A few months back, Cody and I were a little testy with each other. Our newborn had a cold (so did his mama) and was up every few hours to feed. Our eldest was adjusting to a time change, and also under the weather, and when he crawled into our bed at 2am, we formed the letter H, with me in the choke hold, and my hubby getting kicked in the chest until 7am when the alarms went off. So, we were kind of short with each other on our walk to the train. We were halfway through the crosswalk, when a cabbie turned illegally in front of us, dangerously close to hitting us. And while this is not unusual for New York, that morning, we were not the ones.
Together, at the same time, with our fists raised, we shouted, “HEY! What are you doing?!” And I can neither confirm or deny if one of us, the least saved one, (I am confident you will make the right choice about who), yelled, “Idiot!” Our common disdain for this fool driver, onto whom, we transferred our anger, provided relief from our tension. So, we laughed hysterically, held hands, and decided to live another day.
You ever feel like you might explode? For the love of all things sacred and holy, in this Charles Dickens Great Expectations, saga of a year, called 2017, I sure did. There were times I was madder than a red ant looking for an arm to bite in the middle of July. These are difficult days, and it’s tough to process. So much of life is out of our control, and that’s when the character inside of us, starts to come out into the world around us. I’ve come to realize that women struggle with anger more than we think. And society, and likely our familial upbringing, has contributed to our constant effort to keep that junk under wraps, lest we be called emotional, aggressive, and a name we certainly don’t deserve.
But anger is not a forbidden emotion. Our response to anger is what counts.
We all express anger in different ways. Some of us hurt ourselves. Some of us hurt others. Probably, we all do a bit of both. We procrastinate as a form of protest because of anger. We channel our rage into anxiety and stress, busyness and care-taking, achieving and attaining. We live frustrated, irritable, defeated, even addicted. We lose time and energy, strength and sleep. We isolate, or we show up with our masks on, and pretend we’re okay, even though we’re about to blow a gasket. We marinate on something that was said, or done, to us, and allow that situation to take up the majority of real estate in our head, robbing us of joy and gratitude. We feel helpless at times to do anything, so we numb out. (Hi, my name is Ashley, and I, along with 50 million of my not-close-at-all friends, am obsessed with Instastories.) We can even suffer depression due to unresolved, suppressed anger, or live offended, and reacting to life through that lens of pain and unforgiveness.
As Cody and I took some time over dinner to share our highs and lows of the year, and for the first time in our marriage, there were more lows than highs that we experienced together, and I told Cody one thing I want to change in the new year, is my response to things I cannot control. I want to work at managing the tension between my hopes and desires, and that of my lived reality, with more grace, grit and gumption. And I want to work to change the things I can change, and quickly. Offense, unforgiveness, and just living irritated (and saying 12 times a day, what, in the actual hell is going on around here) are things I want, and need, to release. For my mental health and sanity.
Sister, what do you say, we get to the root of some of this, right here, before the new year? What if there are healthier ways to process hurt and disappointment, and healthier ways of channeling anger? We finish the final week of Advent today, focusing on love, with the birth of Jesus, the newness of life in the Savior King, the promise of transformation, restoration, reconciliation. How fitting to end the year with this notion that what is old can be made new. That old habits and hang-ups, old mindsets and structures, old relationships and attitudes, old discontent and dread, can be transformed into new life, new hope, new joy, is part of the miracle of Jesus. And that the climax of His life, would be a cross, a place of suffering, is another baffling miracle, and strangely comforting and encouraging to me. There is a place for our pain, and our disillusionment, for our mistakes and failures, and always, always, for us to begin again, anew. The resurrected Jesus is our miracle of freedom, that even in unbearable circumstances, in our uncertainty and sorrow, in our anger and disbelief, there is a better way, of hope, joy, love and peace.
Here’s some help turning anger into love, as we start our new year.
It’s a process. Like the rest of the bad memes out there, I also want to be like: NEW ME, WHO DIS? as I stroll into 2018, but for the love, it’s two days away, and nobody changes that fast. It’s just not possible, so step one, is committing to the process, and that means having healthy expectations of ourselves, and others. I don’t know how many years it took to develop our current habits, but we can expect for it to take some time for us to change. And while we’re at it, we can’t control anyone else, so let God worry about their life change, and we’ll worry about our own.
Breathe and release. Take a few deep breaths. Excuse yourself from a meeting, or a moment with your kids, friend or spouse, and lock yourself in the bathroom. Just breathe. Find a focal point that centers you. Words help me, so I try to center on one of these: Help. Mercy. Please. Thank you. I’m sorry. Anger does not produce the righteousness and goodness of God. Maybe for you, it’s a picture in your mind you can return to, a phrase or scripture, a person of peace in your life you can think about. And then, release, because it’s better than rage. Release so you can re-engage in a reasonable, responsible way.
Communicate. This is the hardest one, if you’re new to expressing emotions in a healthy way, because it requires vulnerability and honesty. Share and process with trusted friends and family however you need to, and then communicate. Instead of passive aggressive comments, or whining, or verbal vomiting, (no shame, all of these and more happen sometimes, and it’s okay) we can make the courageous choice to say, “When this happened, I felt sad, or hurt, or disappointed.” or “This behavior is detrimental to me, and I can no longer tolerate when you do it.” or “This is unfair; it’s not right, and I cannot allow you to do this anymore.” or “I really don’t want to do this. I keep procrastinating, because it’s not in me to take care of this for you.” or whatever is the honest, loving truth. If we are to be brave communicators, we must speak in “I” statements, and give up the trash talking, sideways comments, and blame game.
Change. Create new habits, new road maps in the brain, that will help you. Expend energy. Go for a walk. Find a gym class you love, or do some squats in your living room. Journal, write, read, memorize scripture. And take care of yourself, the best way you can, with what you have, where you are, right now. Drink more water. Eat more greens. Sleep (which we haven’t done in a long time, so do your best). Spend less money, so there’s less stress. Get together with friends as much as possible. Make friends (or at least peace) with your co-workers.
Help. That’s right, help. Serve somebody! Goodness gracious, if we just stopped thinking about ourselves so much, we might not try to control everything around us, or be so disappointed that everything and everyone doesn’t cater to our every expectation and desire. And a word for my justice loving friends, self-care, sister, self-care. How we survived all the things this year, I’ll never know, but we cannot give up now. So, let’s help each other. We can, and we must, channel our anger into effective advocacy, service and love, and continue to be about the change we know is possible in this world. Courage, dear heart. Your voice, your life, your hands and feet, matter to the cause. Keep your hand to the plow, because more love, not less, is required.
All that passing laws against sin did was produce more lawbreakers. But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down. All sin can do is threaten us with death, and that’s the end of it. Grace, because God is putting everything together again through the Messiah, invites us into life—a life that goes on and on and on, world without end.
Romans 5:20, The Message
Let’s grow up in love, together, my friend. I’m in this with you ’til the end.