By Rob Furlong
I used to think the best way to deal with my anger was to push it down deep inside of me where it had no chance of escaping, say nothing at all and give the appearance of being calm and collected.
I learned painfully, however, that this is just as unhealthy a behaviour as expressing anger inappropriately.
“Be angry, and yet do not sin,” the Apostle Paul tells the Ephesians.
“That is easier said than done!” I hear you say. “I mean, is it reasonable to think you can express anger without hurting people or damaging relationships?”
Paul certainly believed it was.
Think carefully about what he is saying.
Firstly, it is ok to express anger.
Anger is a valid emotion, and we should not avoid it. Failing to feel or even acknowledge our anger only leads to greater personal frustration and emotional unhealth.
Peter Scazzero put it this way:
“To feel is to be human. To minimise or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers of God. To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well.”
John Grisham highlights the danger of failing to feel and acknowledge anger in his recent novel, The Judge’s List. Although a work of fiction, it tells the story of a successful Judge who outwardly was a pillar of society, but inwardly was a raging storm. Over several years, he systematically hunted down anyone who had slighted him and then murdered them. Instead of learning how to deal with his anger in a mature way, he fell into extremely unhealthy behaviour.
We can easily conclude that this is just a book, but the reason Grisham’s story hits home is because it accurately mirrors what we see happening in our own communities. Just watch the Six O’clock News if you need convincing on this point.
Secondly, anger is to be expressed in healthy ways.
What are unhealthy expressions of anger? Paul made a list:
Talking behind a person’s back to defame them.
Holding on to grudges.
Using foul language.
Using abusive put downs – verbal abuse.
Telling lies about someone or slandering them.
Any speech which is vicious in character and brings grief to another.
It’s not a comprehensive list, but it’s a good place to start.
Thankfully, such behaviours can be put aside and replaced with positive attitudes and expressions of anger:
Acknowledge to yourself that you are angry with the person or the situation and explore the reason or reasons for your anger.
Tell the other person you are angry! Respectfully!
I have found it helpful to say something like, “I am really angry with what you just did or what happened, but I want to work it through with you.” There may even be times where you express a little “heat” about it – that is ok – so long as you don’t cross the line into the unhealthy behaviours listed above. If you are struggling with this thought, think about Jesus overturning tables in the Temple and using a whip of cords in the process. Something tells me this was not a casual stroll through a park on a Sunday afternoon, but a healthy display of anger.
Be encouraged as you read this. It’s ok to be angry. It is a valid emotion.
The challenge for all of us is to learn to express it in healthy ways!
Paul’s list of healthy and unhealthy expressions of anger is found in Ephesians 4:25-32. Read this through thoughtfully and try to identify the negative behaviours you are most prone to when angry. If you are brave enough, speak with a person you trust and who will be honest in helping you identify what they are. Then bring your behaviours to God and ask Him to help you change them.●
By Rob Furlong