My best friend in college lost her dad when we were juniors.
He was struck by cancer for the second time around Halloween that year. I still remember getting the call. We were in the kitchen making sandwiches and I had just reached in the fridge for a Diet Coke, when our home phone rang, back when home phones were a thing. I only heard her end of the conversation but I knew right away something was wrong.
The Cancer was back.
Hopes were high. He’d beat it once before, and everyone knew he could do it again. But his body must have been tired this time around because, by Christmas, he was gone.
She was mad at God, and I understood. Somewhere deep inside of me I was mad at God, too. After all, I had stayed up late in our apartment, while she was at the hospital, praying and praying that he would pull through. I even told her on the phone one night, “He’s going to be okay,” because I believed he was. But months later I felt like God had let me down, and maybe even made me out to be a liar.
I think I felt like I had to prove to myself, and to her, that He wasn’t.
So I spent a long time trying to coax her out of her dark spaces, her hiding places, trying to usher her into the light. My intentions were good. I wanted her to know that she was deeply loved and valuable, and that everything was going to be “okay.” The intensity I brought was commendable, but it wasn’t helpful.
She would stay up crying, or drinking, and I would stay with her. I would tell her, “There’s a purpose for everything” and “God never gives us more than we can handle,” and at first, I think she listened gracefully, trusting my intention. But before long before she got tired of acting like she believed me, or that she cared. Our friendship fizzled, and she went her own way.
Now, looking back, I wish I would have just let her stay angry.
I wish I would have let myself stay angry.
Anger gets a bad rap if you ask me. We talk about anger like it’s a huge problem, like it’s some sort of sin tendency people should just get over, or grow out of. We talk about how anger turns to bitterness when it’s left alone, and yet that’s my point exactly. Anger is dangerous when we leave it alone. We can’t talk people out of anger. We can’t talk ourselves out of it. The only way out is through the thick of it, into the muck of it — getting our feet stuck until we’re so tired we have to yell out and ask for help.
If I had it to do over again, I’d wouldn’t try to fix her anger, or talk her out of it. I’d tell her —
Go ahead, get angry.
Anger is productive. It’s effective. It shakes us and rattles us and moves us from the inside out. It means something. The worst thing we can do is ignore anger. Because anger talks. Anger is telling us something. We can’t be scared of it, or push it down. We cannot tame it or wrestle it to the ground. It will win.
We have to ask the questions it’s telling us to ask, protect what it’s telling us to protect, ask for healing in the areas it’s revealing as hurt.
Or we’ll never find a way out.
I think we worry if we let people get angry, they’ll stay angry forever, but I don’t think they will. Anger unfolds on itself, rolls itself out, leads us to someplace else. People don’t get stuck in anger, they get tired of it. At least I do. I rant and rave and rail against the world and, when all is said and done, the anger is what propels me forward. It is what ushers me out.
Trying to “get over” anger is what’s keeps me stuck at the bottom of it.
Maybe you’re angry about something and you’ve been angry for years. Maybe people have tried to talk you out of it. Maybe they’ve told you that anger isn’t healthy, that it isn’t Christian, and that you have to “let go and let God.” Let me be the one to tell you the words I’m finally brave enough to tell myself:
It’s okay. Go ahead, get angry.
Slush around in the muck of it. Let your boot sink in until you’re so tired you have to yell to ask for help out….