I’m usually not the type to despair, but sometimes I do. Here is the thing that fills my heart with sorrow.
Our world is in one of its most trying times in existence. International borders closed, families and friends kept physically isolated for extended periods of time, bushfires and hurricanes, unknown and highly contagious diseases, injustice and violent protest. You’ve gotta wonder, what on earth could happen next? You hope for it to get better, but it’s very likely things will only continue to get worse.
And out of all the crazy events happening in our time, there is one that absolutely grips me and causes me to lose my nerve and throw my hands in the air in uncertainty. The thing that fills my heart with sorrow and cuts me to the core.
People have become so angry.
I guess all of us have different experiences with anger. Some of us grew up in households or schooling environments where outbursts of frustration were only saved for the rarest of occasions. Some of us grew up in homes and cultures of constant violence and abuse, and peace was an abnormal quality to experience. Some of us grew up into circles or formed close relationships with people who eventually became twisted and cruel.
If there’s one thing that we all share in common more than we ever did before, it’s that our experiences with anger have now become fairly mutual. No matter your country, creed, religion, belief system or location, we’ve all been exposed to ever escalating aggression.
Of course, anger is a secondary emotion. It’s a human reaction and coping mechanism to a high degree of pain. If we didn’t hurt, if we didn’t bleed, if we didn’t feel all these raw emotions, we wouldn’t be angry.
And a lot of anger could be justifiable. Many people are in a lot of pain. Many people are victims of a continued cycle of aggression and hatred. In recent months, people have lost their homes, their freedom, their businesses, their loved ones, their property, their lives. And that may even be in addition to all the other losses they have experienced in their lives.
But when we choose our anger over all else and never fully process it in a healthy way, we become the ones who repeat a cycle of hatred and destruction to the next generation.
And I think this is something that fills my heart with sorrow. To see people who have been so hurt and become so angry, who now become the reason why other people become so hurt and angry.
It’s the same anger that causes police officers to deem excessive force acceptable.
It’s the same anger that causes mobs to riot and loot in retaliation.
It’s the same anger that causes a man to hit a woman.
It’s the same anger that causes a parent to throw a glass bottle at their child.
It’s the same anger that causes us to completely cut people off because they disagreed with us.
And it seems like it’s always lying right beneath the surface. All it takes is even the smallest of things to launch us into a rage.
It’s the same anger that causes us to not be able to work through the issues any more in a healthy and balanced forum without getting so triggered that we completely disown or throw away a relationship.
When we can’t work things out between us, we’re supposed to bring a wise third party and then a counsel of elders to help us work through why we aren’t all on the same page. But when we carry our anger for so long, it becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back, and we explode at people rather than understanding them.
We turn away rather than turning towards.
We recently had our hot water system pop its lid. The metal cap came flying off at great speed and water starting pouring out of the top. The system was about 20 years old and had rusted through, and the added pressure it had been carrying caused it to finally explode.
Likewise, when we keep it all inside, and don’t have the right outlet to process or work through our anger, we explode. We destroy.
Fortunately for us, we weren’t near the hot water system when its metal components went flying out the top with destructive force. Unfortunately for our world, many people are right next to the mother who finally snaps and lashes out at her children, next to the family who has imploded under the weight of its own dysfunction, next to the society that has finally had enough of repeated incidents (on both sides) and takes it out with lethal force.
All of us could use our anger as an excuse to destroy. And the worst part is that we think it’s right when we do it but so wrong when someone else does.
Maybe it’s always wrong.
The Hebrew proverbs tell us that anger rests in the bosom of fools. There are plenty of examples where we see people get angry and do something productive about it, but the problem is when anger is allowed to rest. Unprocessed, undiscussed, unaltered. In fact, we even feed and fuel our anger so we always stay at boiling point, or live in a permanent state of being outraged or triggered.
And then next minute, you’ve absolutely lashed out at someone you used to call friend… and now you don’t talk any more. You’ve cut off the people you used to hold close. You’ve destroyed someone else’s life because of the destruction you’ve experienced in your own. You make it awkward for people to get to know you.
And the saddest thing is you become someone that people don’t recognise any more.
Have you allowed anger to rest on you? Have I?
The thing that fills my heart with sorrow is how long people can stay angry for. And the one you hurt the most… is you.
Over the course of this year, I have become increasingly disheartened as I realise people that I used to know have become unrecognisable to me.
You used to be so encouraging. You used to be the voice of hope. You used to be the one who people looked to for a balanced conversation or a wise path forward through a disagreement.
And now anger has twisted you in to someone you said you wouldn’t become. And you get so angry and yell “YOU DON’T LISTEN!” at a person who is trying to talk to you as well.
I have seen so many times now what happens to people who hold on to their anger for their entire life. Or even for a few years. Even a few months is enough to do so much damage to one’s self and one’s relationships that the damage can last for generations.
And then you’re left all alone, because no one can survive being close to you and your sustained anger for a sustained period of time.
And now when someone holds the opposite view, we’re too angry to even start the conversation without becoming personal, critical, destructive or even violent. We even refuse to bring along a mediator who can help us resolve our issues.
Because the one event is a trigger for the hundreds of years of injustice we still carry within us. The small sentence reminds us of how much this person has hurt us in our relationship. The dumb mistake becomes the catalyst for our destructive rampage.
It is said that at the end of the world, the love of many would grow cold. And I think nothing kills love faster than the anger we retain.
It’s hard to love someone when you dwell on how many reasons you have to hate them. It’s hard to listen to anybody when all you think about is your own experience. It’s hard to grow together when we nurse and rehearse our pain. Restoration is never complete without reconciliation.
Is it okay to be angry? Absolutely. Is it okay to stay angry for days? Maybe. For weeks? Could be. For months? I don’t know. For years…?
Then haven’t we become exactly the same as that person we struggle to forgive for hurting us so badly…?
Didn’t they do all those awful things to us because they carried their anger for so long? And they never even knew how much they were hurting you, did they?
I wonder if you know how much you are now the one hurting others?
I think of all the people I’ve known who have had rough upbringings or horrible things happen to them in life. They were so broken by the domestic violence, the words of anger, the negligence of others that they refuse to accept that the person that did it to them could use anger to justify what they did.
And yet, here we are, repeating the cycle, doing the same thing, and the kids of today will carry the wounds of our present into their future.
How do you heal a nation? How do you heal a fractured world? How do you restore what’s broken?
It starts with me.
I can’t change everyone. And I can’t force anyone else to change. I can only ensure my anger is processed properly so I don’t become the man who hits his wife, the father who belittles his children, the member of society who publicly mocks and cuts down those on the other side of the fence. I can only get the help I need to process the issues in my own life and heart. I can be the voice of an encourager in a world full of malice and hatred.
And I can use my anger to lead me towards positive action. I can let it spur me on to pursue justice. I can let it reveal the issues in me that keep us apart.
Or I can let it destroy me. To reinforce the reasons people hate my race or colour. To repeat patterns of dysfunction. I can use it to become a selfish and bitter person. I can allow cynicism to be my daily bread. I can refuse the help I need and use mental illness as an excuse for cruelty.
What about you? What will you do at this critical moment?
We all have a choice, this time in our history more than ever.