My friends and family all tell me that I’m bitter and always angry. I agree, but they tell me to “just stop it!” And I can’t. I get angry because people say and do mean things to me. Of course I get angry, wouldn’t you? At the same time I know that the Bible tells me not to be bitter or angry. Please help.
Angry in Troy
Let’s begin with an example of what I think you’re saying and then give you something to think about along the same lines.
Here’s what I hear you saying: Suppose you spent two hours on a new hair-do and when you were finished, thinking this is the best ever, you walk out of the bedroom and your roommate takes one look at your new hair and exclaims, “What in the world happened to your hair? Are you alright?” She hurts your feelings, insults you and all your creativity, and you naturally get angry with her. Is that about right?
Let’s change the example slightly. Suppose your roommate loves your hair and you go out into the world wearing it proudly on your head. On the sidewalk outside your apartment, you meet the local mentally challenged girl sitting her wheelchair. She can hardly talk, everyone knows she is very slow mentally, about the age of a four year old, and when she sees your hair she exclaims in a loud voice, “What happened to your hair? Are you alright?” She hurts your feelings, but because of who she is and the challenges she lives with, you don’t get angry with her. Instead, you reassure her that you don’t have anything wrong with your hair, instead that you did it on purpose and you think it is lovely.
Okay, assuming that these two stories might really happen, what is going on here? In the first case your feelings are hurt by your roommate who ought to know better. And you blow up at her. In the second, your feelings are hurt by a woman who can’t know better. In the first case you get angry, and in the second you don’t. Instead, you gently help the second to understand that you have created a wonderful work of art.
Now let’s go a step lower in the illustration. What was going on in both of these scenarios immediately after the comments by the two women about your hair? You quickly assessed the situations and made different decisions based on your assessment. In the first case, you decided to get angry and, in the second, you decided not to get angry. In the first, you decided to yell at your roommate, in the second, you chose to speak kindly to your neighbor.
Another layer down and you realize that at some time in your past, you trained yourself to react in these two different ways in these two different situations. To use another illustration, suppose you took karate lessons for five years. Then, one night you were walking along, minding your own business and out of a dark shadow a man leapt out to take all your money. Five seconds later, you find yourself dusting off your clothes with the mugger lying in a heap next to you bleeding from his nose, holding his knee, and moaning loudly. What happened? Did you make any decisions? Yes. Did you spend a lot of time thinking about the decisions, or planning them? Yes, you did. But not in the moment. You spent five years preparing for this moment. You made all the decisions ahead of time and when the proper moment availed itself, you shifted into autopilot and beat up the mugger. Decisions made quicker because of habit, training, or some other kind of preparedness, are still decisions being made.
If we go back to your decisions to get angry or to not get angry, we can see that you have spent many years dealing with hurts and insults and other things people have done against you by becoming angry. In circumstances that allowed it, you lashed out against your enemy. In circumstances where lashing out was impossible, you simply stuffed the anger and seethed inside. Incidentally, this not releasing your anger is called “bitterness.”
I hope, by now, that you are beginning to understand that none of us “just get angry.” We choose to get angry depending on the situation. How our anger is expressed depends on the situation. When the anger is not expressed, but not gotten rid of in a godly way, it becomes bitterness and eventually comes out in other ways.
I have more, later. I want to explain how you move from naturally becoming angry to naturally becoming loving.
I hope this helps.