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Monday, March 3, 2014
Choosing What To Do with Your Anger...
I am always impressed with couples who manage to get through a divorce without a lot of anger, hostility or bitterness. (Sometimes, they have done it so well I have wondered why they bothered to get divorced at all!) In spite of the illusions created through television and movies, it doesn’t happen very often, and from what I have seen factors that seem to make the difference include whether or not there are children, if finances are manipulated, or if there is an affair all have significant impact on the emotional outcomes. However, sometimes it is also merely a matter of temperament, the kinds of choices the individuals makes, and sometimes it is merely the matter of one individual simply acquiescing to accept whatever injustices are imposed. Those who acquiesce are sometimes very forgiving people and do so in a manner that might serve them well over time, while others acquiesce in a way that is merely stuffing resentments that surface later on.
In Ephesians 4:26, Paul warns us against harboring anger by challenging us to not allow the day to end with anger still in our hearts. Hebrews 12:15 warns against allowing bitterness to take root in our souls, because it infects others and cuts us off from the grace of God. In divorce, trying to take these verses seriously is a real challenge.
It is a difficult choice to not let the various injustices, betrayals and fears foster these emotions. Eviction from your home, financial uncertainty thrust upon you, lies cast your way, lack of concern for your needs, abandonment by an individual you once trusted an loved dearly…these all create such tension that anger and rage easily surface. In fact, for many of us, they are almost unavoidable, and the behavior of some spouses in the process of divorce exacerbates those feelings almost daily. Sometimes these emotions become so hardened that the individual nurtures and carries their anger and hatred for many, many years, creating not only problems between the two, but even enslaving the angry person in a bondage of bitterness and rage.
It is even more disturbing, I believe, when those feelings get handed down to children. All too often children form opinions and judgments based on childish interpretations of the things they observe, and then jump into the anger bandwagon toward one parent or another. Very often, they discover much later their mistake, and that they have adopted feelings that are not theirs to have, based on information that has been represented from only one perspective. It is very sad to see, especially when that attitude infection passes on unsuspected for many years.
So what to do? I don’t believe that anger has NO place in our lives…even Jesus experienced anger in his life and acted upon it on several occasions. But he never harbored his anger or allowed it to fester into rage and bitterness. And the anger he tended to act upon was anger he experienced over the mistreatment of others, not of himself. Peter mentions that when he was persecuted himself, he chose silence as his response. I have known people who managed this path in divorce, though most struggle with it.
The key, I believe, is not so much whether or not you feel angry, as to what you let your anger do.
Do you make your choices and actions based on anger?
Do you allow your anger to fester, or do you deal with it daily?
Does anger harden your heart into bitterness and hatred, or do you forgive offenses as they arise, refusing to carry them from one day to the next?
If you are years out of your divorce, does the anger still rage within, or have you honestly let it go?
Do you allow, no encourage, your children to love their other parent, or, out of your own anger, do you poison their minds with misinformation and personal interpretations that turn them against the other parent?
It doesn't mean you cannot be honest with them about shortcomings of the other parent, but it does mean you acknowledge forthrightly that even with all their shortcomings, the other individual is still their parent and, as such, deserves some degree of respect from the child.
God’s call is to forgive, for James reminds us that our anger does not attain the level of the righteous anger that only God has.
Being angry is not a very pleasant way to live, nor does it win one very many friends. I certainly don’t enjoy being around angry people, do you? The destructive emotions of festering anger, resentment, hatred and bitterness will rob you of the joy and very presence of God in life. Take a stand, move toward forgiveness and mercy. It is the way of living that God honors. And, it will keep you in touch with the grace of God for yourself, as well.