Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Gift of Anger, Part Two: Responding Constructively

Long ago a wise person suggested to me that each day I read one chapter of Psalms and one chapter of Proverbs. That habit has helped center my days and my relationships, and it has much to offer us on the topic of responding constructively to anger. 

Simply speaking, the Psalms show us how to relate to God; the Proverbs show us how to relate to each other. Many Psalms illustrate the angry heart pouring itself out to God; while Proverbs instruct us how to understand the difference between godly anger and selfish anger, and how to manage it with wisdom.

Today I will offer you three simple suggestions I have gained straight from these two invaluable books for responding to anger in a way that is constructive, instead of destructive.


Pause before you vent.

A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. -Proverbs 29:11 

One day I had spent extra time and effort to prepare a special meal for my husband. I was quite pleased with myself that day, creating an environment of peace and joy for him to come home to after a long day at work. The house smelled like roasted chicken and pie baking, music was softly playing in the background, and the house was spotless. The children were quietly engaged in a game together. It was perfect. 

We waited and waited. An hour passed, and no dad. Another hour passed, and no word. The food had long grown cold, but my blood was boiling. The children were arguing loudly and the sun was setting. It was time for bedtime routines and we had not even eaten.

I fed the children as I fought back tears of anger and frustration. Feeling sorry for  myself, I recounted silently all my good deeds that go unnoticed and unappreciated. 

By the time my husband came through the door, I was practically a martyr.

Something (or Someone, the Holy Spirit), flashed through my heart, saying, “Listen before you react.” I ignored it. 

The deliciousness of venting was just too much for me. I was indeed the Proverbial fool. I let all my feelings come flooding out, and berated my husband for his ill-treatment of me.

I watched as his face crumpled under the blow of my words. It scared me a bit when he became silent and broken before me, instead of fighting back. I realized my foolishness too late.

My selfish and impatient venting created a chasm of brokenness between us that took several hours to mend. I was to learn later that he had been in a situation which very much needed my understanding and love, not my anger. But I did not listen long enough to know that.

Pausing before we vent allows us to gather more information so we can respond with greater wisdom. We may learn, like I did that day, that my anger was less important than my loved one’s need for support and understanding.

Cultivate the habit of gentle response.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. -Proverbs 15:1

It is difficult to build a raging fire in drizzling rain. We learned that recently in the mountains as we tried to build a bonfire outside our cabin. The wood was wet, and rain fell gently. But my boys were determined. The result was much smoke and no fire.

Anger is a lot like that. When we choose a gentle answer, it is much like the soft rain falling on a bonfire. It eventually goes out. At the least it becomes more manageable and controlled. A gentle response is a habit worth cultivating.

Take it to God before you take it to man.

Psalm 52 is a startling example of pouring our complaints out to God. If anyone had reason for anger against injustice, it was David. He had been betrayed by a fellow shepherd who was seeking power and attention from King Saul, and David’s life was in great danger. Doeg was a tattle-tale, and his jealousy of the shepherd-turned-warrior caused the deaths of eighty-five priests of the Lord that day. David was outraged and hurt, afraid for his own life.

In Psalm 52, we hear him pour his rage out to the only One who is completely just, the only One who could reach the heart of man and establish justice. 

It is not just okay, it is vital, that we take our anger to God and allow Him to examine, to instruct, to center us. David understood that a battle with man is first won with God. Going to God first allows examination of our own hearts as well as the source of our anger. If we are in sin at all, He will expose it, direct, and guide us. He will clarify for us the issues at hand, and examine our hearts as well as the hearts of those with whom we are struggling. And he will surely vindicate injustice. 

Going to God first is a win-win situation. We will rise from our knees clear minded, clear hearted, and ready to face whatever it is that enraged us so.

Anger is a gift from God. It alerts us that we have encountered injustice and wrongdoing. It helps us care for our own souls. Anger can be a catalyst for constructive change in a world of injustice.

How have you had success responding constructively to anger in your life? Please join the conversation and share in the comments section below.

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