A few minutes ago I had an “AHA” moment, and it had nothing to do with sparkling water. I literally woke up with a revelatory thought and it has to do with misunderstanding a verse in Ephesians. The verse actually says:
“Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.”Ephesians 4:26–27, ESV
But unfortunately, I internalized a twisted version of the command:
“Don’t be angry, lest you sin.”
The only problem with this distortion is that in a fallen, broken world, there is a lot of stuff to be angry about. Even as very young children we encounter things that should make us angry because they are wrong.
Looking back, there were indeed things in my life that I should have been very angry about. With the distortion that I was taught, I learned to suppress the anger rather than express it appropriately.
The effect is that in a situation that should cause anger, rather than stand my ground and challenge the source of anger, I choose to shut down and walk away. In that moment, I function as if I have no right to be angry, even when anger is the appropriate response. Whether I do so physically or not, emotionally, I turn tail and run away.
I am too often Neville Chamberlain when Winston Churchill is required.
The last few months have been revelatory for me and I now have a better understanding of why I gravitated so completely to the distortion of Paul’s command.
I was exposed at an early age to someone who expressed anger in a very inappropriate way. I felt the sting of that anger and had no tools to know how to deal with it. I should have been protected, but I was not.
I play the Neville Chamberlain role because I learned to anticipate the rage and assumed the responsibility to prevent it if I could. I learned to be a people-pleaser, suppressing my own desires in an effort to maintain an illusion of peace. As a young child, that was the only option available to me. But unfortunately, I carried that same people-pleasing tendency well into my adult years where it has not served me well.
People-pleasers may make good employees, but I know from experience that we are relationally challenged. It’s hard to be a full person when you are always worried that you might say or do something that will cause tension. It’s hard to be a full person when you are taking responsibility for things that are outside of your control. It’s overwhelming to do so.
To borrow language from a twelve-step program, I am a recovering people-pleaser and I chose to be different moving forward. I will seek to follow Paul’s actual command and not my distortion of it.
I chose to be angry when it is appropriate to be angry and I also chose to express that anger in a constructive way. I trust that as I read Scripture, pray, and seek counsel, that I will learn new skills to do this.
One last thought. In v. 27, quoted above, Paul lets us know the consequence of not dealing with anger appropriately, it gives the devil a foothold in our lives.
Anger expressed inappropriately, or anger suppressed will lead us away from following the two great commands to love God and love our neighbor.