Dealing with Anger - Stuff, Spew, or Pray
Sometimes people are mean. There is no amount of reinterpretation or positive spin that can overcome this. People can be dishonest, disloyal, and demeaning. I get especially angry when someone I have trusted or helped returns meanness for kindness. Really angry. One side of me desires vengeance in response to this anger and I want to seek and destroy. Another side of me struggles with the very presence of this anger. Sometimes there’s even a bit of guilt over feeling angry instead of loving.
In these situations I’m tempted to either spew or stuff my anger. I might spew my anger directly at the person who wronged me or I complain about that person to anyone and everyone who will listen. Alternatively, I might just stuff the anger deep inside of me where no one will see it and I don’t have to deal with it. Neither of these ways is particularly helpful.
I wonder, what is the godly response to anger?
As in much of my spiritual journey, I find help in the Psalms. There is a group of psalms called imprecatory psalms which express the anger of the psalmist in prayer. Psalm 109 is a good example. This is not some sugar coated, what do I think God wants to hear type of prayer. This is a gut wrenching, uncomfortable prayer for vengeance. This is the prayer that my enemy’s wife become a widow and his children be orphans (Ps 109:9). This is the psalm that is uncomfortable when it comes up in the Daily Office. I have struggled with the inclusion of this psalm in the BIble.
The imprecatory psalms prepare me to bring my anger into my prayer. I have the option to neither stuff my anger nor spew to others. Instead, I can pour out my hurt and anger to God. As I do, I am reminded that even though my enemies assault me, I am turn to prayer (Ps 109:4). God also uses this time to reveal truth about me. As I name the hurt behind my anger, I realize that this is not a new hurt. This current hurt has exposed a wound much deeper than the present. I can cry out that I am helpless and my heart is wounded (Ps 109:22). This becomes an invitation to present this deep wound to God for healing.
I also become aware that the one who has hurt me is in need of healing. I remember the old axiom that, “Hurt people hurt people.” By grace, I can be aware of the hurt, fear, shame, or wounds that is at the root of the other persons meanness. Then, I can pray for healing rather than vengeance and reconciliation rather than retribution. By grace, my cursing is turned to blessing in a way that is deeper and more honest than if I never allowed my cursing to come into my prayer. My prayer can end, as Psalm 109 does, in a praise for God that is deeper than my hurt.
I have a mentor and teacher who would lecture on emergency medicine. He always included a slide with Snoopy exclaiming, “The time to learn how to dance is not the night of the prom.” In much the same way, the time to learn to be angry in the presence of God is not the time when you are hurt and angry. The imprecatory psalms teach us to be comfortable with our discomfort bringing our vengeful anger to be healed and transformed in the presence of God.