Anger Integrated

I am angry.

I am nervous just writing that out and the thought of posting it online where the world could see it is scary. In my experience anger is not an emotion that Christians are allowed to feel and admit freely. We can be frustrated, sure, and angry in snapshots but we are encouraged to get over anger as quickly as possible.

Forgive and Forget.

Bitter or Better.

Reconcile.

I am a poster child for the good Christian girl and my anger is not expressed in outbursts, instead it is an insidious festering within me. Keep quiet. Don’t say anything you’ll regret. Trust God. But I have experienced humiliation, loss, betrayal and each unresolved issue has built up as I have squelched the anger again and again.

There is a lot of power and energy behind this anger. Just as joy bubbles up into laughter, anger boils up to temper, it has a determination all its own to be seen and heard and known. Not acknowledging its existence only harnesses its energy all the more, accumulating in my chest and gut. I love the image of Jesus overthrowing tables outside the synagogue. He was angry too and I wonder if people were worried that he was unhinged and unholy as he made a whip from cords and drove them out of the temple.

This expression of anger makes me curious. Is there a place in faith for my anger too?

I think that I have lived my life believing that righteous anger is simply unexpressed anger but, due to the destructive nature of pent up anger on my body, I am beginning to see that I’ve been living under a false belief system. Indeed, maybe the lack of expression in itself is sinful.

James 1:20 states that, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” There is no integrity, virtue or justice in the anger that man produces. But think for a second on the opposite. If the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God, then could it be said that the anger of God produces the righteousness of God? If this is true, then could our anger be a valuable asset to the church and the kingdom of God?

My husband is a collegiate athlete and played water polo in Southern California for years. He was also known to have a temper, especially in high school, and during water polo games (which are quite violent under the water), anger would overwhelm him. In this anger, he would throw the water polo ball toward the goal with inaccurate aim. His coach, a lovely Croatian man who would throw a ball at your head to get your attention, encouraged my husband often to “put his anger in his legs.” Listening to the direction of his coach he learned to channel this anger. He could now get higher up in the water and his aim became more precise as the controlled energy honed his skill. In the middle of these games, it wasn’t important for him to let the anger go and extend grace, it was about harnessing angry energy to improve purpose and proficiency and it made my husband a better player and teammate.

Anger is an emotion that we all feel. More often than not we have every right to be angry, this life is filled with injustice and sin and each of us has those stories of hurt. Anger will not be brushed aside, it will always rear its lovely head, so the question is not, how do we get rid of it but what should be done with it?

Put your anger in your legs.

We’ve all seen how the anger of man destroys. It destroys people and bodies and unity. It’s even been said that depression is simply anger turned inwards, it is insidious and destructive when misused.

Godly anger, on the other hand, builds the body of Jesus Christ and stimulates maturity. It builds us personally and it builds those around us. I believe anger can have purpose. It can be a driver that motivates us to empower the body of Christ. It compels us to seek justice, it compels us to show mercy, anger can take us down paths that we never thought we could go.

I can’t help but wonder if it is anger that has driven social change throughout history. Anger at racism, anger at domestic violence, anger at poverty, anger at the abuse of power. While these are all grandiose examples of useful anger I can see the same principle is true in my own life, just on a smaller scale. Anger at disobedience, anger at lying, anger at extortion, anger at team dysfunction, anger at religious legalism, anger at loneliness. The list could go on.

I’m through wasting energy trying to repress anger because anger is simply an emotion that demands expression. So, as I deal with my own anger I ask myself a simple question, “does this build, or does this destroy?” and I am learning to put my anger in my legs. To seek God, asking for wisdom, in how he wants to utilize this energy for the good of the gospel and I’m finding great freedom and wholeness in the integration of anger into my faith. I’m letting go of the fear that anger is always destructive, embracing the fact that there is so much grace in God and an abundance of use in the emotions he gives us. A use that is holy and good.

Is there a place for anger in your faith? Have you seen God use anger to build up the body of Christ?

Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

8 Comments

  1. Sarah Hilkemann November 4, 2018

    Joy, thank you so much for sharing this post! I’ve never thought about anger this way and this is very timely as a situation from my past that caused great hurt has been stirring a lot of anger lately. I really appreciate your honesty and insight, and will definitely be chewing on these thoughts and questions for awhile. 🙂

    1. Joy Smalley November 5, 2018

      Thank you, Sarah! I will be praying that God gives you wisdom in how the anger ought to be expressed and the courage and grace to see it through.

  2. Kristin Tillotson November 4, 2018

    ^ What Sarah said. 🙂 I too love the picture of Jesus, demonstrating His anger in the temple. I feel a similar passion well up within me towards injustice, and I’m just recently finding the freedom to let those deep emotions motivate me towards better action and understanding of the heart of God. Thank you for raising a topic that I think is so important to give greater thought to in our Christian lives!

    1. Joy Smalley November 5, 2018

      Kristin, what a gift God has given you in your passion against injustice. I pray you feel these emotions deeply and are motivated to act when God asks you to in ways you may never have imagined possible.

  3. Melissa Sandford November 5, 2018

    Yes! This is so good!! I sure love you, Joy. Thank you for writing this 💜

    1. Joy Smalley November 5, 2018

      Hello, my friend, I love you too.

  4. Bayta Schwarz November 5, 2018

    Thank you so much for this, Joy! There is a lot to chew on here… It reminded me of a number of occasions when I was told I just needed to “change my attitude”. I had been wronged but there seemed to be no space for being angry about that, no one to help me learn how to use that anger to build not destroy. And like you said, the anger will come out. In my experience, often in places that actually have nothing to do with the underlying situation. THANK YOU for your courage in starting this conversation!

    1. Joy Smalley November 5, 2018

      Thank you, Bayta! I agree, when we don’t allow ourselves the space and grace to feel all of our emotions they can come out in very damaging ways and the root of the actions can be hard to trace. I’ve also heard the message, ‘change your attitude’, and it isn’t often helpful when the core emotions haven’t been given their due.

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