Let Anger Lead Us To Love
This week I sat around the table with a new cohort of ACCESS students: brilliant women who’ve chosen to lean into their lives and tap into resiliency. From 9 a.m.-3 p.m. M-F for eight weeks, our students are learning from multiple community agencies who facilitate courses such as: parenting, computer skills, health and nutrition, spiritual formation, financial planning, group counseling and job skills. Together, they’re learning to focus on themselves in a new way. Together, they will grow individually. Together, they will be stronger.
Each Tuesday I get two quick hours with the women to talk about what it means to own our influence for good. We are learning how to direct our influence toward goodness, light, beauty and love. The first four weeks we define “Influence,” then dig into obstacles that block the road to a life of positive, personal influence. If you saw my Instagram, you know that week 1 was focused on E N T I T L E M E N T… and it was a meaty one. Entitlement is the sense that special privileges or rights are deserved and demands that such privileges be bestowed. Now, I’m not talking legal rights and civil liberties. There are absolutely things we are entitled to as humans. In fact, the very place where those liberties have been neglected or denied, is where another kind of entitlement finds an in road. This kind of entitlement isn’t fair or just. Its focus is self preservation. This kind of entitlement becomes a posture of the heart. Greedy, but it’s not greed. Greed hoards; entitlement gives, then demands more in return. Entitlement really feeds on heightened expectations and is derived from misplaced affections, unmet needs and abuse of power. Light stuff, right? Through this session, the students were tracking, naming, identifying where they’ve been abused, neglected or misplaced their affections. They’re able to feel the soil of where entitlement grew.
During week 2, we launched into the obstacle of P R I D E. Pride is arrogance, haughtiness and an exaggerated sense of self-worth (both high and low). Pride disrespects others and treats others with contempt, or despise. Pride hides out in our soul and is rooted in scarcity and shame. We began to discuss the places where pride rears its head in our lives, and this is where things got sticky. I realized quickly that many of their perceptions of their own pride were actually healthy responses to abuse and victimization. One woman shared, “I’m having a lot of pride toward the man who molested my daughter. He took away her innocence, she’ll never get it back.” Then another, “I’m having a lot of trouble forgiving the man who murdered my daughter’s father. He had a grin on his face in the mug shot. He is not sorry for what he did, and I just can’t let it go, or I don’t know how to. Is it prideful that I can’t forgive?” And yet another, “I’m struggling with pride now that I’m sober and able to tell my own story. I want the right to tell my story the way I want to, not the way my church wants to share it in service. I know the way they’re spinning it will help a lot more people and cater to their audience, but I’m just having pride because I want to share my story, my way.”
I had to stop the lesson. I realized we had a problem. What they were calling pride, God calls righteous indignation, anger - HOLY anger. And anger is good. Jesus even tells us to “BE ANGRY” (we get really focused on the “and do not sin”). The Psalms, the prophets and much of the Bible shows us what to be angry about and what to do with it. In fact, I have spent a LOT of time thinking about my anger, my abuses, my offenses; learning to face my anger and sift through what is righteousness and what is resentment. I circled back around the group to these stories and said:
“God is angry at molestation. Jesus is angry that it happened to your daughter. Your anger is justified.” Then, “You have a right to be angry at the man who murdered your daughter’s daddy. God hates that. Absolutely hates it. Your unforgiveness is something God understands. It comes from a loss, and we need to grieve that loss with you. Grief will transform your anger.” Then lastly, “Your story IS your story. God is angry with exploitation. Whether it’s a pimp, turning out a girl or the church pimping out a story. YOU ARE ENTITLED in a sacred and holy way to tell your story on your terms. That IS how we overcome - by the Blood of the Lamb and the word of OUR testimony. (Not someone else’s version of our story).”
I realized I needed to rethink this lesson on pride entirely. The women were teaching me in this moment, in a very literal way, the student became the master. They were my guides through the darkness. They showed me the strategy of evil: to shame ourselves for the harm perpetrated by another, to minimize, squelch and hide our anger, to take up an offense against a person instead of an injustice. How we can avoid facing our feelings, never dealing with loss. How quiet rage eats at us until we believe we’re powerless.
Currently, the world is spouting off like a tea kettle of anger. We are feeling mad, frustrated, furious, annoyed - even in the church. Yet, not many are crying, most are yelling. And the things we’re crying about may not even be what God is crying about. The things God is angry about may not be the things God is angry about. If we could be honest with ourselves about our harm, our neglect, our abandonment, we would find that our anger could lead us into love. Love for God which is always and forever - love for ourselves and our neighbor.
We don’t have to be scared of our anger. We can get curious with it. Love is curious. Love wants to search and know, soothe and nurture the areas that have been long ignored. Love wants to right the wrongs, but if we never can admit to the wrongs, how do we know what’s right? And if we aren’t angry about what is wrong, what, then, is the measure of our love?
Many of us are asking how to love more. Perhaps you’re wondering how to get more of it, as if it is something to be grabbed rather than known. As Thomas Merton says:
“Love is not a problem, not answer to a question. Love knows no question. It is the ground of all, and questions arise insofar as we are divided, absent, estranged, alienated from that ground.”
Love is where we began. It is from God that we came and to God that we will return. Along the way, we have become fragmented, harmed, turned out and abandoned. This is the fallout of sin, which is one big trauma response after the next. To find our way back to the beginning, we need anger to lead us to grieve...and grief to lead us to Jesus, the Man of Sorrows. If we abandon our anger, we neglect the opportunity to fully heal. What are you angry about? Where does it come from? Did someone harm you? Have you faced that harm? Have you seen God’s anger raging over your abuses? What is your anger producing in your life? How does it make you feel? How much space in your mind and emotions is your anger taking up? Is it righteous anger or an offense, a grudge that’s been nursed? Is your anger leading you to gossip, slander, abuse others, minimize your own sin, self justify bad choices? Is your anger making you sad? Is your anger at injustices, cultural harm, oppression?
If you could really face your anger and follow it into its entry point in your life….where would it take you? It is there you will meet Love, the love of Christ - eternal and all encompassing. Yes, your anger can lead you into love...if you will let it.