“It makes me angry.”
Slicing through our brooding bedroom darkness, those were the first words out of my mouth at 5 a.m today. Lisa was awake, I just knew it, though she had not spoken. After 15 years, I’m pretty sure I can just sense when she’s awake. So, she heard me, but she instinctually knew to leave some space for my venting. She slid her hand over and gently held mine while I went on.
“It makes me angry that…” I now got specific, and like a skilled southern preacher who starts riffing, that was my refrain. “It makes me angry that…” By this point, I had hopelessly broken into a kind of prayer that was pulsating with pathos and pain.
Some of you by now will be sure I have lost my mind. Some of you will have started feeling sorry for my wife and will start organizing meals and be thinking about how you might support her in days to come. “Who starts their day by naming their anger out loud? In the darkness? Sheesh!”
But this was actually a really good moment for me, and Lisa knew it. I have long suffered from an invisible-but-very-insidious condition that I might call “Christian Niceness,” a malady that makes you think you have to bury all the “bad” emotions. There is a biblical and theological house of cards that must be built to maintain this position, but we’ve figured out how to build it.
It goes something like this: The God who is good only deserves the “good” stuff, the thanksgiving prayers, the shouts of praise, the soaring doxologies that arise from soul-restoring Sabbaths and the slow Saturdays when we have not a care in the world. The myth of Christian Niceness is built on the faulty assumption that the God who once made the heavens and the earth is now somehow fragile (he must be getting older, right?), needing to be protected from all the contingencies and complexities of the human condition. This approach treats God as if he’s already done his hard work and is sliding into a slow retirement from the swirl of life.
But the psalmists of ancient Israel didn’t see God as fragile. They cracked open their hearts and poured out of their mouths the full spectrum of their emotions. Often pulsing with fury and exasperation, these words are enough to make the average believer blush.
“With my voice I cry out to the LORD…I pour out my complaint before him…”
How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? 2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? 3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God.
The psalmists weren’t afraid. And neither was St. Paul who instructed the Ephesian believers to “be angry, yet do not sin.” Be angry!? Are you serious? Paul says if you’ve been wounded, you need to feel your way around the wound. If you’ve been hurt, don’t bury it. That sounds like an irresponsible thing for an apostle to command, but is it? Not at all, for Paul knows that if the anger is ignored and buried, it will bleed into everything else that you touch, everything else that matters.
So, I took the risk of voicing my anger early this morning. And Lisa joined me, praying peace into me as I released it. By the end of the time, I was finding space in my soul to release blessing and grace and forgiveness.
And do you know what happened? An hour later, our three kids stumbled downstairs into the kitchen for breakfast. We packed school lunches and double-checked homework assignments and searched high and low for socks and shoes. The morning rush out the door to school is often harried and frenetic, as any parent of young kids can tell you. But this morning we all laughed uproariously. We were playful and childlike and somehow un-rushed. I’m not exaggerating for effect. Things were different. And I think things were different because *I* was different.
Sisters and brothers, God is not old and fragile and scared. God is not afraid of your raw and unfiltered feelings. There are no “bad emotions” in the presence of God. The God of the ages is as young and scrappy as he’s ever been, and he’s ready to wrestle with you through your anger so that you can find your way into wholeness of soul. So take the risk. Tell him what you feel. Go for it.