It’s like breaking a poorly set bone so it can reset. And it’s going to hurt like hell for a while. And your job is to sit with it and feel the anger. Stop worrying about what’s holy.
– Brett the chaplain
Driving away from my counseling session. I’m not an angry music person. Insistent percussion was foreign to me until my late teens; even now there’s a hint of a devil’s chant in a backbeat, like I’m shrugging on a hussy’s jacket when I push play on rock. Acoustic guitars, violins and bluegrass, music my husband calls “anemic”, that’s me. Until today. Now there’s an awakened fire in my belly, a flame in my veins, and now suddenly all the rappers and rockers with their bombastic music make sense to me, the channeling of anger’s energy into auditory art.
The environment that I grew up in was focused on the heart and the soul. It was the state of your soul that mattered most– its saved-ness or lost-ness, whether your heart was holy or wicked, obedient or rebellious. The mind, brain, body, emotions were mostly incidental: their importance lay in how they reflected the state of your soul. Psychology and psychiatry were secular (read “godless”) fields; they didn’t have a “biblical” foundation, making them automatically suspect. The Bible was the handbook for mental health as well as the rest of life. It was sort-of okay to need counseling, as long as it was with a pastor or somebody who had the right “biblical” foundation, who could help you ferret out the sinful attitudes or actions that were the most likely the cause of your problems.
Anger was a big problem. In my world, anger was almost always sinful, especially for me, a female under authority. It was probably okay for an authority figure– like a pastor or a parent– to be angry in the face of rebellious sin (congregational members or disobedient children), and it was okay to be angry at the godless world (especially liberals) for “persecuting” the Christians and leading them astray. But if you were under authority (and females are always always under the authority of parents or husbands and pastors) then anger is mostly off-limits. And anger at those authority figures in your life? Anger at a church, a belief system, at (a) God? That was speeding down the apostate’s road.
When I stalk into Brett’s office I already know what my answer is going to be when he asks, “how are you?” He’s an Anglican priest and military chaplain, and he doesn’t bat an eye when I say, “I’m angry.” He listens as I proclaim in a passionate voice the laundry list of my rage. No chastisement, no tongue clicking, no qualifying, no discomfort: he bears witness to my anger, as at home sitting with me in the roar of the hurricane of rage as he is in the desert of grief or the fog of depression.
He says, “You were a child, and the weight of these things got poured into you and flash-frozen, and now it’s starting to melt. And it’s good that it’s melting at last, but you feel like you lost fifteen years of your life, and you’re pissed.”
“YES,” I cry. “And I don’t know what to do about it.”
(Because, you know– anger is something that must be dealt with.)
Brett says, “Sit with it. And feel it. And stop judging yourself for it.”
“What right have you to feel angry that you were treated this way?” goes the script in the church or the Bible study or the small group or your own brain. “You don’t deserve better treatment. We are all vile sinners deserving only of hell, including you. And besides, think of the people in third world countries. They have it much worse than you do. How can you be so selfish and self-centered as to focus on your own pain? It’s not about you. You sound bitter. Bitterness is just as sinful as what that person did to you. You need to forgive that person and move on.”
Keep doing what you’re doing. That little girl who’s been silenced by the thunder of the expectations, the belief systems, by your own body and mind– she’s screaming now. And now you’re listening to her.
So I give myself permission to be angry– for it means my soul is alive, awake to a bent reality, that my very cells are crying out things are not as they should be! Anger, primal as fear, helps me know I’m human. We know that allowing uncontrollable anger to govern your actions leads to inhumanity; now I see that stuffing anger and stifling rage leads to inhumanity too. It literally makes us less-human, less alive, until we are like robots with preprogrammed smiles, incapable of warmth and empathy.
– Rage for the child, writing in her diary her fears of her own wickedness, the little girl who already saw God as a deity peering over her shoulder waiting to pounce on the slightest wrong thought.
–Rage for the young girl, gripped with shame at her budding sexuality, trying to expunge all traces of it from her mind, so convinced of its dirtiness that she cannot confess to her diary her innocent desire to be kissed without putting the word in code.
–Rage for the girl who was burdened with the weight of adult emotions that should never have been placed on her, for the girl bearing the immense load of determination not to fail the authority figures in her life, to be and believe all they desired.
–Rage for the young woman desperate for a voice, for some agency, and absorbing the message that such desires are rebellious, sinful.
–Rage for the young wife trying to mold her entire existence around her husband, no identity, no sense of self, because that is what the God she serves has commanded.
–Rage for the young mother racked in the anguish of losing unborn children, with a theology that tells her that God chose to take them away from her, and that she cannot question the inscrutable will of God, for it is God’s glory that is more important than anything, but especially more important than her broken heart.
–Rage for the young mother, parenting out of fear, because what matters is not her child’s wholeness or well-being here on earth, but that he submits to her authority like she must submit to God’s authority.
–Rage for a woman who has spent her life trying to bleed out self, believing the cacaphony of voices telling her it’s not about you, you cannot trust yourself, who you are doesn’t matter.
If this post makes you uncomfortable–
Dare yourself to sit with the discomfort.
Dare yourself to wonder if you have ever let yourself feel anger for the wounds you’ve received.
If you feel anger, don’t slam the door and throw away the key.
Look it in the face.
It is part of what makes you fully human.