I have a fiery temper. I like to think it is inherited from some brave red-headed Scotsman. I like to hope it is used for the good of mankind, that it is somewhat restrained and purposeful. But even if all of this is true, it is still there, and it is deep and powerful. Sometimes, like once a decade or so (note the sarcasm), it comes bubbling to surface and is released in a less than ladylike fashion.
The other night the tempest in me made its appearance.
My sweet baby has been going through a very normal and healthy phase I like to call “testing mommy’s limits by wailing uncontrollably at all hours of the night when daddy is out of town.” It was night two. I had slept at most 3 hours in the last 24. I was exhausted. And I was angry. Like scream into my pillow and call and cry to Alastair at 3 AM angry. My face was hot, the tears were hot, my throat and chest burned with something like seething rage. I do not mean to sound melodramatic, but I warned you, I have a fiery temper.
So what can an overtired mom with a screaming baby do except cry out to God and demand he work a miracle? Or at least a sort of sleeping spell? The sleep did not come soon after my request, and my conversation with him was overtaken by my anger.
I turned all my wrath to God. I know you can raise people from the dead, can you not get a 1 year old to sleep? Why are you doing this to me? Are you testing me? I cannot take her wailing anymore. I am so mad that you are not helping! Why this now when I am alone with her?
My emotional state is more even keel now after having had 6 hours of sleep and some help from my great husband. But exhausted at 3 AM, I felt raw.
Luckily the little munchkin and I were able to talk and play for about 30 minutes (after 3 hours of crying) and then both climb into my bed and sleep for two hours before she “woke up” at 5:45am. (All you moms out there are rock stars by the way. This is not an easy job!)
The past couple days I have been feeling silly for getting so angry with God. I have felt a bit of shame for my emotional outburst. And I have had a wonderful time blaming my hot blooded ancestors for passing on their tendency towards fiery anger to me. But it left me wondering about my anger and my faith and how on earth we as Christians are meant to deal with anger.
First, I was so happy to be reminded that anger is not an invalid emotion as a Christian. We have stories of God’s anger and Jesus’ anger, which means anger in and of itself is not wrong. When we as believers start to discuss why we get angry and how we express our anger, that’s when it gets more difficult.
Picture anger as a jar in which we store and protect the heavier and more vulnerable emotions.
So, are there right and wrong reasons why we get angry? Is rage over lack of sleep even okay? To put it simply, yes. Anger is what we counsellors refer to as a secondary emotion. Picture anger as a jar in which we store and protect the heavier and more vulnerable emotions. Feeling anger is normal and even healthy. But opening this jar in order to figure out what is inside this anger is more what we want to validate. Having a melodramatic temper tantrum because I was missing out on rest seems emotionally immature, but being angry because I felt disappointed, sad, out of control and alone is more understandable.
I do not always figure out what is in my jar right away. So the anger sticks and can feel big and powerful. I am sure this is true for many of us in our rage fuelled moments. We cannot always see and feel the bigger emotions hiding behind the anger.
So we get angry. In some deep place there is a reason for it, and it is valid. But in my anger I really turned on God. I questioned him. I blamed him. I wanted to beat on his chest. I wanted to make him do what I wanted. I said hurtful things to him. And ultimately I wanted to withdraw from him, cut him off.
In this, my anger took me from acceptable valid emotion into areas of doubt, mistrust and sin. So I am left with the question, in the midst of our anger, how can we have faith?
I think the challenge of anger is that we can become absorbed in our hurt and sense of need. The lid of the jar can be tight, holding in deeper and more vulnerable emotions. We can become insensitive to God and others when we are consumed with self protection. Pausing in the midst of my anger is always a challenge. Taking deep breaths and calmly trying to figure out what is really going on is not easy. Finding the oo-ey gooey middle of our hearts cry can seem impossible, especially when our blood is boiling.
But one of the most beautiful things about God is that he understands our oo-ey gooey middle. He sees our deepest needs and hurts. And he is patient, slow to anger and abounding in love, even when we are angry. I do not think he was waiting for me to “get it together” the other night. I think he was ready and waiting for me to be with him in my anger. I know he is patient even when I turn on him. And I know if I can cling to him in my anger he will lead me deeper. He is my Shepherd. He will help me get to the heart of the hurt, the loss, the disappointment. He will sit with me there; he is my Comforter and Counsellor. He keeps me, holds me, perfects my faith even in my anger.
Paul writes to the Ephesians, “In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.” In light of this I think God is asking us to go to him in our anger, not to distance ourselves from him or to question or blame him. In him we can be angry and he can lead us into the truth of our hearts. Anger, cut off from God’s love and care, can be a path to sin. But when we walk with God, through our anger, into our hearts deeper pain and sorrows, he can heal us. Anger then can be the path toward life and joy. I am not saying this is easy or quick, but staying connected to God in our anger, trusting him to help us through, that is an act of true faith.