Healing Deep-Seated Anger

Continued from here.

If you frequently “overreact” to life annoyances by becoming angry, I recommend that you pray for God’s wisdom and discernment about the real source of your anger. He fully understands the source of your underlying anger, even if you do not. Invite Him in to heal whatever is driving your anger.

The same advice applies if you are a “stuffer” rather than an “exploder.” That’s how I was for many years. I carried around a lot of repressed anger from the child abuse, but I didn’t feel safe enough to express it. So, I would stuff… and stuff … and stuff … And then, about once a year, I would explode and vent everything I had stuffed over the years. That’s no way to live – not for you or for the people in your life who love you.

I found it helpful to work through my repressed anger with a therapist. He gave me tools to help me express my anger at the source. For example, I used to have an aversion to popsicle sticks because of childhood trauma. I bought a large box of popsicle sticks from a craft store, broke them one-by-one, and threw them at the wall while venting my anger toward all I had suffered as a child. This was a “safe” way to express my anger that did no harm to anyone else and did no damage to anything except the popsicle sticks, which I didn’t care about.

As part of your process in figuring out why you “overreact” to life’s disappointments, you can run through the four steps I previously shared, taking it all to a deeper level:

  1. What do you want that you are not getting? Control over what happens in my life.
  2. Why do you want it? When other people were in control over my life, they hurt me.
  3. What does God’s Word tell you to do in this situation? Trust that God is in control over my life and will work everything, even this, for good.
  4. What should you do next? Pray for God to help me stop trying to control everything that happens in my life and, instead, learn to trust that God is in control, no matter how chaotic my life circumstances seem.

If you struggle with “stuffing” or “exploding” when life doesn’t go your way, I recommend reading Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. She provides practical ways to invite God into your “unglued” emotions so you can stop allowing Satan to steal your joy. Remember – It’s not about the chocolate!

[Graphic: Cover of Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Courtesy Amazon.com.]

It’s Not About the Chocolate

bummerContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared a simple example of how to put out the fire of anger. Unfortunately, people are rarely simple, so we must go deeper to get to the root of our anger and put it out. My cousin and I have a shorthand saying for this: It’s not about the chocolate.

My cousin and I traveled to Europe with a tour group. For our last day in Switzerland, we had the morning to buy souvenirs and then spent the afternoon atop Mt. Pilatus. Of course, many people bought Swiss chocolate, which they left on the bus while we visited Mt. Pilatus. The day was warmer than expected, so some of the chocolate melted. On the surface, getting angry about melted chocolate seems silly, but my cousin knew the back story of one of the travelers and pointed out that her anger was “not about the chocolate,” hence our shorthand saying.

Often, our anger is not about the precipitating issue. Instead, the current (often trivial) issue triggers a deeper reaction to something in our lives that we have not yet given over to God to heal. Until we heal the deeper issue, seemingly trivial issues will continue to trigger our deep-seated anger, causing the people around us to draw conclusions about us that might be way off base.

This is a common dynamic for child abuse survivors. They carry around anger from being abused as children that was unsafe to express at the time the abuse happened. They lock the anger away, but it’s always simmering beneath the surface. Then, when their chocolate melts (or something else happens to trigger their irritation), they react out of proportion to the surface-level trigger. As they choose to allow a small opening to vent their frustration over melted chocolate, the pent up anger from years of child abuse also pushes its way out, causing them to come across as “overreacting” to melted chocolate when they are really expressing legitimate anger toward past pain that was never processed.

If you find yourself repeatedly “overreacting” to trivial life annoyances, you might have repressed anger that needs to be dealt with. Thankfully, you have a God who understands the real source of your anger, and He’s waiting for you to invite Him in to heal it.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace frowning over the word, “Bummer.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

How to Put out the Fire of Anger

stay_coolContinued from here.

As I pointed out in my last blog entry, anger is a choice. So, whenever you feel angry, don’t let yourself off the hook by assuming that you have no control over your anger. You do. You chose anger, and you can also “unchoose it.” But how?

Here are the steps that God showed me after praying for guidance about how to “unchoose” anger. Each step is a question for you to consider:

  1. What do you want that you are not getting?
  2. Why do you want it?
  3. What does God’s Word tell you to do in this situation?
  4. What should you do next?

