When Anger Flares

Confession: I like to get really angry and burst out in harsh words and accusations. There. I said it. Not the kind of thing a small group leader at church is expected to say, but it’s real. It may sound peculiar to you, so let me explain.

When a person (me) (or you) is emotional, discouraged, or worried, those emotions tend to wrap around us like vines, tying us up in knots and making us feel weak and helpless. We don’t really like feeling weak. Anger on the other hand feels powerful. We feel dominant, in control, and like we are actually dong something that will cause a reaction and maybe make an impact in our trying situation. Instead of wallowing in our fear and doubts with nothing happening, we humans are prone to jump anger. It makes us feel better… or at least like we are in control.

Lashing out in anger also gives us a way to release our pent up frustrations similar to the way a safety valve on a large piece of industrial equipment vents off built up steam pressure to preserve the machinery. And while that may feel good in the moment to us, the people receiving our fury have feelings that are negatively affected. Machinery has the advantage here, that piece of equipment feeling the steam vented off has no feelings.

When we feel trapped in our negative emotions it seems our only two choices are either to wallow in our desperate feelings or to blow up and wound others with our angry words. We often choose self-preservation over benevolent actions in these situations.

But there is a third option. We can turn to the Father and pour out our hearts to Him, digging into His word for comfort and direction and a solution. We can fall to our knees and pray, intimately sharing with Him the depth of our despair (which of course He already knows, but it is good for us to express). We can grasp the handholds of scripture that keep us from slipping into either worry or anger, and hold onto those passages as lifelines to get us through the whiteout we seem lost in. Praying those scriptures, repeating them to ourselves minute by minute during our struggle will bring sanity and calm and eventually hope.

So if you find yourself in the blazing heat of an emotional conflagration, if anger sizzles just beneath the surface and you fear it will flare into a wildfire in a heartbeat, step away. God outside, to your room, your office, or your car. Cry out to God. Pour out your anger, fear and the depths of how your feel misunderstood, unloved, and so alone. Grab hold of a scripture from your Bible of your phone – the Word is never out of our reach these days. Hang onto these lifelines of prayer and the Word. The father will get you through. You don’t have to choose anger.

“For as churning cream produces butter, and as twisting the nose produces blood, so stirring up anger produces strife.” Proverbs 30:33

“Do not be quickly provoked in your spirit, for anger resides in the lap of fools.” Ecclesiastes 7:9

What Does a “Christian” Marriage Look Like?

Part 5 – How to Fight the Good Fight

I do not fight fair. I get angry. I accuse. I threaten. I say “I hate you.” I twist words, and remind my husband of his previous “failures” like this one. I’m really a mean person. I tell you all this to be transparent, all the while holding my breath that I’m not the only one, and that you will give me grace.

The really bad thing is this – my husband is the kindest, gentlest man in the world. He is patient, considerate, and loves me dearly. Our first few years of marriage he wouldn’t even fuss with me. He’d just sit there and take it. But over time I trained him to be defensive and return harshness for harshness. Now we can have a really “good” fuss if we allow ourselves to, and abandon all self-control and godliness.

anger-18615_1280.jpgThat’s what this real Christian marriage looks like.

Sad, isn’t it?

He and I are each flawed, sinful, selfish human beings.

The really good thing is this. My husband and I are both Christ-followers. And Christ never touches anything and leaves it the way it was. He makes all things new! There is hope for our marriage and for yours! We have seen this newness come and this hope take over throughout our marriage. So maybe you can learn from our mistakes and things we have absorbed through the years.

Within the first few years of marriage my husband’s company required all their employees to go through a course on handling conflict. My husband came home from the conference and we got into a fuss that very night because he told me I wasn’t fighting the right way! Yes, you understood correctly! We started with one argument which turned into a fight over how to fight! We learned this important habit that we have developed over the years:

  • Argue using “I” statements, not “you” statements. This helps us to “fight fair.” “You” statements are accusatory. “I” statements take responsibility for how we feel and for our reactions. Quite often it is the reaction, not the action, that starts one of our arguments. The action might have been done innocently, yet it triggered a negative reaction when it touched on an already inflamed nerve.

For my wise mother-in-law who was a first grade teacher for 30 years we learned this truth:

  • Grab a snack or take a nap or both! Her philosophy was that kids misbehaved because they were either hungry or sleepy. It’s often the same with adults. Everyone understands “hangry” behavior. I can testify we often stop the argument to take a nap and wake up not even remembering what we were angry about.

Scripture has given us a wise instruction on fighting fair. It tells us:

  • Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Ephesians 4:25-27 ESV reveals several important things to us. Here’s the whole section of scripture:

“Having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor [or husband – our closest neighbor], for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”

  1. Don’t lie, tell the truth. If it hurts your feelings, just say so. If you sinned, just say so. If you just want to be mad, just say so. …
  2. We are part of one body – the church. And one body – husband and wife (the two shall become one, Matthew 19:5). So why in the world would we injure our own body?
  3. “Be angry and do not sin!” It’s ok to be angry at times. It’s the way we do it that can be wrong.
  4. “…Do not sin!” A command. Enough said. We all know how to disagree correctly, and we know when it turns into sin. We can do it correctly with certain people at certain times, which goes to show, it’s our choice. We are giving ourselves the selfish freedom to react in anger.
  5. The word for that angry means “being exasperated with.” But in the following phrase we are told not to let the sun go down on our anger – and that is a totally different word. It is the word meaning “wrath or rage”! So… its normal to get exasperated/angry with someone, but resolve it and don’t go to bed in a rage.
  • Do everything without grumbling or arguing. Quit grumbling. Quit arguing. Just do it. Apply the Thumper Rule from Bambi: If you cannot say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” The entire scripture is as follows:

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” Philippians 2:14-16

Our witness to the world will be greater as we live out scripture and give up our grumbling and arguing.

  • Last but not least. It all goes back to part 1 Philippians 2:3-4 – Unselfishness.

Now I’m praying that you and your spouse will grow and mature and be far more fair fighters than my husband and I are. May our mistakes prevent you from making some of them. May our experiences be redeemed through using them to teach and encourage others around us.