Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Binding Up My Anger

I don't remember anger in my home when I was growing up. I don’t remember my parents fighting. I don’t remember yelling. I don’t remember an atmosphere strained with tension or antagonism. This is a good thing.

It is a good thing because my childhood was happy, I was loved, and there was no need for anger. Except that people do get angry, and I didn’t know how. I don’t remember anything specific being spoken out loud, but we didn’t yell, we didn’t argue, we didn’t oppose. I imagine my parents will have different recollections than I do, because I’m fairly certain I was a nominally normal child who got into the usual amounts of trouble and went through a hollering period, but when I started to find my way into fitting into to the family and the flow of life it included the belief that it wasn’t okay to get angry.

There were times when this left me feeling voiceless and unheard in situations that felt unfair or unbalanced. Friends and other people around me seemed comfortable raising their voices, or at the very least, raising their hands and saying “no, that’s not okay with me – you’re crossing the line – you’re making me angry.” I declined. To do so felt impolite and inappropriate. Standing up and raising your voice made you stand out and made people look, and we never really wanted people to look.

I can distinctly remember the first time I raised my voice in public – loudly, vehemently, and inappropriately – I was a freshman in high school and I was breaking up with my boyfriend. Out loud. In the bus terminal. In front of everyone. It raised eyebrows and dropped jaws as I let loose with a monologuing stream of – I don’t even remember what – just that it unloosed something in me that had been bound up tight for years and the look in the eyes of my peers that said, “maybe we won’t mess with that one again.”

Over the years I found my angry voice more and more. It grew more confident and more prolific. Tinged with a biting sarcasm and stinging dry wit, I could be counted on to be withering, defiant, and reductive at the drop of a hat. And it wasn’t just my voice that grew; there was something that blossomed with the anger – something that I began to hang onto. Something that felt strong and powerful; that looked at the softer emotions like compassion, kindness, patience, and gentleness with disdain and contempt. I did not want them. I did not want to be weak. Other situations and relationships fueled my anger. Hurt, betrayal, disappointment, and abandonment contributed to convincing me that I needed my anger to protect me from those who would hurt me more.

It might surprise you how much a person can hide anger. I wasn’t miserable. I was generally happy, my life was moving along, I was in a good relationship, my family and I were close and supportive, I had a strong circle of friends, I was active in the churches I was involved with – I eventually became a mother. But beneath all of this growth and happiness, anger boiled beneath the surface – just a hair’s breadth away. Very few people saw it – only those closest to me, my family, were the unfortunate few to bear the brunt of the flames as they flared. And though I knew it was a problem and openly acknowledged it, I wasn’t able to let it go.

Anger had become a crutch for me. It was an anchor and a stronghold. In precarious situations, I could access those powerful feelings inside myself and become buoyed up to face challenges and onslaughts. So often, I tried to write it off as righteous anger – being inflamed over the “right” kind of problem; not wanting to give in to being a doormat for someone’s bad behavior; protecting my heart from further hurt.

What a farce.

The only thing the anger did was consume me bit by bit and slowly but surely begin to singe and burn the ones around me.

The turning of the tide came through possibly the only way it could have: my daughter. My anger had crashed over her one time too many and I realized I was giving her an awful reflection to emulate. As I was learning to change and give thanks in the midst of the desert, I was reminded that my strength was not found in the stronghold of my anger, but in my God who does not need to thunder and storm to speak His power.

Then he was told, “Go, stand on the mountain at attention before God. God will pass by.”
A hurricane wind ripped through the mountains and shattered the rocks before God, but God wasn’t to be found in the wind; after the wind an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake; and after the earthquake fire, but God wasn’t in the fire; and after the fire a gentle and quiet whisper.

1 Kings 19:11-12 MSG

He also reminded me:

In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be your strength.
Isaiah 30:15 NJJV

This lesson is not complete. I hesitated to write it because of that. But a conversation with my family in the car on the way to school encouraged me that I have come a long ways – perhaps long enough to encourage someone else. When asked “How Mama was doing with her anger?” My daughter responded with a measure of hands. “Here’s where you were before,” she said – stretching her hand to the ceiling of the car. “And here’s where you are now,” her hand somewhere behind my seat, “see – you can’t even see my hand! That’s how far down you are now.” My husband’s smiling nod of agreement confirms that while I may not be completely reformed, I am on my way.

Unfettered anger blazing unchecked – it’s another thing I’ve left on the sands of the desert. I may spend a lifetime learning the details and nuance of this lesson, but I’ll take that measure of my daughter’s hands as a milestone worth cheering for now.

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1 comment :

  1. "See - you can't even see my hand." Absolutely beautiful! Out of the mouths of babes.


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