Tag Archives: anger

Take hold of your anger so you can let it go

I have talked to many Christians about their anger. Many of them could barely tolerate the subject because they were ashamed of their lack at self-control. I’ve concluded they felt that way because they had concentrated on talking themselves out of it. They were looking for their thoughts to align with God’s and then expected such an alignment to fix their anger problem. They really wanted to stop being a time bomb their mate was afraid they were going to set off. They understood their problem. But they just could not get their problem to listen to reason.

Pixar boils it down to this.

You might carry some anger

If the description above resembles you or someone you know, I hope you won’t hold it against them. They may have grown up in a church that was so convinced the Bible was God’s gift to solve all their problems they were obsessed with learning and applying the words correctly. They might have been so into the interpretation of the words they stopped listening with anything but their minds. Chances are they have been angry at themselves for being such a terrible listener and apply-er!

I have often preached, as I am about to, that the people who wrote the Bible were a lot deeper than the Bible. John, the beloved disciple of Jesus, plainly says he did not scratch the surface of what Jesus said and did at the end of his profound Gospel. The Apostle Paul apparently spent 14 years  listening and meditating before he was sent on his missionary journeys and wrote his wonderful teaching. They experienced deep transformation that went way beyond words.

Here is one thing Paul learned from God (not merely the Bible) that applies to letting go of your anger.

Not that I have already obtained all this [new life], or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. – Philippians 3:12

He wrote that line because he was taken hold of by Jesus and he was moved to take hold of Jesus. He did not apply a loosely understood set of words to write his letter and he was not teaching his readers to do that. He believed the Holy Spirit would take hold of his readers just like he was, and they would be able to let go of the past and live a new life with new goals just like he was.

If you are so angry your children are afraid of what you will do or say to them; if you can’t get along in your work or it makes you so frustrated you can’t resist venting about it; if you are angry in advance about what you suspect someone will do to you much of the time; if you use intoxicants to “take the edge off” because you are perpetually on the edge of anger; Jesus is reaching right into that place, Spirit-to-spirit, to save you. Take his hand and good things will follow.

When anger comes up, take hold of it

Lots of people want to be saved and have taken all sorts of steps to reap the benefits of faith. But many of them have done it via words and thoughts, not by Spirit and experience. They say to me with frustration, “I have done the right thing. I study the Bible every day. And I am still this way.“ You may have grasped the content, but not the hand of Jesus.

When it comes to anger, when we pray (which is mostly too deep for words), anger will likely come up if we have it, unless we are committed to repressing it. If we let our anger surface, acknowledge it — you could say “grasp it,” then we can let it go.

Some people I’ve heard lately want the Spirit of God to fulfill promises on their behalf and take care of their anger. They say things like, “I did what the Bible says to do. I cast my anger on God because God cares for me. So why was I still furious as soon as I saw my wife?”

There are a lot of answers to that question which go beyond what I am trying to do here.  But one answer would be. “I think you may have really just cast your anger back into the place where you usually keep it, and you expected Jesus to guard the door for you.”

What we need to do is let the anger out when we are with Jesus. We need to see it as best we can. And then we can let it go. The mindfulness people do a nice job at getting to this idea, only without Jesus in the room. Here is a nice meditation one of them suggests. I think Jesus wouldn’t mind sharing that YouTube with you. When I looked for a Christian variation designed for the same purpose, it was mainly a collection of words we were supposed to think about. I’m not even going to show it to you.

When you let the anger up it might be like a hot ball. One person described it as a dark slimy mass. Another envisioned a heart with chains around it struggling to beat. It might feel terrifying to intentionally look at your anger and feel it, to take hold of it like it takes hold of you. But you can do it.

You could get with your therapist or spiritual director and they might help you experience the feeling of anger when it is not just a reaction. You could start by talking about what you’re feeling with anyone who will listen, which might be your spouse if you let them. They might help you remember the earliest times you experienced anger coming at you or coming from you and how you formed the habits you formed for defending against it or using it. You might learn why you protect it, or dominate with it, or love it, or are afraid of losing it.

Sunset at Sea — Renoir, 1879

Then let go of it

I think we have to grasp the self-defeating emotional habits and thoughts we carry before we can let them go. It might be a gentle process like loading our anger on a little boat made of fallen twigs carefully putting it in the stream and watching it float away. Or it might be more aggressive like wrestling with an opponent through the night until something new happens.

We need to apprehend our anger before we can set it loose. The translation of Philippians 3:12 which is most accurate, in my opinion, includes the word “apprehend.” It reads something like, “I want to apprehend what apprehended me.”

The sentence reflects how Jesus apprehended Paul like He was chasing down a terrorist that day Paul was on the way to Damascus to do more crimes against the Lord’s fledgling community of followers. For the rest of Paul’s life he relished being imprisoned by Jesus, stolen from the world of sin and made a slave to righteousness. What a guy! His deeply spiritual and helpful sentence has the feeling of his exhilaration: “You’ve got to grab it!” You probably won’t share his excitement unless you open up to being grabbed in the deep places you organized to defend your heart when you were very young, or when disaster struck.

