It was like popcorn. One kernel, then the next, then more. After the first person spoke up, it seemed to encourage honesty on the part of others. It obviously had not been a good day for the members of the group.
I finally stopped the flow of the group to talk about anger and how to handle it. Anger is not wrong. When in a good place, anger is a fire within that motivates a person to do something or say something. When done right, it transfers positive values to a person or a situation. Healthy anger helps children figure out the difference between right and wrong. Unhealthy anger destroys their sense of worth. The difference in outcomes between healthy anger and unhealthy anger is huge.
The deepest fires that day had to do with mothers and mixed families and children. If you want heat, mess with a momma and her children. That would seem to be justifiable anger, but justifiable does not mean healthy!
For a person to walk in healthy anger, the first step is complete surrender to God. Fire is dangerous when it gets beyond the fireplace. Anger is destructive when it steps outside of God’s boundaries. “Justifiable” anger can be some of the hottest and most destructive anger around. People lash out in sick ways when they feel like they have a “cause” that justifies their behavior. The self-justification causes them to think that doing sick things is ok—even admirable. Sick anger is sick. Period. No matter how “right” the cause is.
Until anger is put through God’s filter, it will feed on itself. That filter starts with a simple question of “What is God saying here?” or “What is God doing here?” In Acts 8, the disciples came under persecution for their faith. It would have been easy for them to turn bitter and to fight back. God had clearly told the disciples that He wanted them to spread His word around the globe. It was time to get out of Jerusalem. If they wouldn’t leave voluntarily, God was more than willing to help them leave with a little push.
I believe a similar thing happened at the end of Acts 15. Paul and Barnabus had a sharp disagreement over Mark going with them on the next missionary journey. The end result was the formation of two missionary teams. That likely was the will of God all along. A high level conflict results in the will of God being done. No reason to harbor resentment against the other party who brought the challenge. It was God’s way of getting people where He wanted them.
Many times, a fight is foolish. God has a will and the one who brought the persecution is irrelevant. Sometimes the forces of society or law are fixed. The one lone voice is not going to bring change and anger on the part of the person simply destroys the one standing up to the “injustice.” The mothers who were struggling over custody situations were like that. The best thing the mothers could do at the moment was to stay focused on living a godly life. Each good choice they make would become a leverage point to their end goal much more than anything short term anger could obtain.
“What is God doing?” Sometimes, a fight is not worth the fight. Sometimes it is. Proverbs 25:26 says, “A righteous man who falters before the wicked is like a murky spring and a polluted well” (NKJV). Many times, to say nothing is sick. It establishes wickedness. It makes us “polluted.” We feel dirty and start down a road toward compromise. Other times, to be drawn us into a fight makes us just as sick as the one we are fighting. Do you know the difference? A good way to know is “What is God doing?”
If the person is someone who respects us … or is someone in our care … not to speak is generally sick. Children need us to speak with a strong conviction on things like lying or stealing. Without a more intense values message from someone they respect, doing wrong simply means getting caught. Healthy anger passionately conveys godly values without threatening or destroying the other person. When respect is present, healthy anger can instill godly values.
When there is no respect, only force will work. The other person will only do what he or she is “forced” to do—generally harboring resentment. In other words, a person is forced to comply but on the outside, but ends up at the opposite end of the value being “forced” on him. We tend to use anger (and cussing) as a tool of intimidation to try to force the other person to do something. Most of the time, we are lying to ourselves. If we truly had the ability to force the other person to do something, we would simply speak. If we have to ratchet up the volume or throw in language of intimidation, we are faking it and hoping the other person goes along.
Intimidation usually works for a season, but in the end, it generates resentment in the other person. The final outcome of the anger will bring the opposite influence from what the person wielding the anger hoped to gain. The long term response of the person will generally be to “hate” the direction that the anger was calling for.
When we dump anger on people, it feels effective because it generally creates a short term response. That immediate response is a lie that feeds our ego, and this short term success keeps us repeating a sick behavior. Quality relationship is the most powerful tool. Unless anger fits within the framework of a quality relationship, what is happening is a game of mutual deception.
We need to get back to the place of “What is God saying?” or “What is God doing?” We need to be at a place where we are caring about the things of God and the best interests of everyone involved. That is a good foundation for quality relationship. When others sense that our motives are good (most of the time!), it generates trust. Where there is trust, good things can happen.
Is your anger in a healthy place? Do you communicate and motivate? Or do you destroy? If your anger is sick, shut it down until you can clearly see what God is saying or doing in the situation. When we go with God, good things happen. When we submit to our impulses of anger, it leaves a path of destruction. Go with God!