Let me give you an example. I was traveling with a group and was erroneously told that during our 30-minute lunch break, I could cross a bridge to purchase food and return in time to move on to the next destination. As it turned out, the tour guide was provided with incorrect information, which she passed along to me. It took almost a full 15 minutes to cross the bridge, and there were no eating establishments on the other side. So, I wound up using my entire lunch break to cross over a bridge twice without being able to eat lunch.

Let’s apply the four steps to the situation:

  1. What do you want that you are not getting? Lunch.
  2. Why do you want it? I’m hungry.
  3. What does God’s Word tell you to do in this situation? Remain content.
  4. What should you do next? Extend grace. The tour guide did not intentionally lead me in the wrong direction, and expressing anger toward her is not going to get me what I want (food). I can choose to be gracious, even when I am hungry.

The tour guide was apologetic and appeared to be ready for a “tongue lashing,” but I extended grace. I ate a protein bar for lunch instead, enjoyed the next leg of the tour, and had a hearty appetite for dinner. I did not have to “get my own way” to have a pleasant afternoon.

Put another way, I chose not to exchange my joy for anger. If I had chosen to become angry, I still would have missed lunch, but I would have also lost my joy. By choosing grace over anger, I was able to continue experiencing joy, even as I missed lunch.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace surfing on a popsicle under the words, “Stay cool.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Anger is a Choice

i_cannot

Continued from here.

In my last blog entry, I talked about Priscilla Shirer’s Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted Bible Study, in which she asked the question, “Do you have good reason to be angry?” While Shirer indicated that asking this question is enough to redirect her away from her anger, that wasn’t the case for me. When I was angry about my cold last month, I remembered to ask myself this question. My response was, “Perhaps I don’t have good reason to be angry, but my reality is that I AM angry. What do I do with these angry feelings now?” Clearly, I need more steps to help me “unchoose” anger.

As is evident by my response to the question, I did not view my anger as a choice I made. I believed it was a state of being that was outside of my control, but that simply is not true. The Bible is clear that anger is a choice:

Tremble [with anger or fear], and do not sin;
Meditate in your heart upon your bed and be still [reflect on your sin and repent of your rebellion]. ~ Ps. 4:4

“In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. ~ Eph. 4:26-27

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. ~ Jas. 1:19-20

All three of these passages indicate that we CHOOSE anger. How do we choose it? By our thoughts!

Think of anger as a fire burning inside of you. If you use your angry thoughts to pour gasoline on it, the fire will rage. However, if you “starve” the fire by choosing thoughts that don’t stoke the fire … or, better yet, thoughts that pour water on the fire … then your anger will subside. As with many Biblical truths, it really is that simple. The problem is that simple isn’t easy.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace holding her hand to her face and saying, “I cannot.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Do You Have Good Reason to be Angry?

Continued from here.

Priscilla Shirer’s Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted Bible Study talks about making sure you have good reason to be angry. For those of you who don’t know Jonah’s story beyond him spending three nights in the belly of a large fish, Jonah was a prophet who ran in the opposite direction when God told him to go to Ninevah. Ninevah was the capitol of Assyria, which was Israel’s enemy, and Jonah did not want God to show those people mercy. After the fish incident, Jonah did what God told him to do, resulting in the entire city repenting, which angered Jonah.

God’s response to Jonah was to ask whether he had good reason to be angry. Shirer put much emphasis on this question and said she now asks herself this question whenever she feels angry. Before allowing herself to indulge in her anger, she stops and thinks about whether she has good reason to be angry.

What might be a good reason to be angry? The Bible records Jesus driving out people involved in buying and selling in the temple and overturning their tables. While the word “angry” does not appear in the passage, one could surmise that he was angry as he did this. Assuming that is the case, he had “good reason:”

And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’” ~ Mark 11:17

So, a good reason to be angry might be when God is being dishonored. Jesus’ focus was clearly on God, not on himself, and I think that might be the key to whether we have “good reason” to be angry.

In her Bible study, To Live Is Christ: The Life and Ministry of Paul, Beth Moore contrasts Paul with Jonah and points out that even though Jonah accomplished God’s will, he did so with the complete absence of joy. Perhaps one reason we should ensure we have “good reason” to be angry is that we pay a heavy price when we choose anger – the absence of joy.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted (Bible Study Book). Courtesy Amazon.com.]

Anger Series

angryI am reading a fabulous book by Dallas Willard called The Great Omission: Reclaiming Jesus’ Essential Teachings on Discipleship. I have been pondering this quote for several days:

In the simplest of terms, the cross means not doing or getting what one wants. And of course, from the merely human viewpoint, getting what one wants is everything. Anger is primarily a response to frustration of will, and it makes no difference, to the broken soul, if what is willed is something perfectly trivial.”

