It took a brave friend to call me out, hissing and spitting as I was. I’d been fuming for days, alert for any opportunity to rehearse the multiple reasons for my rage. My friend had heard an earful, and an earful more, as I vented. She listened; and for a while I believed the slippery adage that I was “getting it out of my system.”
She called me later that night, and deflated my huff in one sentence. “You must be hurting very badly to be as angry as you are,” she said, “but you need to get your anger under control because you’re doing damage.” Softer, she asked, “So what’s really going on?”
And of course, she was right. I was spewing anger: a masked response that felt so much more powerful and in-control than the incapacitating disappointment and hurt that lay beneath.
It felt too vulnerable to grieve the disappointment. It was too painful to name the hurt, or accept the heartbreaking fact that I couldn’t fix it. But anger? Anger I could do. Anger I could show without feeling like I was naked in public. Hear me roar, I said.
Hear me roar. But do not under any circumstances see me cry.
I dripped big tears over the pot I was stirring as my friend spoke into the phone, unmasked and naked in my hurt. She was right to call me out in my anger, and so wise to see that the size of my rage was directly proportional to the tenderness of the hurt that lay beneath anger’s shell.
* * *
Of course, there is a place for anger. Jesus got angry: a whip-wielding white-hot anger directed at those who had debased his Father’s house, mercenaries rather than the ministers they ought to have been. The whole of Galatians is something of a sustained holy rant, if I think about it.
But I think very little of my anger meets the criteria of righteousness. My anger—like my jealousy—is often a quick draw response to something I haven’t had to the courage to admit yet. And anger, with all its vituperative venom, is an easy veneer for the deeper and more vulnerable emotions. I’d rather be angry than afraid. I’d rather be angry than wronged. I’d rather be angry than grieve.
And yet it is that exact anger—the emotion I rely on as a force field against life’s hurts—which also keeps me imprisoned. For who will brave coming near to speak hope while I’m raging? And who will advocate for me when I appear to be doing a great job lashing out myself? And who will sit with me in silence and give comfort—who would even know that was what I really needed?—when all they hear is shouting?
* * *
These days, I listen differently when people shout. As a recovering Temper-Tantrum-Thrower, I know only too well that angry people are often hurting people, doing what they can to feel strong when they are most keenly aware of their weakness.
Is there insecurity behind their insult? Is there a terrible fear of abandonment fueling the one who slams the door? Are they wild with anger because they’re terrified you’ll leave and they’re testing your limits? Is what looks like fury really fear’s flip-side? I remember well how, having feared I’d lost my child at the fairground, yelled at him for walking away, my shouting clouding out the desperate relief and gratitude at having found him.
More and more, I’m learning love doesn’t just excuse or walk away from anger. Love looks anger square in the eye and says, “I’m paying attention. I see you. Now let’s talk about what’s really wrong.”