John 6:35, 41-51
I get irrationally angry sometimes over the most silly, trivial things. I was parking the other day. There were only 2 spots left in the little lot. One in front of the other. A car went down the first lane, I went down the second. Now we’d both have the last two spots.
The lady decided to pull through – and take both spots.
I was more angry with her than the situation called for. I broke into tears. I usually cry when I’m angry. And my body tenses up. Sometimes my body shakes as my blood pressure rises. My heart beats fast and I get a sweat. I feel it all over me – do I fight, or do I flee?
It’s like I’m threatened.
I feel threatened and angry. Threatened not by the other person – they bothered me – but threatened by my own body.
My own body is betraying my emotions. It is threatening to make me yell. Threatening to make me cuss. Threatening to — I don’t know. Explode? Roar?
Lose my smile, I think. And lose my calm exterior. And lose my control.
I can’t control my feelings.
I get angry! And then my body reacts, and I can’t control my body. My body betrays my emotion of anger! With one unthinking park job, this woman ripped all this control from me.
I can’t be Christian and be angry, can I? For Jesus in Matthew says, (5:21-22) “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.”
I’m liable to judgment for being angry. And it would have been better to give her a one-finger salute than to have called her a name like You Fool, You Pea-Brain, or You… [ fill in your favorite insulting title that I’m not going to say from the pulpit.]
Even today Paul tells us in scripture to put away our wrath and anger, wrangling and slander, and malice. That these things grieve the Holy Spirit. (Ephesians 4:30-31).
So what sin have I done in my anger by sitting in my car staring at that woman, angry, crying, and asking, “What in the world is wrong with you? Learn to drive, you fool!” Am I going to hell?
Maybe I should have picked up my cross, kept my mouth shut, not gotten emotional, been serene, and kept it all inside. It would be torture. It would be somehow mastering feeling only the emotions I want to feel. I think it would be dying to myself.
I know plenty of Christians who try to live this way, and teach others to live this way.
Bottle that anger up. Better – don’t even feel it in the first place.
That’s real fine and dandy until someone takes your parking spot and you roar in your car.
WHY did I explode inside? Why did I feel so much anger? It happened so fast!
I think because “never be angry” is not possible for ANY human at all.
God gave us anger. God gets angry, a lot, in the Bible. Jesus got angry. Prophets and people got angry. Our church mothers and fathers got angry. Anger is an emotion all complex creatures feel — from the anger of a rat having their food stolen to the anger of God – and everyone and every creature in between – we get angry.
Often, the Bible talks about righteous anger. So maybe Christians ought to only have righteous anger and not selfish anger. I’ve heard this argued, lived, and preached too.
The woman taking my spot wasn’t an affront, an insult, a sin against God. So my anger wasn’t justified. Had she done something truly heinous (like purposefully harm someone, steal money out of greed, blasphemy against God )I should be righteously furious. But since this was just taking my spot, I didn’t have a right to be angry. It wasn’t right – righteous – anger.
I should be righteously angry at injustice – just like God. I should be righteously angry at evil – because that is the opposite of our good, loving God. I should be righteously angry at everything that perverts, blasphemies, harms the relationship of any with the Holy. Scripture, especially the First Testament’s stories, speaks often of God’s anger getting provoked and God taking action. But it also speaks of God being “slow to anger, and rich in love” (Psalm). And James has the popular phrase “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19).
Righteous anger is an anger that is educated, controlled, slowly comes to be, but quickly passes as soon as forgiveness is petitioned. An anger based out of love.
I didn’t have righteous anger over where I wanted to park my car. Was my anger the sin Paul tells us today to not have? The sin that Jesus says makes us liable, prone to, hell?
Although many Christians would say yes, I think otherwise. And I didn’t always think this way. It’s been a process of change.
As a child I saw when my parents got angry. We all do. My mother believed the Christian thing to do when angry is to not say a thing if you have nothing nice to say. Or, in Paul’s words today, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths.” So she kept her anger inside. An icy, steely silence would fill her when she was angry. She still smiled. She still nodded along. Usually the person she was speaking to had no idea they were crossing a line. I knew! I saw it in the way her smile was tight and thin. I saw it in the stiff way she walked. This internal anger simmered and brewed inside of my mother never expressed.
I learned to bottle my anger like she did. This or that person would minorly insult me, and I’d bottle it up. I’d not say anything. Then they would do it again. And still I would smile and say to myself I was forgiving their trespass by not speaking a word. But over time, angry drop by angry drop filled up my internal bottle. And the person I was growing more and more angry with never had a clue. Because I kept smiling. I kept it to myself. My silence was my anger. My tension in my body my anger.
I began to say little things to OTHERS about being angry with So-And-So. Over coffee. In the parking lot. Over Facebook. But not to So-And-So’s face. Oh no – I couldn’t. This wasn’t righteous anger, so it had to be sinful anger that I – as Christian – am not allowed to have.
