As I write this, I’m still not sure if I am going to post it or not. A recent interaction with someone has me thinking about the many times in life I have been angry and also about the many times in life I have been hurt. In the situations involving anger, I had a target for my anger: a bully who had hurt my little boy, the man who poisoned my family, the guy in college who had broken up with me before I could break up with him, the woman who was taking my name and character and dragging it through the mud. These people were easy for me to villainize (is that even a word?) in my head. I could make them the enemy with no redeeming qualities in the story that was unfolding in my mind.
In the situations that hurt me, there was no target outside of myself to focus anger on so, instead, I found that I just…ached…for a long time: empathy for a friend whose child was not behaving in a way that reflected their family’s values (on top of all the other problems she was facing at the time), knowledge (and identifying with) about how someone had violated their own conscience and was having to live with the fallout from that (it sucks to realize that you are the antagonist in someone’s story), the emptiness of a broken relationship that left me feeling like strangers with someone I used to be so very close to, and the sadness and helplessness that comes from knowing someone is being lied to and can not hear the truth.
After you get past me depressing you so early in the morning, you will realize that the four situations I described being angry about are the same four situations that I described being hurt about. So what the heck is my point? Well, there are several points actually but I think they all support one theory that I have: It is easier to be angry than it is to be hurt, but most of the time, hurt is more productive. When I am angry, I tend to have a “bad guy”…antagonist…boogey man…enemy…someone to blame. I can’t speak for you…but for me, when I have someone to blame, the feelings exist on the outside of me and I tend to quit looking for what virtue I should be learning more about. I quit assessing my contribution to the situation and I tie a beautiful little bow around the neatly-packaged idea that this person is bad and that is why this situation occurred. That makes it easier to break with that person and close off my feelings. When I am hurt, however, I can’t tie a bow and dismiss the person/ situation because it’s in me…Inside…and the only person who can address those feelings is me. Oh, I’ve tried covering them up, distracting myself from the feelings, and numbing them…but none of those work long-term and, inevitably, I end up having to deal with the feelings anyway.
So, again you ask, “What is the point?” I think we learn from pain. I think pain confronts us and demands (eventually) that we pay attention. Why do people go the doctor? Because some pain that they have is consuming their attention and needs to be dealt with. If it was painless, it would be a more insidious illness…like leprosy (science geek-out alert: leprosy causes severe nerve damage that allows the person to incur injury and not feel it. This is dangerous because pain requires that we stop the damage from continuing. Think about a hot stove burner: If your arm brushes up against it, you jump away from the source of burning before you have time to think about it. If you don’t experience pain though, you will stay in contact with the burner until some other symptom occurs (creation of smoke or sensing a burning smell.) So, our pain is really a safety mechanism that is built-in to us to bring our attention to the situation and induce a change in our behaviors or actions.) Anger, on the other hand, tends to be focused on someone else’s behavior. It doesn’t require real investment or investigation…it doesn’t necessarily call for a change in our behavior or way of thinking…it’s more like a hand-grenade…it can be thrown at someone and then walked away from…and I think that ability to walk away from it is the attractive part…because it feels like power…it can be mis-interpreted as strength…but strength is not found in taking the easy road…it is found in a struggle. Think about it: how much strength does it require to have things always go your way? How much strength do you have to develop in order to float through life?
So how are you doing with this? Are you angry a lot? Is it possible that you are angry because you are avoiding thinking about something? Is God trying to tell you something that you don’t want to hear? Think about the times in your life that you have experienced the most growth…what did you feel during those times? What did you learn? Now, think about the people you hold closest to you and reflect on whether it is they (those people that you love) or your enemies that have the most access to injuring you. Anger allows us to distance ourselves from hurt…but in the absence of that hurt, we are also distancing ourselves from people, lessons that we could learn, and virtues that we could develop.
My prayer today is that we would slow down and evaluate some things: if we are mad at someone, is that anger even legitimate or are we in denial about something? What has God been impressing on us that we need to be working on? Who around us is in pain and needs us to come alongside them and walk through it with them so that they don’t run away from the pain and become angry? Friends, I am praying that you will find a way to get comfortable sitting in the pain and discomfort and that you will find truth and peace in it. Much love friends,