You did it again; you lashed out at a friend or your parents, maybe even your younger siblings. You used your words and hit them where you knew it would hurt them most.
The words have left your mouth and you’re almost stunned by the rage pulsing through your veins. A desire to throw something, break something, hit someone erupts. You know you should leave; maybe you do or maybe you just keep going. Where does that anger come from! That’s not who you are! Does Scripture offer any help for your fuming temper?
I want to suggest something different. I want to suggest the anger that we experience isn’t because we are ticking time bombs waiting to go off, but because we are actually just hurting. Hang with me a minute or two. I’m sure nothing could penetrate your titanium heart; you’re strong, don’t need anyone and can handle things on your own. But what if you didn’t have to be that way? What if God wanted to offer you a life different from that: A life of freedom? Read on to learn about some causes and effects.
I looked across the table at my friend Elizabeth; what had happened to her? I had just seen her a month ago and everything had appeared to be fine. We had been hanging out, talking about boys, laughing with our friends and enjoying life. Now, I didn’t know what to do so I just sat there. When I looked at her, I didn’t see my friend. I saw a shell, something that used to be full of life, now empty.
I remembered the first phone call. I had been at a local park, soaking in the sun on a lazy summer afternoon when my phone rang. I was surprised to hear Elizabeth’s mother on the phone, but that was nothing compared to my next surprise.
Elizabeth was gone.
The last time her parents had seen her was yesterday afternoon; she had never come home that night. The MPs were involved as well as the local police. I told her Mom I hadn’t seen her, but I would let them know if I heard anything.
As I sat across from her now I asked her “why?” Why did she have to be here? Why did she have to do this to herself? We had spent the past two years hanging out and enjoying life together…now? Drugs, low grades, new friends, skipping school, running away!
She didn’t answer my question.
I spent a little bit longer with her before I was told I had to leave. As I pulled away from the rehab facility my heart ached. I was her friend, shouldn’t I have known?
I share this with you because maybe you have found yourself in a similar situation and I share this with you because maybe you, like me, didn’t get any answers when you needed them. You see, Elizabeth did answer my question, it was just years later. Maybe you’re wondering about a friend of yours who just lost it one day and you’re wondering what happened to them. Maybe it’s you who changed; you feel like you woke up one day and just lost it. I can tell you this much, nothing happens overnight. Whatever is going on and however you are feeling, it’s been building up for a while. That’s what happens when we don’t keep a pulse on our hearts.
As I sat across from her years later, she thanked me for coming out and seeing her when she was in rehab, something I had pretty much forgotten about. She said she had thought about my question often since then and she had come to the realization that what had started her downward spiral was a lot of self-anger and a lot of unresolved hurt. She told me she had felt immense pressure to get high grades as both of her parents were JAG officers, and at some point she cracked. She couldn’t deal with it anymore. I hadn’t known it, but she had started using drugs long before she had run away and been put into rehab, but everything had cycled out of control. One day she was just trying it; the next thing she knew she had almost all new friends, was engaging in highly risky behavior and things had happened to her she never would have allowed should she have been able to stop it.
Maybe grades doesn’t sound like a lot, but multiply that by two hard-charging parents, three “good” siblings, years of school, daily reminders and always feeling like the family failure. Her rebellion started small, she had just needed a release, wanted to be understood, was hurting, but then things started multiplying over again. She knew her behavior wasn’t what it should be, but she didn’t realize what it was doing to her heart. She was hurting so much that she began to wall herself off. She became defensive, then angry, lashing out, then running away.
Here is another way to think about it… when we are little, we are taught not to touch the hot stove; it can hurt us. We only make that mistake once before we learn not to do that again. Compare this to our hearts. We feel hurt by one person or an expectation we don’t think we can reach so we protect ourselves, we don’t want to be hurt again, but soon we have walled ourselves off completely from people and, most likely, God. Our heart becomes calloused and we become angry people, even when people try to reach out to us, try to help us. This is part of what happened with my friend Elizabeth. She was like a dog with her tail caught in a door. She needed help, but every time a person would try to get close, try to help her, she would just bark and snap at them, scaring people away and leaving her tail still trapped in the door.
This is why we need to monitor our hearts. It’s not hard to build up these walls, to move from hurt and defensiveness to anger and rage. We can’t stay there and remain healthy people! Secrecy only keeps us trapped. Being resilient means that we have to expose our hurt to others to begin healing. When Elizabeth started trusting others and sharing her hurt with trusted friends, she began to heal and her anger began to melt away. In the midst of this healing is God’s great love for us, and we can begin to truly accept his caring touch in our lives.
Maybe the hurt and anger you feel seems too big; maybe you feel like you’re too far gone to be helped. Well let me share some truth with you. You’re not. The first step is to learn how to monitor your heart so that you know when you’re moving to a bad place. Jesus actually talks about this in Matthew 15:10–20.
What I love about this account is the clarity that Jesus speaks with. The religious leaders of the day were questioning why Jesus’ disciples had not washed their hands before eating, something that would have made them unclean. Then Jesus speaks up to set the record straight. It’s not what we eat that makes us unclean, but the things that come out of our mouth because it is a reflection of what is going on in our heart.
When we get angry, we need to stop, breathe and check ourselves. Why are we angry? Are any of the things listed in verses 18–20 going on: evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander or gossip? Those are just some of the things mentioned in the verses. Or do we feel hurt because these things are happening to us? When we understand why we are hurting, we can move ourselves from getting angry to getting help.
Scripture: Matthew 15:10–20
- Do you ever find yourself lashing out unexpectedly?
- Are you really angry at the people you lash out at or is there something deeper going on? Are you really hurting?
- Can you identify why you are hurting? Who hurt you? Was it someone else, or did you hurt yourself?
- What are some of the side effects to the hurt and anger you experience?
- How does holding in all that anger make you feel? Do you desire to experience freedom?
Continue interacting with this topic here.
Father God in Heaven,
Release me from my anger. I don’t mean to hurt others, but God, if I am honest with myself, the truth is that I am hurting. I have barricaded myself from others because I am afraid of getting hurt again and in the process I have hurt others who care about me. Help me to be a better monitor of my heart. Help me to recognize when I am being defensive and to recognize why I am being defensive. Help me to trust those you have put in my life, to leave my life of secrecy and to experience the freedom you desire for me. Forgive me for the hurt I have caused others and help me to follow you in all that I do.