She pointed her finger at me and with a great deal of emotion behind her eyes she exclaimed “It’s your fault!” She went on to blame me for the loss of a ministry in our church. It was ok. I absorbed her anger. It wasn’t easy. In fact, it wasn’t my “fault” or my lone decision. I felt her anger and tried to understand where it was coming from, not so much what she was saying. But her timing was interesting to me.
This weekend I’m leading a workshop for a women’s conference on anger. The topic was set months ago. I’ve been thinking about the different forms of anger. Sometimes we just lose it and our emotions get the best of us. Toxic anger is not productive, it’s destructive. It deteriorates relationships. It destroys our spirit. But it is at one time or another a part of our experience. A few verses from the Book of James serve as a reminder of how we need to try to experience and deal with our anger and what can happen when we lose control. Make no mistake about it, we will and do get angry.
Toxic Anger “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry. This is because an angry person doesn’t produce God’s righteousness.” – James 1:19-20 (CEB)
How would life be different if when someone does something to hack you off you are able to slow down your reaction and just listen. To control the words we want to spew. To realize that our feelings are real and we don’t stifle them but how we express them makes all the difference. This day and time I am hearing far too much yelling, not enough listening. Far too much knee jerk reactions, not enough deliberate debate and dialogue. Toxic anger does nothing but encourage toxic reactions.
Not all anger is toxic, however. There is another form of anger the Bible talks about that leads to prophetic and Kingdom checks and balances. We call it righteous anger. Righteous anger rails against sin in our world. Righteous anger gets angry at the things that make God angry. Righteous anger expresses itself in Godly ways. So righteous anger identifies sin and focuses on offenses against God and God’s Kingdom and less so on personal offense. Ephesians speaks to and acknowledges righteous anger.
Righteous Anger “Be angry without sinning.” – Ephesians 4:26 (CEB)
Paul verifies that it is ok to be angry. In fact there are things that should make us angry. Children who go to bed hungry at night, should make us angry. People who are working two and three jobs and still can’t make ends meet should make us angry. People who act out of mean-spirited judgment and racism/bigotry should make us angry. Systems that do not allow everyone the opportunity to be successful should make us angry. Self interest before public interest by public officials should make us angry. You could add to the list, I’m sure. At the conference I was attending today I heard Rev. Mike Slaughter say,
“If it’s not good news for the poor, it’s not Good News.” – Mike Slaughter
Friends, this day and time there are so many things happening in our world, our country, our churches and our families that invoke anger within us. How you deal with your anger makes all the difference in the world. And getting angry at the right things is critical. Manage the toxic anger. Nurture the righteous anger. But please, don’t end up sounding like a self-righteous wisenheimer. That is not a good witness.
So next time I feel my blood pressure start to rise and my mouth ready to sound off, I’m committed to pressing pause and self identify toxic verses righteous anger. And I will ask myself have I listened enough to justify my feelings or am I simply reacting. And then I will try to express myself in as Christ like manner as I can muster. Admittedly, it’s a tall order for many of us. But my study on anger has inspired me to aim high!
Grace and Peace,
2 thoughts on “Righteous or Toxic Anger”
I just read an article in The New Yorker addressing what the author called “myself-bias”. His premise is that we all have sets of biases and we generally will not listen nor accept that someone else may actually be right or at least have valid points. He calls for overcoming these biases the same way as you do, listen more (constructively) and talk less. This will at least keep conversations spoken in a normal voice and anger at a minimum. It may even cause the other person involved to think more about their own myself-bias. Great advice. Now if I can only heed it.
True for us all! Easier said than done, but so important to work on. Good luck.