I grew up in a house where there was absolutely no yelling allowed. My parents didn’t yell at us, we didn’t yell at them, and whenever anyone’s voice even began to rise, my mother shut the conversation down completely.
Obviously this strategy has its pros and cons. We always had time to cool off before addressing the conversation or conflict again — and it likely kept us from saying some hurtful things we may have said otherwise – but we also often took a very, very long time to address hurts or conflicts because anything too difficult became essentially off-limits.
Anger shows us where the hurt is.
Like smoke to a fire, anger is a signal of damage already done. If we silence that anger, demonize the symptom itself, then we miss a valuable opportunity to create healing. No matter anger’s reasons, or expressions, it can teach us, and lead us to acknowledge and move towards healing the hurt.
This week in Family Sunday School, we’re talking about anger, and how it helps and hurts and teaches us. Whether anger is over something as small as a toy taken by a sibling, or as big as systemic injustice, and whether the anger is expressed by our family, our community members, or even ourselves, maybe we can structure our response the same way.
First, we can listen — my experience growing up would testify to the reality that silencing anger doesn’t erase it; it just pushes towards more indirect expressions. To learn from anger, we have to listen to it, to witness it, and to allow it its voice.
Next, we can say we’re sorry. Maybe we’re sorry for the hurt we caused that’s behind the anger, maybe we’re just sorry that the hurt happened.
One of the great secrets of ministry and pastoral care is that looking at someone who is hurting and saying, “Wow, I’m so sorry that that happened, that must have been really hard, would you like to tell me about what that was like for you?” is really all people need most of the time. It’s all I really need most of the time, and I know that, and I still need people to say it to me.
Finally, we can help name the hurt and find a step towards healing. In our families, that step may be practical – asking permission before going into someone’s room, or letting a spouse know if you’re running late. It may be making conscious adjustments away from a source of hurt, it may be adding things that help us heal from unavoidable hurts, or it may be a whole number of big or small things in response to the big and small hurts in life.
Anger is not the enemy I was raised to believe it was. Anger, like sadness and fear, is a teacher, a protector, and part of the complex, God-made way we move through the world around us.
May we respond to the anger in our loved ones, our communities, and ourselves with the compassion, gentleness, and potential for healing it deserves this week.
Director of Youth Ministries
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