healthy boundaries. If a stranger walks up and tries to touch you in an inappropriate way, anger is the proper response. The stranger has violated a boundary of yours, and you need your anger in that moment to call out the offense and re-establish the boundary. If someone threatens your kids, you should get angry about that. If someone breaks into your home, anger is the healthy response to that violation.
But what about when someone steps on your feelings? Is it okay to get angry about that? Yes! It’s a violation, just like any other.
In my coaching work, I find that people who have trouble letting themselves get angry also struggle with keeping healthy boundaries in their lives and relationships. See the connection? It takes a certain amount of anger to say “No!” to things you don’t want in your life, and to keep that boundary strong.
Anger is also closely tied to passion. When a client is searching for his purpose in life, one of the key questions I’ll ask is, “When really ticks you off?” Our sense of justice, that inner voice that screams, “This must not be allowed to continue!” is the voice of our passion. It’s very often an angry voice, and rightly so.
So what happens to the person who never lets herself be angry? She often unintentionally locks away her passion as well.
Never letting yourself get angry is as unhealthy as never letting yourself laugh, or cry. To be angry is part of what it is to be human. It’s not a sin. It’s what you do with your anger that makes it either good or bad.
Where do you hide your anger? What do you fear would happen if you let yourself get angry? What if you engaged your anger as an ally rather than an enemy? What then?