And then one day, something happens… like my parking spot is taken… and all that anger that’s been pushed and shoved into a bottle inside me goes off like the cap on a shook bottle of New Year’s campaign. And I get irrationally angry over something stupid and silly. I get way more angry than I ought to be for the situation. I lose control of my emotions, my body, and after roaring — then sit in grief and self-hate at my sinful anger.
Sinful anger, I used to tell myself. What do you do with that? Shove the anger into that now empty bottle… and repeat the process.
Does this sound familiar to any of you? Are you a bottler of anger? Are you carrying about a lump in your stomach, or a tightness in your shoulders, that is all your pent up anger you won’t let yourself feel, or express, or even acknowledge?
I had a pastor once hand me a phone book. A big, thick one. She said, “I get angry. I get alone. I sit on the floor and I rip out big chucks of this and shred it. I yell. I do this until it all passes.”
I thought about yelling. I had a friend whose family yelled when they were angry. Loud, abusive language would flow from their lips. Insults and curses. These often were followed with belts, or hands, or sticks. While my house shoved everything into little hard diamonds of bitterness and grudges… my friend’s house spread anger to the four winds and over every relationship. Alcohol made it even more explosive there. It was a constant walk on eggshells.
Was this pastor telling me to just wallow in anger – to welcome it and throw it around like that household did? Telling me to be the pastor of a congregation ran this way?
No. Not at all. She told me a Buddhist teaching is to accept emotions as they come, feel them, and then let them pass. So when she got angry she recognized she was angry. She identified why she was angry. She felt the anger – ripping out some phone book pages – and when the anger was exhausted, she let it go.
No longer angry.
Now she could address WHY she was angry. She could go ask the person who insulted her to not say such a thing again. She could try calling customer service again. She could look forward to her next sermon or meeting or visitation even if that was with the person who made her angry. She could re-enter a hospital situation where she has no control, cannot fix it, and is feeling nearly hopeless… and go into it being centered.
She told me today’s passage. “Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
We all get angry. Over righteous things and over unrighteous things.
We all get angry.
But do not sin.
Don’t harm your relationship with God. Don’t harm your relationship with others. Don’t isolate yourself and remove yourself from the community; and don’t scream profanities at others or name call or slap them or harm them.
Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
Don’t bottle it up, day after day, week after week, until you become a pressurized bottle ready to crack open over something silly. That bottled anger turns to bitterness, and grudges, and hate. The devil, writes Paul, settles into that pent up anger and encourages us to sin, to separate ourselves and others, more. That unspoken anger breaks relationships. The person you’re upset with may not even know what she or he is doing is bothering you. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Speak about it. Speak the truth. Address the issue. And do something to express the anger.
And then let it go.
Paul doesn’t write anger is evil, or sinful. Anger just IS. It’s an emotion, an emotion God has given us. And we are full of many emotions.
Emotions cannot be controlled.
We do control what we do with those emotions.
Psalms tells us that to control our anger — not by never being angry, but by being able to feel it, express it, and let it pass — is more impressive than conquering a city. A huge feat. It takes time and practice.
Paul advises we practice doing no evil with our emotions.
Evil is what harms, what intentionally causes hurt for the sake of hurt. Evil is what tears down the body of Christ…
Anger can be good, or bad. Holy or evil.
Anger can build us up.
Anger may be the words of grace we need to hear.
That woman who took my spot saw my expressed anger. I was more angry than I ought to have been… as I said, it is a process to learn to healthily express ourselves. But she saw my anger and backed up to give me room to park.
She saw my tears and asked me if I were okay.
I could have bottled it up. I could have continued to lie to myself about how I feel and lied to her. But I said the truth, “No. I’m not.”
That blessed stranger invited me to talk. So I did. I told her how I was there to euthanize my cat, and this was the final two spots, and the whole week had been full of stress and anger, and I’ve been trying not to express any of it, and…
In the end, I was given tissues, and volunteers like the woman in the lot helped me through my day. I was given grace and hospitality. Kind, tenderhearted, and forgiving… building one another up.
We’re instructed to do these things. Instructed to embrace one another just as we are, with all our emotions, all our feelings, and then help one another towards shalom.
Shalom is being healthy, inside and out, body and mind and soul, being whole. Shalom is peace. True peace. Not the peace of steely silence. Not the peace that is so thick you suffocate. Not the peace of a house walking on eggshells.
But true peace.
The peace where we understand and support one another. The peace where we are free to express our emotions – without judgment. The peace where we can speak truthfully to one another and, because we are in covenant, not fear one another will gossip, slander, or react with malice. Peace where we are authentic with ourselves, with one another, and know we are forgiven and loved and welcome.
Peace, Jesus tells us. Peace. Take time to savor the Bread of Life, to release the shaken up, and return to peace, to shalom.
Be angry, but do not sin – and don’t bottle it up and let the sun go down on your anger.