It was probably years in the making.
Like lava bubbling in deep layers underneath the surface. Slowly filling the cracks….. a build-up of unmet expectations, resentment, and frustrations. Feelings suppressed, partly fueled by a strong desire to please and (ironically enough) to “keep the peace”.
Unlike the culture I currently find myself in, my experience wasn’t a matter of “saving face”. I simply learned the art of ignoring irritations from a very young age. I discovered that some people (like an annoying little brother) were merely looking for a reaction. So, if you could keep a straight face long enough, they would go away and bother someone else.
This lasted well through my childhood. I was surrounded by family and friends who either grew silent or wore their emotions on their sleeves.
Anger was totally repressed or dealt with instantly.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my love for sports and writing gave me at least two positive outlets for my bottled-up emotions. At the end of my second year in university, I started covering longer and longer distances cycling and running. I became addicted to endorphins and the thrill of adventure that came with it. At the same time, I also became an expert at running away from the first sign of conflict in a relationship.
In my early working years, I recall a colleague saying: “If you ever feel so angry that you are about to scream at someone, please come and call me first. I would like to see it.” Boy, would she like a front row seat in my life at the moment!
The first clear signs of anger came with marriage.
It’s kind of a long story (given the time frame), but basically we knew each other less than five months when we said, “I do”. We drove off into the sunset with wedding gifts piled atop our other belongings and moved to a neighboring African country for our honeymoon. The following week, I started a new job in a new country.
At this point I played the classic “blame game” whenever I couldn’t manage to control my emotions like I was used to. I blamed the circumstances, I blamed my hubby, and I even blamed the pill for messing with my hormones.
Slowly but surely the triggers piled up. Three more international moves, a pregnancy, and a hard season in marriage….constant heat, humidity, and finally losing the little brother I credited with testing and teaching me patience.
But it was motherhood that broke through the final layers of repressed emotions.
Giving birth is like an earthquake experience: it cracks open rocky ground in your spirit to reveal all kind of emotions you never even knew existed.
Perhaps I always suspected the positive feelings were always there, waiting to vent themselves at the right occasion: like a deep love for others that can burn so deep to melt the hardest heart at the core; or the ecstatic joy that erupts from hearing a baby laugh for the first time.
But I was surprised by the anger. Surprised how hard it would be to keep myself from exploding when the volcano found a place and time to vent itself. I was surprised by the daily outbursts despite my best intentions to maintain control.
Being out of control myself, I had no idea how difficult it would be to teach little people how to deal with big emotions…. Probably because I never truly learned how to deal with my own.
What can you do?
When running away is not an option, when all that you know to do well is stripped away for a season, when you find yourself lacking and longing? When those around you appear to have mastered appearances and self-control, when you only view the bright sides of the lives of those you know on social media? What can you do?
It’s very tempting to think that you are the only one struggling. Of course this only adds to the frustration, keeping you trapped in the cycle of taking out your anger on those you love most behind closed doors. In a desperate attempt not to become a monster, the only alternatives seem to be to ignore the bad behavior, to numb oneself, to justify the reaction, or to stuff it back inside.
When I searched for an often-quoted scripture on “anger” I was a little surprised by the context: “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbor: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: Neither give place to the devil.” [Ephesians 4:26-27]
Not only does it give me permission to experience the emotion, but also the freedom to confess that the struggle is real.
As long as I recognize it, deal with the issue at hand, and don’t allow the anger to remain to put out roots overnight, I won’t give place to the devil to claim a victory.
And when I allow myself to be angry, I find that I’m mostly humbled by it. Perhaps the emotion of anger was meant to be a gift from God to remind me each day of how much I need Him and His grace to stand.
All I know is that I’ve never been so fully aware of just how new his mercies are every morning as I’ve been since I read those words. I’ve never been so grateful that every time I fail or fall, I get to land in the safety of One whose love never fails.
I can only hope and pray for a “renewed mind” because becoming more like him (and less like me) is the only hope I have of moving in the direction of being “slow to anger”. But if and when the anger breaks forth, I know that it needs to be dealt with to restore relationship, to repent, and to shut the door to sin lest we give an opportunity to our adversary, the devil, to accuse us before the Judge and we be found guilty.
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