~ Dallas Willard

This quote helped me see the Biblical passage about denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus in a new light. Jesus said this is required of his disciples, and after pondering this passage from Willard’s book for a while, it struck me that anger comes from not getting what I want.

While that was sort of a “Duh!” moment for me, I had never really looked at anger in those terms. So, I thought about various situations in which I expressed anger, and the common denominator was that I didn’t get what I wanted. This applied to very serious issues, such as not getting the safe childhood I wanted because of abuse, to the trivial, such as when my dog ate my son’s peanut butter sandwich this morning and I had to make him a new one for school — I want a dog who is better behaved. While my anger reaction has different levels of intensity, the common denominator is that not getting what I want was the trigger for the anger.

I previously shared that I became angry when I got sick last month. Why? Because didn’t get what I want (a healthy body). Since then, I have been contemplating what I could do differently to either avoid getting angry or have a specific plan to channel the anger constructively.

Jesus promised to give us his joy and that our joy would be complete. Whenever I am angry, I displace that joy, rendering my joy incomplete. Up until this point, I have simply accepted that anger is an emotion that I need to ride out. Now, I’m pondering whether anger might instead be a choice. And if anger is a choice, then I have the ability to “unchoose” it. But how?

This series will explain what I have learned and am continuing to learn. I am hoping that the next time I have a bad cold or am tempted to exchange my joy for anger, I will have the tools I need to make a different choice.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking angry and shaded in red. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Perseverance: Developed through the Moments

first_downContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared a five-step procedure that I developed through reading Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, which is helping me stay connected to the true vine. While I am certainly not perfect at facing trials, I am finding it easier to respond rather than react by taking 30 seconds to work through the five steps and redirect my focus to God, which keeps me attached to the vine instead of trying to slay the dragons of life myself.

I am finding that perseverance is developed through the moments, which is such a relief because I am much better able to handle one moment well than I am a rough week … or month … or year. If I knew that I needed to persevere through an entire year of trials, I would be likely to give up before I start because I know my inadequacy. However, I can make a right choice in this moment. As long as I keep making right choices moment by moment, those moments will add up to days … and then weeks … and then months … until I have persevered for a year.

I don’t think God expects us to persevere perfectly. Instead, He is looking for what Lysa TerKeurst calls “imperfect progress.” God is well aware that we are going to fail from time to time, and that’s OK. He’s more concerned about our overall progress over time than a failure in one moment. So, even when I blow it, I can pick myself back up, dust myself off, and resolve to progress in the next moment … and the one after that.

When I view developing perseverance as a series of moments rather than as one long “pass/fail” event, I have hope that I might actually be able to do this. I’ll never do it perfectly, so it’s a relief to know that’s not a requirement. I can extend myself grace as I learn, just as Paul learned, how to be content in every situation. And who knows? Perhaps one day, I’ll actually experience joy in the trials as I grow toward maturity and completeness.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing on a football field above the words, “First Down.” Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Perseverance: Getting through the Moments

Continued from here.

In my last blog entry, I asked why it’s so hard to stay connected to Jesus in every area of our lives when Jesus promises much fruit as long as we stay connected to him. I think one reason this is so difficult for me is that I don’t choose to stay connected in the moment of conflict. My natural inclination is to react immediately, and I think I need to press the pause button and remind myself not to detach from the vine.

Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions, is really helping me with this. She stresses the importance of having a procedure in place for those “unglued” moments so you can pause before disconnecting from the vine. She explains the five steps and shares her personal plan. She then encourages you to develop your own plan.

I am pleased to report that I am making progress using my plan. Here are the five steps that work for me:

  1. “Help me do this right” – This reminds me that my natural inclination is to react wrongly. I need to depend upon God to stay connected to the vine.
  2. Four fundamental beliefs — I remind myself that God loves me, is good, is with me, and is in control. I typically “forget” at least one of these whenever I start to come unglued.
  3. “It doesn’t matter what I see. It matters who You are.” – This helps me remember that God is bigger than whatever I am facing.
  4. “I know my God is able. He was faithful before, and He will be faithful again.” — This reassures me that God really is going to work this situation for good, no matter how impossible it seems in the moment.
  5. “Help me do this right” – Repeating this phrase reminds me that how I behave in a trial affects more than just myself. Other people are watching my reaction, so I need God to help me set a good example for others.

