Last year, I wrote a post titled I am An Angry Christian, celebrating the gift of anger. I’m glad I wrote it. It serves as a manifesto for myself, a reminder of how my anger compels me to hope. Especially since the time of that post, I have been angry again and again.
What I am learning is that personal growth and spiritual maturity does not mean experiencing less episodes of anger. It’s not even about managing my anger better. Growth requires embracing anger instead of fighting it. I am learning that the more I care about suffering in the world, the more anger takes up residence in my life.
I might as well get cozy with it.
I am figuring out that the lovely fruit of the Spirit we learned about in Sunday school–the love and the joy and the peace—don’t get served to us on a nice platter by a handsome butler. They come with a steep cost. Ask any parent how easy it is to love their child, and they’ll let you know love hurts like hell. Ask a liberated oppressed people group how they enjoy their peace, and they’ll recount tales of sacrifice from their revolution. Ask any elderly person the secret to their joy, and they’ll bare the wounds of their lifetime.
We have to fight for these things because they are hard to come by in a world with broken systems and insidious evil and finite humans. Striving for wholeness is an uphill climb on mountain after mountain of personal tragedies and communal pain. Life truly is searching for hope in the midst of much despair.
In light of this, anger is such a beautiful, positive sign of life. It is the swell of emotion that tells us we are not yet done fighting. Anger causes our blood to boil with passion and energy, an adamant refusal to lie cold. I see it sometimes, those who let life’s cruelties knock the wind right out of them. The fire is gone from their eyes. “You can’t help everyone, ” they shrug with chilling indifference.
Kathy Escobar says that “Underneath the feelings of anger is usually an unmet need.” We need to learn to view anger not as an unwanted visitor, but our counselor getting to the root of our issues.
I have been angry a lot. It bothered me, not because I felt guilty about it, but more because I saw it as a nuisance. It takes time and energy to deal with anger. As an extrovert, I need people to process it with me out loud, so the logistics of arranging coffee dates, or intruding on my husband’s work, “Sorry, babe, just one more rant, ” felt like such a burden on my busy schedule.
But as the anger stayed with me, and I with it, it started to morph into an altogether different monster. I saw that lurking beneath the anger was a sense of profound grief. I let the grief monster rear its ugly head, even if it meant ugly crying in the middle of the produce aisle. I was grieving a world as it shouldn’t be. I was lamenting the painfulness of pain. I was soft and sweet and empathetic to the suffering of others. And the next morning, I woke up angry again.
You see, the fruit of the Spirit in my life doesn’t magically appear through private devotion or disciplined ethics. I fight for peace, and my pursuit of the heart of God costs me greatly. Anger and grief at how imperfect people hurt one another mingle and brew in discontent. As I die a thousand deaths of disappointment, I’m resurrected each time with hope.
I am still an angry Christian because I am still showing up. I will still advocate for the poor and needy while outraged at poverty. I will cry unending tears for the mistreated and rage against their perpetrators.
I will walk justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God even as I curl my fists.