Jake and I were driving to preschool/church earlier this week and he said the funniest thing.
He’s almost 3 years old, so he says lots of funny things – but this one made me stop with wonder.
“Mommy, ” he said. “Why’s it get dark?”
“It gets dark at night, when the sun goes down.”
“Mommy … ” he said, almost sheepishly, taking a deep breath …
“Mommy, don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”
Even for a pastor’s kid, this was a new one. Where in the world did he get it? I originally thought he was quoting Proverbs. Maybe he’d been watching too many episodes ofVeggie Tales. Maybe when he sat in church watching cartoons on Daddy’s iPhone, he was actually listening …
“Mommy, don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”
Wherever it came from, it was astute. I’d been angry that week, even at one point particularly angry, or at least frustrated – with him. He was such a great kid, so smart, but he had a knack for potty accidents at exactly the worst times.
It had been nearly a month with no accidents whatsoever – even exiting the pool to go potty, which for some adults remains a major accomplishment (see: Las Vegas’ Wet Republic at the MGM).
Then Monday afternoon I got the call from the preschool: “Jacob pooped his pants.” He’s supposed to be fully potty trained in order to be enrolled, so this was bad news.
I had about 5 minutes to get down there, help him change, and make it to my 32-week OB appointment for Baby Boy No. 2. When we tried to slip out of his shorts and get changed, he inevitably stepped his shoe right into the brown mess, creating a bigger problem and further increasing my frustration.
“Mommy, are you not happy?”
Not the right question to ask at the moment.
We made it to the doctor appointment a few minutes late, ate dinner with dad, and I honestly don’t even remember the rest of the night. I think I took a bath while Daddy did bedtime duty, and I think Jake asked me again a few times: “Mommy, are you not happy?”
The accident alone wasn’t a big deal. Then it was the ever-present laundry, the car who cut me off, the empty toilet paper roll, adjusting to a cross-country move, the aches and pains of third-trimester pregnancy, the way my once-huge maternity jeans now nearly cut off circulation to my legs …
At one point, I think it was on the way to the doctor appointment when the light turned red in front of us, and I said again: “No pooping in your pants!”
Jake responded: “Mommy, you are not happy?”
Tears started to come to his eyes: “I want you to be happy. You have to be happy.”
It was a beautiful, innocent wish – and ultimately unattainable, perhaps especially during the third trimester of pregnancy. No one, not even mommies, are happy all the time. Sometimes, we are angry. Sometimes there is one thing that rationally makes us angry: righteously angry. Maybe it’s unjust murders and civil wars halfway across the world or in our own hometown. Maybe it’s racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, bullying. The way the female body, pregnant or not, is always fair game for comments of desire or derision. The way women can be relegated to one role or another: the saintly mother, the beautiful wife, the promiscuous harlot, the bossy career woman – defining us so narrowly that to occupy multiple roles seems to consist of walking a daily tightrope: skirt not too short but not too long; hair not too curly but not too straight; voice not too high but not too low.
As a mom of two boys I recognize I will bear much of the responsibility for defining womanhood to them. They will put me on an unfair pedestal, make fun of me with future romantic partners, and – I pray – always love me as dearly and as deeply as I will love them.
As their mom, I have the opportunity and the prerogative to teach them about anger. So that they might give permission to the women in their lives to feel it fully, and not let it consume them.
This is – I think – the deeper meaning to Jake’s hilariously wise words spoken the other morning in the car. He had changed his tune. No longer: “Mommy, you have to be happy … ” – now it was – “Mommy, don’t let the sun go down on your anger.”
This is a Biblical phrase. It comes not from the Old Testament but from the New Testament letter to the Ephesians, Chapter 4, verse 26:
Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
God seems to have spoken through my 3-year-old, who spoke through the Apostle and letter-writer to the Ephesians.
Have you ever met a kind, charitable church-going woman who always seems right on the verge of anger? She volunteers for all the potlucks. She cleans the church, puts away the folding chairs, leads the choir, helps with Sunday School. She can always be counted on to do what needs to be done, and she loves Jesus.
She is Jesus’ disciple, but perhaps all her life – she’s been told: “Don’t be angry. Be happy.” She’s never been given the permission of Ephesians 4: to experience anger and frustration and even express it. So she does what so many of us do: in bathroom stalls, driving cars, at home with our families, in the privacy of a quiet room – we stuff our anger until it explodes in the wrong place, at the wrong time, to the wrong person.
We think it’s wrong for a woman, much less a mother, to be angry and so when anger inevitably, righteously, hits us – with its cousin fatigue and its brother frustration – we don’t know what to do except to bury it beneath a smile that gets thinner and weaker as the day winds on.
All women cope with our anger differently. Some kickbox or Zumba, some mow down a surreptitious box of Dunkin Donuts after dropoff at school. Some drink glasses of wine or pour vodka in water bottles. Some spread nasty, secretive rumors. Some take it out on those who we love most.
We all get angry, though. It is a function of being human and I daresay without anger we would never have won the American Revolution, the Civil War, the women’s right to vote, school desegregation or any other host of advances that came about when people got righteously angry and unleashed the power of justice and the Holy Spirit.
God got angry and created the Flood, which became the opportunity for renewal.
Jesus got angry and destroyed the Temple, driving out the moneychangers and those who denigrated religious practice.
Their anger was a means to a righteous end, just as ours may be.
So Be Angry when you are angry and do not be ashamed to say, in the moment: “This is not right. I’m angry.”
Let yourself Be Angry. The Bible Says.
Then the Bible says this:
… Do not let the sun go down on your anger
If your anger and frustration has been bubbling today, rising up and threatening to spill over – let it spill. Let it out, however that works for you – and don’t be afraid to say: “I’m angry.” You’re merely doing what the Bible says.
But then, as my 3-year-old so wisely reminded me … Don’t let the anger consume you. When it’s out, when it’s expressed, when you’ve allowed yourself to feel this most natural of human emotions – anger loses its power. You feel it draining from you. God – and those around you – have heard it and felt it, and it no longer weighs only on you but now it is shared and as Jesus reminds us, a shared yoke with him is easy – and his burden is light.
Anger is powerful but only as a tool. I believe what the letter writer wanted the people of Ephesus to know was that we damage ourselves and those around us when we allow a relationship – or a day – to end on our anger. Anger must be walked through, but it is a landmark on the journey – not the final destination. It’s a means to an end: an end of reconciliation, an end of forgiveness, an end of resurrection.
Be angry … Do not let the sun go down on your anger
Feel your anger. Accept it. Don’t apologize for a feeling. Men have been using anger to get things done for centuries. Let anger’s energy empower you for justice and righteousness.
Think of Rosa Parks. Of Malala Yousafzai.
And then when you’ve expressed it and felt your anger, let it melt away. Allow yourself to smile – not at anyone else, necessarily – because your smile is not for them but for you and for God. Look in the mirror at yourself and smile, wryly perhaps.
I was angry, and I am not sorry, but there is more to me than anger. I am woman. I am mommy. Hear me roar. And then give your child or your spouse or your parent or your friend or yourself a hug, because:
“I Love You, and even when I’m not happy – even when I’m angry, or sad, or especially when I’m angry or sad but not ashamed – Love will win in the end.”