See if you are angry about being apprehended after reading what I just said. See what parts of you are off limits to being touched by the Spirit or by love. Anger is usually a first line of defense against what we fear or hate. Is there anything don’t you trust Jesus to handle with you, something your anger is trying to handle instead? Ask him yourself, and you will probably be well down the road to letting go of your anger.

I know people who are angry with their spouses about how they are angry with them. But they all love and depend on their spouse! They would like not to be angry at all. They would like to stop having arguments with people in their heads. It makes no sense. When you notice that irrationality, that’s the part of you that needs to be grasped and ultimately let go. Just withdrawing with the feeling back to safety or detonating it for the same reason will not work for good.

When you are contemplating with God and anger comes up, welcome it. It is not just a distraction, it is you. You may not know everything about it: “Why I am like this? Where did this come from? Why don’t I want to deal with it?” But if you listen in the quiet you may grasp a lot more in your soul than you understand with your words. You probably know a lot about your anger you would rather not handle.

Grasp what you can so far, maybe even put your hands around that ball and look at Jesus looking at it with you. Shame, fear, loss, disappointment, all sorts of deeper emotions may start to rise. That’s OK. They may move you to let the ball go and let Jesus heal you.

Maybe you will see that hot ball of anger float away when you let go of it, blown by a spiritual breeze until you can’t see it anymore, like Renoir’s little boat (above) out in his spiritual sea. Then turn back to Jesus to see how he looks and what he wants to do. Let him do it. Lay hold of him.

I hope some kind of embrace comes to your mind when you turn to Jesus — He loves you, angry or not, after all. You’ll get to feel that love more when you’ve taken hold of your anger so you can let it go. You’ll undoubtedly feel more love from others, too, and they will feel more love from you, for sure.


Today is Harriet Beecher Stowe Day! Few, if any, American women have had more influence on the United States than she had. Meet her at The Transhistorical Body.

Should I forgive them if they never offer an apology?

The Washington Post surprised me the other day with an op-ed featuring Warren G. Harding – the first president after World War I, most-remembered for the corruption in his administration. That’s him throwing out the first pitch. It was a weird week. First, I liked Dick Cheney, of all people, for accompanying Liz to the Jan. 6 commemoration. Then I read WaPo and ended up admiring the super-capitalist, Teapot Dome president!

I did not know that Harding forgave Eugene V. Debs! He commuted the sentence of the  Socialist who ran against him from prison! Debs’ crime was doubting-out-loud the validity of WWI — he called it a diabolical capitalist war. I guess I would have voted for him. However, he got no affection from the Woodrow Wilson administration. They threw Debs in jail for his speech with a dubious application of the Espionage Act. When Harding followed Wilson he decided, against the advice of his advisors, to forgive Debs. He even made sure the traitor came to the White House on his way home from prison, so he could meet him and form some connection.

Biden has been acting out a similar public drama for us all year. He’d love to forgive people. But he took the gloves off on Epiphany and laid out Trump. For most of the year he has been restrained, trying hard to bridge the divide. But maybe that’s over. Are you similarly conflicted? Do you rehearse snappy things you would say to your enemies in your head — the zingers you will never get a chance to deliver? What do you do when your offender will not apologize, much less reconcile?

Have you decided how you are going to handle the people who have undermined you, lied about you and then blamed you for what they did to you? A lot of us are in a lot of drama. All over the country divorces have gone up, families have been divided over politics, churches have split and pastors have resigned. You can’t look at the news, if you dare, without someone worrying about American “democracy” – which Eugene V. Debs did not think much of when he was jailed for saying something that 900,000 people voted for.

It can be hard to forgive sometimes, but if Warren Harding can do it, maybe we can too.

What if they don’t say they are sorry?

This is always the big question when it comes to forgiveness. What if the person who hurt us is not sorry? It is not uncommon for someone to protest when forgiveness is suggested:

I can’t let my guard down. That would be surrendering and acting like they were justified in hurting me. They would get away with their crime! I would be just as vulnerable to more of the abuse I just suffered.

I will not forgive until the other person: 1) knows that wrong was done; 2) feels an inner sorrow for doing it; 3) apologizes to me; 4) and makes amends. Then I’ll know it is safe to forgive and enter back into the relationship.

Most of us are taught to apologize from a young age along the lines of those four conditions.  We bite a sibling, say something cruel, push someone around, and some well-meaning adult intervenes and tells us, “Now, say you’re sorry.” Half-hearted apologies ensue along with forced hugs and we move on. But something changes as we age. Apologies are harder to come by and pain cuts a little deeper than “She took my Sports Diva!”