Since I have started applying this procedure in my life, I have been more successful in staying attached to the vine at the moment of decision. Rather than simply reacting and detaching from the vine, I am choosing to stay attached. It only takes me about 30 seconds to run through the steps, and then I am better to think through my response rather than simply react.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cover of Lysa TerKeurst’s book, Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions. Courtesy Amazon.com.]

Perseverance: Jesus is the Vine

tumbleweedContinued from here.

As I shared in my last blog entry, accepting my complete dependence upon God does not come easily to me. My natural inclination is to do as much as I can by myself, but God wants me dependent upon Him in every aspect of my life. Once I fully accept that reality, then I will learn contentment as Paul learned it. Even though I know this in my head, I still have not fully digested this reality … to my own detriment.

Jesus used the metaphor of the true vine and branches to explain our dependency upon him. Jesus is the true vine, and we are the branches. If we will stay connected to him (by doing what he tells us to do), then we will bear much fruit.

Think about the importance of a vine to the branches that bear fruit. The nourishment that the branches need to bear fruit comes from the vine. If the branch separates itself from the vine, then it will wither and die. As long as the branches stay connected to the vine, they effortlessly produce fruit. However, all the effort in the world won’t make fruit grow on a branch that is disconnected from the vine because the needed nourishment isn’t available.

Why is our natural inclination to try to live a fruitful life apart from God? When you think about this logically through Jesus’ metaphor, it makes no sense, and yet that’s exactly what I try to do with the molehills in my life. I recognize that I cannot be fruitful with the mountains of life when I detach from the vine, but I continue to pull away from the vine when I encounter molehills. I see the folly of this in my head, but I’m still working on digesting this truth so it becomes a part of my character.

I have a choice, just as you do. We can stay connected to Jesus in every aspect of our lives and bear much fruit in both the big and small areas. Or we can detach parts of our lives from Jesus, put forth much effort, and fail to bear fruit. The choice seems obvious, so why is this so hard to do? I guess that’s why we need many trials to learn this difficult lesson.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace standing near a tumbleweed. Courtesy Bitmoji.]

Perseverance: Dependency upon God in the Smaller Challenges

up_to_hereContinued from here.

In my last blog entry, I shared that I actually find it easier to be dependent upon God – and thus remain more content – when I face HUGE life challenges than when I face smaller ones. To quote a friend, “I can valiantly fight off a shark but then get nibbled to death by guppies.” Why is that?

I have learned that I can remain content in HUGE life challenges while continuing to experience extreme discontent in smaller challenges because of my refusal to depend upon God for them. Let’s see if you can relate to the mindset that I struggle with:

Let’s say I am juggling several annoying life challenges at once, such as being overcharged for my cell phone, having to keep rescheduling my son’s orthodontist appointment to accommodate makeup basketball games, and training a new dog who starts whining at 5:00 a.m. (even on Saturdays!!). None of these life annoyances is outside of what I believe I should be able to handle on my own. I think I don’t need God to deal with them … not that this is a conscious thought. I simply omit God from these areas of my life.

Then, more gets piled on – I get poison ivy, so I’m itchy … and then my son’s carpool buddy has to go out of town for a week, so I’m on double-duty … which means I have to make up the missed time from work … which takes two hours out of the time I have to do chores around the house that week … and so on … Suddenly, the same person who valiantly faced down her son’s major back surgery is curled up in a ball on the floor sobbing because I can’t handle all of this!!!!!

What God wants is for me accept that I am dependent upon Him in every area of my life and seek His involvement in the molehills just as much as I do in the mountains … but I don’t (although I’m learning) because that’s not what I want from God. I want to stay in control, and to accept that I am 100% dependent upon God means I must give up that control … and that’s very difficult for me to do.

You see, what I want is for God to tame the beast. I believe I can probably handle three of the molehills on my own, so I want God to reduce the size of the collective fire, and then I’ve got it from there. I can handle this on my own – I don’t need God’s involvement if He will just keep the molehills below a certain level. THAT is the mindset that God wants to break in me, and He uses trials to do it.

How might my life and outlook be different if I accepted that I am 100% dependent upon God in EVERY area of my life, big or small? More on that in my next blog entry.

Continued here.

[Graphic: Cartoon of Grace looking angry and holding up her hand next to the words, “I’ve had it up to here!” Courtesy Bitmoji.]