Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. —Ephesians 4:26-27 (RSV)
Some years ago, I asked my family to make a list of times when they’ve unjustly been the recipients of my anger. Thankfully, it was a pretty short list, no bigger than a phone book. I thought the list would actually be a lot bigger. Well, come to think about it, the phone book was just my wife’s list. The kids’ lists were so long that we had to go to Kinko’s to get more paper.
Seriously, there came a point when I became aware that I had an anger problem. I know I’m not alone in the struggle to control and express anger. Plenty of people have no idea what to do when they’re angry. Maybe this is you too. On the other hand, maybe you believe anger is something you should never feel. Good Christians don’t get angry—do they? So you stuff your anger deep inside you and never let it out. Either way, whenever we are angry and don’t express it appropriately, the anger comes back to hurt us.
I’ve since learned to deal with anger in more constructive and God-honoring ways. I’m not perfect, but I am making progress. If you’re stuck in anger, perhaps some of the steps I’ve learned along the way can help you as well.
Don’t deny anger. Make a conscious decision to call an irritation what it is. Something’s wrong. It’s okay to say that.
Delay anger. Put anger on hold. This gives you an opportunity to say to yourself, “I could be wrong here, so let me think this through.” This simple action requires a depth of maturity. This is where you need to slow the situation down to assess what’s really going on. Make a conscious choice to be patient.
Define anger, then deliver it to God. Like pulling back the covers on a lumpy bed to see what’s hiding underneath, ask yourself the simple question: “Why am I really angry?” Most people never ask this question, they just immediately react to the trigger of their anger. Take the time to reflect and define. Having identified your anger, talk to God about your hurt. The real reason for your anger is where God wants to meet you. Tell Him all about it, and ask Him for help.
Defuse the anger, then respond. The first three steps help to defuse your anger, but you still need to respond. Make it your goal to respond in a way that honors God and promotes peace by making the situation less harmful, potent, intense, just as you would—by physically removing a fuse from a bomb. Take to heart the words from the Scriptures, “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1.) Whenever you do this, you are choosing to seek relationship peace.
Anger is a part of life and requires a response. But, remember that whenever we feel angry, we have a choice. We can take the route that leads to pain or the one that leads to peace. With God’s help, we can choose peace!
1. What are some things that regularly trigger your anger?
2. Pick a time in the recent past when you got angry and go deeper: what might have been at the root of your anger?
Romans 12:18; Proverbs 16:32