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Letting Go of Anger and Frustration
By Pam Vredevelt John Vredevelt
Multnomah Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2002 Pam Vredevelt
All right reserved.
Chapter OneRemember: It's Okay to Be Angry
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Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry-but don't use your anger as fuel for revenge. Ephesians 4:26, The Message
FOR MANY YEARS NOW, JOHN HAS TAUGHT ANGER management classes. Some of those who attend his courses are there only because the court has required them to seek professional help. Others are average, get-up-and-go-to-work kinds of men and women who now and then lash out at their coworkers, spouses, or kids. Whatever their background, they all have one pressing need: to learn to manage their anger constructively. John's goal is to give them the tools they need to do that.
John's students are not alone in their need to learn how to break destructive anger patterns. Research conducted during the 1990s showed that domestic violence was the number one reason women visited hospital emergency rooms. Focus on the Family, Dr. James Dobson's organization, surveyed children across America from all economic strata, asking them this question: If you could change one thing about your parents, what would it be? Ninety-six percent of the children said, "I wish they wouldn't get mad at me so much." Parents obviously struggle with anger. In fact, there isn't a person alive who doesn't find it difficult to handle anger now and then. And when anger is mismanaged, it can carry a very high cost.
One of the first things John does at the beginning of a class is to ask each person to complete this sentence: "I get angry when ..." Over the years, the answers have been remarkably similar. Do any of these responses hit a nerve in you? If so, welcome to the human race. If not, please see your doctor to determine whether you have a pulse!
I get angry when ...
I'm late and can't find my car keys.
I make stupid mistakes.
I know that someone isn't listening to me.
I ask my kids to do something and they argue with me.
I think someone is talking down to me.
I feel controlled.
I can't control things or make things work out.
I'm the target of inconsiderate drivers.
I feel threatened.
I'm treated unfairly.
I hear someone calling another person derogatory names.
I feel that God doesn't answer my prayers.
I see innocent people suffer.
Our responses to situations like these will differ depending on how much importance we attach to them. We aren't likely to get frustrated or angry about something that isn't important to us. The more it matters, the more intense our emotional response. Anger can be viewed as part of a continuum:
I'm sure that, with the exception of terrorists and their sympathizers, there were very few people who weren't angry in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. In fact, in the face of this and other evil acts, the absence of anger may indicate apathy, indifference, or a lack of compassion for others.
In his classes, John makes it clear that anger is a legitimate response to certain situations. "Our goal," he says, "is not to teach you how to stop being angry. We're starting this course with the assumption that anger is not a bad emotion. It's a normal, healthy emotion, and it's important that we acknowledge and feel it. And while it's a healthy emotion, it can also be a challenging one, as most of you already know.
"I'll say it again: The goal of this class isn't to help you stop feeling anger. When we try to deny or repress our feelings, we misspend our energies. Feelings that are stuffed don't go away; they just remain hidden. And when they remain hidden, they gain control over us. I've met some people who have hidden their feelings for so long that when they try to access them, they can't. They may not feel much anger, but they have no joy either.
"It's okay to be angry. But have you ever noticed how the word anger is one letter short of danger? The way we process and express our anger can be good or it can be bad. The goal of this class is to help us learn how to be angry without blowing it. If we don't process our anger properly, we can create danger for ourselves and for others."
Anger is part of God's original design. In the Bible there are 450 references to God's anger, and because He created us in His image, we too have the capacity to be angry. Does this mean that God is an irritable tyrant? The only way we can answer that question is to examine the life of Jesus Christ, who fully revealed God's nature. There we see that God's anger is the result of His justice and His love and compassion for mankind.
Time and again in the Bible we read that Jesus was "moved with compassion." The Greek word for compassion literally means to experience a gut-wrenching sensation. His heart broke when He saw people who were in desperate need, unfairly oppressed, or grossly mistreated. A strong sense of empathy led Him to feed the hungry, heal the sick, comfort the mourning, and raise the dead. He grieved over the injustices He witnessed ... and they made Him angry.
In Mark 3:5 we find the Pharisees condemning Jesus for healing a man on the Sabbath. According to their teaching, no work was allowed on the Sabbath, and they considered healing a form of work. The Scripture says that Jesus was "grieved for the hardness of their hearts" and that He "looked round about on them with anger" (KJV).
Mark 10:13-16 tells us that Jesus became angry with His disciples when they tried to stop a group of children from approaching Him. He sternly rebuked them, told them to let the children come to Him, and then laid His hands on the little ones and blessed them.
Perhaps the best-known example of Jesus' anger is found in Mark 11:15-17. Merchants and moneylenders had set up their businesses in the temple courts. Incensed, Jesus overturned their tables. "Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations the house of prayer?" He cried. "But ye have made it a den of thieves" (v. 17, KJV).
Jesus was not indifferent to the sin and suffering in this world. In fact, it made Him angry, and His anger drove Him to take action on behalf of others, including laying down His own life so that the rest of us could be forgiven of our sins and thus receive eternal life. Jesus got angry, but He used His anger as God intended-for good.
Anger, properly channeled and controlled, is a good thing-a God-given thing. Sometimes our anger is an indication that we have a strong sense of justice, and people who become angry about injustice often make our world a better place to live. Martin Luther's anger about the religious abuses of his time ushered in the Reformation. The Thirteenth Amendment was the fruit of agitation by abolitionists who were angry about the enslavement of human beings. Suffragettes angry about their inability to vote initiated a campaign that resulted in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment. Martin Luther King's anger about racism led to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. All these people were angry, but they channeled their anger into positive action that brought about social reform. Certainly our national anger about terrorist attacks is a positive force that energizes the mission to bring to justice those responsible.
We all get angry, and it's okay to be angry.
Like a chainsaw, anger is not inherently destructive. It's a God-given emotion that has a function. But it can be helpful or harmful, depending on how we use it. If we don't learn how to process and express it in healthy ways, the results can be ruinous. To avoid these disasters and turn our anger toward good ends, we need to know what causes it and how we are likely to react when we feel angry. That's the subject of the next chapter.
Excerpted from Letting Go of Anger and Frustration by Pam Vredevelt John Vredevelt Copyright © 2002 by Pam Vredevelt. Excerpted by permission.
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