Understand this, dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. James 1:19 NLT
James 1:19 is one of those verses we read and then cringe – a little or a lot depending on our most recent anger episode. Each time we face anger, we have a choice to make, and sometimes it’s just too easy to make the wrong one.
God Designed Anger
First, let’s acknowledge one thing: anger is a God-designed emotion and can be used for good. If God created and placed it in our emotional catalog, then it’s a normal experience. It is not an emotion with only negative outcomes and shamed-based associations. In her book, Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown encourages us with this truth about anger: “Sometimes owning our pain and bearing witness to struggle means getting angry. When we deny ourselves the right to be angry, we deny our pain.”
As women who been sexually betrayed, anger is a very present emotion rooted in pain we wish we hadn’t been selected to “bear witness to.” Yet, here we are amidst a myriad of emotions with anger either boiling at the top or simmering beneath the surface.
Listening to Anger
James 1: 19 gives us three specific ways to grow through, not just go through, anger.
His first piece of wisdom is this: be quick to listen. Most of us interpret this as listening to the person that has made us angry. Of course, this does apply. However, we must open our ears to another person as well – ourselves.
Consider this, anger is defined as a secondary emotion, or an indicator of another emotion altogether. When anger shows up, we must stop and listen. What is this anger alerting me to? Am I embarrassed, humiliated? Jealous? Hurt? Fearful? Overwhelmed? Rejected? Helpless?
Anger Can Be Scary
For me, anger is a scary emotion. I despise conflict, and anger is a giant billboard warning “Conflict Ahead!” After my D-day, my husband would continue to do things (unknowingly or knowingly) that triggered my anger. For example, he might forget and sleep with his cell phone next to him. Why didn’t he realize how unsafe that behavior made me feel?! I wanted to accuse and validate this injustice with harsh words. Instead I withdrew and wallowed in my anger, keeping those hurtful words under my tongue to use later when my anger boiled out of control.
However, once I became more aware of my emotions, I realized my anger was alerting me to deeper ones: in this case, fear and insecurity. Now the idea of conflict didn’t seem as scary because I could verbalize exactly what I was feeling. I wasn’t simply angry: I was fearful and vulnerable. We could make a plan to address those emotions. Such power came in knowing exactly how to voice my anger and not go into the confrontation with a whirlwind of cruel words, accusations, and blame.
Wisdom or War
Anger will come, but we can choose how it grows – in wisdom or warring. When our first reaction to anger is a moment of inventory, we experience a sense of safety and that feeling will lead to honest conversations and healthy growth in our marriages.
Choosing Hope with You,
P.S. Don’t miss the next post in our 3-Part Growing With Anger series coming later this week!