I've been thinking about anger lately. Only in the last few months would I have said this is something I "struggle" with. I'm not an angry person... or at least I wasn't. Frustrated, maybe. Disappointed, irritated, disrupted. But the little things life brings by -- fumbling mornings, traffic, snarky comments -- they never made me angry. They never lit that little fire in the center of my chest that I feel often these days. That little fire that starts out so small, but that I feed and allow to grow and grow until it bursts out of me.
It always starts small. I'm readying for bed and my daughter starts to cry when she should be asleep. If she settles back down, we're okay, but if not? I start to feel it. My husband makes a stop on his way home from work. I'm fine until I find out. What do you mean you didn't come straight home to rescue me from the children? Fire. My son just needs help. He's two. He just needs help but I'm elbow-deep in raw chicken and he won't stop crying. It burns. I... burn.
I could line up all the reasons, good ones, for why now, why me, why the fire. But what I'm seeing is less that life has put this on me and more that life has drawn it out of me. That my circumstances are not the cause of my anger but rather the window to it. My children, my husband, they don't make the anger within me; it's already there. The swirling around me just nicks my heart, like the tiniest of cuts that just won't stop bleeding. And instead of applying pressure, hard and fast, I watch it bleed. I watch the blood spread and spread until I am covered and I can't deny it then. Look at me! Can't you see it? I can't help this.
The part that scares me is that, in a way, it feels good. It feels good to feed my anger. The bigger it gets, the more justified I feel, vindicated, like this hard, pressured life made me do it and I have every reason for my fire. And maybe looking in, few would blame me. But looking out? From the seat of my heart? I know. I know I'm feeding a monster. I know my hand isn't forced. I know it's what I want.
I think of this and am immediately thankful for the Spirit that speaks into me and reminds me, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)" My heart is broken and bent and wayward. The good feelings from feeding my anger? They are symptoms of sickness. "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)" The same judgment that rests on the shoulders of murderers, those who take precious lives of the children of God, that judgment rests on my angry shoulders. "Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)" It's very clear. This hate, this anger, it is akin to murder. And while I want to shrink back from it and downplay it and say, "Never!" ... I trust the Word. And I know that these monsters, when fed, only grow, bigger and bigger than we could ever imagine.
I know that in my own power, I would feed this monster. I may never physically take life, but in my heart and mind, I would slay every day. I have that power inside me. I have that capability. But I am not bound to it. I am not chained to my sick and dying heart or the fire or the good feelings. I am not a slave to myself because I have been set free. "Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin... having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. (Romans 6:17-18)" Once chained and bound to my sin, I have been set free, and now? I am chained to righteousness. "Just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. (Romans 6:19)" Just as I can watch the blood spread until I am covered, presenting myself ready and willing to my anger, I can turn away. I can apply pressure, stop the bleeding, and open myself to forgiveness, laying down my indignation and, instead, embracing love. "Now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:22-23)"
We like to think we are free. We like to think that we make our own way and choose our destiny and all that. But truly, we are slaves to a master. And that master is either our own heart or God's. We either bend to the whims of our own judgments and feelings and thoughts, or we bend to God's. We don't like being chained so we throw off the trappings of religion, thinking ourselves smart and wise and freed. But really? We've simply enslaved ourselves to ourselves. And when presented with these two options? I'd rather serve the One I know is holy. As for myself? I know that my motives aren't pure, my judgments aren't sound, my heart? It shouldn't be leading anyone. And here's the thing: it doesn't have to. I don't have to listen to my heart because I have been set free. And instead of being enslaved to the fickle, angry wanderings of myself, I am enslaved to God. I am not bound to my anger, but instead to forgiveness and love. I am not bound to death, but instead to life. I am not bound to barrenness, but instead to the fruit of sanctification, the fruit that grows me (and not my anger monster), builds me up, makes me strong. Strong enough to withstand the temptation to lash my fiery tongue. Strong enough to beat back the flames. Strong enough to feel that little fire in the center of my chest and say, "No." Strong enough to choose love.