The Power of Anger & Forgiveness
As I reflect on this day, I can say that having 2 children under 3 years old gives me moments of anger. Anger is an emotion that we were created to feel, and I am not ashamed to admit that I get angry. When did emotions become so taboo? I live in Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Emotions are very limited around here, people come into my office feeling anger but are afraid to admit it. There is nothing wrong with the feeling. I even encourage my clients to be angry. In fact, Jesus showed anger in the temple marketplace and physically flipped over tables. I believe God gave us anger to understand our personal limits and as a way to release negative feelings. Anger can hurt us however, when we hold on to it.
The things that make me angry day to day are silly really; stubbing my toe, dropping something, even other people’s driving skills. I simply express myself with words or a growl and move on with my day. The hard part is when someone we know, someone with whom we have shared our true self, hurts us. It can cause intense feelings of anger, betrayal, and bitterness. Because the hurt happened without our control, this anger now serves a new purpose, protection. For me, if I stayed angry at that person, I could control how I was treated. I could stop that person from hurting me because I would hurt them first (even if it was only with my negative thoughts). The anger controlled many of my thoughts. It controlled my conversations with others because I needed people to agree with me about this hurt.
Although my anger controlled me, I felt I was safe. But, a good friend of mine believed differently and suggested a book, The Bait of Satan, by John Bevere. Chapter One, paragraph 2, “Many are unable to function properly in their calling because of the wounds and hurts that offenses have caused in their lives. They are handicapped and hindered from fulfilling their full potential,” (Bevere, 2004, p. 5). How could this be? I was doing fine. No problems here. My career was exactly where I wanted it. How could I not be living up to my full potential? Well, as I read on, I learned that anger limited my abilities. I was self-focused meaning I was always protecting myself. Anger was my weapon.
If you have had a hurt in your life, you may be terrified to let go of the anger and heal. “What if it happens again?” “That person deserves to be punished.” “You don’t understand what they did to me.” All very real fears that I help my clients work through. Which is why letting go of anger and forgiving requires a great support system. It IS hard and scary. As motivation, remember this, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19-20 NIV)
Where I was stuck, was trying to explain my hurt to that person, illicit an apology, and experience a changed relationship. It never worked. As I read more of The Bait of Satan, I learned that I could give my forgiveness as a gift to God. My relationship with that person was a gift that did not need reciprocation. I no longer expected anything from that person. They could remain who they were and I could love them as a gift to God. (Bevere, 2004) I learned it but it took me many tries to put it into practice. My tip, as you try to forgive and show love, is to know your limits. If you are starting to feel overwhelmed or angry in 10 minutes, then have an exit plan. It is ok to leave the situation and try again. Next time, it might be 15 minutes. Remember to use your support system to talk about all of it. They can help give you the strength to try again.
For some of my clients, the person who hurt them is not a safe person, he or she may have passed away, or has mental health limitations. For these situations, I encourage clients to write a letter to that person. Since they will never receive it, you can be as angry as you want. You can explain every bit of your hurt in the letter. The feeling is real and it should be expressed. After you do this, get rid of the letter. Burn it, rip it up. You have processed those feelings. Now you can practice forgiveness in your thoughts. When something reminds you of them, you can experience the feeling briefly and then I encourage you to focus on something that brings you joy. It may be the blessings in your life. For some, it is how they changed to overcome the hurt. Please share this process with your support system so they can help you when it is hard.
Letting go of your anger and forgiving sounds great on paper but it is really hard. My process was not done in a week or even a year. I am a slow learner or as some who know me might say, “Stubborn.” What I did learn was that there was more to my life than anger. I did not fall apart without the anger. The healing process for me gave me new opportunities that before I could not see.
As you read this, I want you to believe that you are more than the hurt. God has always had a plan for you greater than you can see now. “ . . .for God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.” (Romans 11:29 NIV) As you journey through this process for your healing, take comfort knowing that God wants you to heal and he wants to bless you. He will journey with you and open your eyes to the gifts he has given you.
Bevere, J. (2004) The Bait of Satan: Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense. Lake Mary, FL: Charisma House: A Strange Company.