What are you supposed to do when someone intentionally hurts you, rips your heart wide open, and then leaves you to pick up the pieces? What if they move on with their lives, with no well-meaning adult to come along and demand they apologize?

From our playground lessons, we’ve been conditioned to think that forgiveness follows an apology. But things change and people forget how to apologize. We protest and we hear “That’s your problem.” We get the unspoken message we’re wrong for being hurt. But living wronged with that prickly disconnection installed is a recipe for bitterness and it might even make us sick.

When hurt remains unforgiven, when the memory stays unprocessed, it sits in our hearts as if it is still happening. We wait for an apology in order to get some relief. Do you have anyone on whom you are still waiting? Is it fairly easy to get all worked up when their face pops into your mind or someone speaks about them fondly or you see them succeed? Jessica Harris wrote:

“My dad left our family when I was in elementary school. The pain caused by his abandonment ran deep. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that someone I loved could hurt me so badly when I didn’t do anything to deserve it. Then, as I got older, I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that someone I loved could hurt me so badly and not care.

That ate away at my heart for years. The hurt remained unresolved as I waited for this man to return to my life and apologize for wrecking it. I thought my anger was my power. My ability to never forget was going to ensure I would never get hurt again. It was how I protected my heart.

That anger bled over into my other relationships. I became angry in general, always blaming it on my dad. If he would just admit he was wrong, my life would be better.”

I couldn’t tell that same story.  But I have definitely had to work through similar hurts in the last few years. You probably have had some hurts too. My clients certainly share them every day: a trauma that is lodged in the memory and won’t go away, a loved one who betrayed their trust, an unscrupulous salesman or contractor who swindled them, a family member who hurt them but has since passed on. They still feel people who cut them deep but have never once breathed an apology. You might feel you have a right to hold a grudge, yourself.

What if anger is not strength?

Bitterness is an enemy of resilience. It is the opposite of joy isn’t it? It is the taste of poison.  You cannot be strong and move forward with your life while still dragging around chests full of bitterness from your past like you’re Jacob Marley.

What kids rarely learn is that forgiveness is more for the forgiver than for the offender. Forgiveness is not, “I am OK with what you did.” It isn’t even, “I accept your apology.” It is, “I am not going to hold this in me or against you anymore.”

The point of forgiveness and apologies is ultimately reconciliation. An apology is extended by the person who committed the hurt. They need to do that to get free. Forgiveness is extended by the person who was hurt. It frees them more than the offender. Then two free people who have freed one another can move on to work out how to live together in love.

Even if you can’t get to reconciliation you can still forgive, and bring closure to a hurt. You can do that even if there is no apology. If you’re too hurt to forgive right away, take time to scab over. But try not to hold on too long. The anger you nurse is just the hurt hanging on. Being angry is not being strong. Forgiving brings strength that lets us really heal and move forward with life without waiting for someone to let us out of the bitterness prison.

Go ahead and forgive

Forgiveness is uncommon enough that it is actually studied. You can be a forgiveness expert.  A growing body of research shows that best forgiveness practices are about people exercising the moral virtue of forgiveness even if there is no justice or even hope of reconciliation. One tries to be good, within reason, toward an offending person. As a result, the forgiver reduces their anger, anxiety and depression and improves their self-esteem and hope (Robert Enright). A good reason to forgive is to protect your health!.

We dare not conflate forgiveness and reconciliation. People often do, but we dare not. Forgiveness is not dependent on reconciliation, restitution or justice. The offer of forgiveness can be unconditional, not dependent on the other’s response at all, including an apology. Sounds like Jesus, right? Reconciliation, when at least one party is deeply and unfairly hurt, is the fruit of forgiveness and apology and is conditional; it depends on how the offending party or parties understand their hurtful ways and change. Sounds like what Jesus would like to build, right?

A forgiver is motivated by their desire to be rid of resentment and act as good as is possible  toward an offending person. If that person has no inner sorrow, never intends to apologize or to make amends, you don’t act like they do. Yet, you can still have the intention to reconcile if the person changes and interaction becomes safe. You even can show an outward quality of forgiveness, for example, by not talking disparagingly about the offender to others. It is working out Romans 12:18: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” If a person keeps abusing you, you can struggle for peace instead of just struggling against hurt. You don’t need to bear their responsibility.

Why not be healthy? If you reject forgiving because you conflate it with reconciliation, you  deprive yourself of a chance to recover, lead a healthy psychological life and even a healthy relational life with others (if not necessarily with the offending person). Deep anger from injustices can lead to a lack of trust in general, thwarting potentially uplifting relationships.

How we think about forgiveness is important. If we make the mistake of waiting for an apology or holding out for an ideal reconciliation, we allow the offending person or a passing act to dominate us for a long time, maybe even for a lifetime if the wound is deep enough. Forgiving and reconciling are not the same. You are free to forgive, if you choose, even if someone refuses to apologize.