The lava boiled up from my guts, burned through my chest, swirled and bubbled just below my vocal chords. My heart pounded willing the anger to stop before it erupted from my mouth.
Someone had just tried to offer me soothing words that seemed as empty as telling a grieving Atheist that their loved one is in a better place (Heaven) now.
I held back my burning fierceness, because if the words came out it would destroy those in its path and possibly cause irreparable damage.
Spewing hot lava…not good.
Recently, after much journaling and a lot of honest retrospection, something so obvious yet well hidden into my psyche appeared to me. I was so shocked by my discovery that I exclaimed aloud, “Oh my gosh, I am letting my anger consume me.”
And then I thought on that for a while and released a landslide of emotions I didn’t want to confront.
Bit-by-bit, I started to uncover all my built-up anger. I knew it was a controlled thing simmering under the surface, yet only recently I could see it was beginning to kill me. And would start to destroy relationships.
At first I thought my anger only went back over the last five months—I presumed it all business related. But as I kept writing down everything that irked me, I uncovered hidden anger with a couple friends. I found it in the words of those “assuring me” the second mammogram would be clear. Just when I thought I was done, I found more anger from two years ago, then from a friend who twisted our relationship into things I didn’t want, and even more appeared from ten years ago.
It was Pandora’s Box. I got fearful at the process and wanted to close the lid—but it wouldn’t fit back on. The only choice was to keep going. How far back could my anger reach? How much had I brushed under the carpet because it wasn’t professionally right to be angry? After all, I was told at the time these were trivial matters and others had it worse off than me. My feelings were invalidated. And this began my rage.
With bravery and a sick-and-twisted bit of curiosity, I kept digging. Like digging up a grave. What I found eight feet under was rotted and disgusting. The worms crawled and fed on me. I went back to my first feelings of real seething held-on-to-anger, all the way back to high school, coming in first place at a Lincoln–Douglas debate tournament. Initially I was numb, but slowly it moved into anger from no one being there to see me win. Irrational or not, I had counted that as “strike one”.
Oddly, in all my years, in all the people I placed anger on—God never showed up. I mean that I haven’t gotten angry at God. I wonder if this is a good or bad thing. Maybe the anger is yet to come. As if in a debate with myself—I argued the idea of why haven’t I ever blamed God for all the crap. After all, this seems to be something people like to do—so maybe I wasn’t being real with myself. But no matter which way I looked at situations I couldn’t find a way to blame God—instead I clearly saw how to blame people.
I’d started being more transparent with my husband about my anger (not all of it, but a good portion). In one of my more recent “debates” he stopped my examination and said—point blank without any tone of judgment, “Why do you think it is, that you get so mad at people who are just trying to make you feel better?”
I quickly rebutted, “Because they are candy coating everything—and it’s insensitive to the hurting. They take scripture out of context like some promise for me—or anyone hurting. They tell me it will be okay, but how dare they say that because they don’t know that it WILL be okay. They are NOT God, and they can’t tell me how it will work out. They are wrong to give people false hope by saying it’s going to all work out soon. I don’t know what type of hotline they have to God that tells them our situation will improve. And I think it’s absolutely irresponsible and a wrong response. These are people professing to be Christians and they give me some made up Christian-Pollyanna Rainbows, Unicorns, and Cotton-candy hype. In-fact my non-Christian friends have better and more real responses. At least two of my Christian friends are real and admit the whole thing sucks. But all these others, and their responses – it needs to stop!”
Lava. Erupted. Spewed. It was ugly, raw, uncontrolled.
Thank God for my husband, as he said with kindness, “so even if their response was wrong, you fault them for trying to comfort you the only way they knew how?”
Oh. Wait. I shut my mouth and nodded at the “ah-ha” moment.
I started to respond, as he interjected, “people aren’t good with responses to pain, they say things to make others feel better.” I blurted out a sarcastic punchline, “…and they say things to make themselves feel better!”
He gave me “that look” with pause. And right there, a heartbeat later, I got it. I lacked grace and fueled angrier in reacting to my friends’ and acquaintance’s responses.
It was like seeing the cow in the parking lot. Let me explain. A famous attorney—famous for his anger—learned how to work through his anger with a simple analogy. Imagine circling a crowded parking lot. Just when you see a space, another driver races around you and takes it. Feeling rage is easy. But now imagine that it’s not a driver that stole your rightful place but rather a cow moseying into the spot. Rage never comes, instead you feel bemusement. Your spot is still gone—but the response is different. You still lost the parking spot…but you aren’t angry. What changed was your perspective.
Through a conversation with my husband, my perspective was changed. I saw things in a different light. I saw where I lacked grace to those trying to support me the only way they knew how…even if it was a candy coated response. Like life flashing before my eyes, I thought about Jesus… in Gethsemane. And how shallow His disciple’s responses must have been to His anguish. Did they not see the heaviness He wore at the Passover supper table. I wondered just how pissed off Jesus really was when He asked them to stay up and pray with Him in Gethsemane, only to find them asleep. I guess since we don’t see Jesus lashing out (too much) He must have seen the cow in the parking lot.
Well there it is. Unearthed anger—addressed—assessed—owned. For a moment the chip is off my shoulder; I can stare it in the face and choose the next best step. And in the process I’ll learn how to give a little more grace to tissue thin condolences, and possibly use it as a soft segue in teaching appropriate empathy. Maybe I’ll even write on that next week: what to say that’s appropriate and scripturally correct when your friend’s life sucks.