When Good Girls Get Angry

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I never know what to do with my anger.

I am sitting here, looking at the dining table, staring at a bunch of tulips haloed by the Spring sun, but all I can see is black. My hands are trembling, and my jaw is set.

The offence that’s causing this rage is a relatively small infraction, but that’s not the point. I am inventing speeches in my head, the kind where the whole room starts applauding you and looking outraged on your behalf, and the person you’re addressing is so struck by your impassioned words that they fall to their knees, weeping, and begging for forgiveness. (Which you don’t give them.) I evil-smirk at my own mental image.

I am the good girl, and good girls do not get angry.

My mind shuts down with that one phrase.

I should be the bigger person. It doesn’t matter that I feel wronged. Why not be wronged? I am a sinful person, and deserve to be wronged. 

I am wrong, wrong, wrong, and I try to suck in all the angry clouds.

If I breathe more deeply, it will go away, I say. I breathe. I breathe.  

But it doesn’t. It simmers in my gut, like acid.

***

I love the church, and I love the evangelical tradition, but sometimes I fear it has not equipped me for dealing with anger, or indeed any strong emotion. I am here, carried on a whirling tornado of fury, and all the church says is, “Stop feeling angry.”

I wonder if that’s why preachers get scared about the passage where Jesus clears out the temple. Jesus gets angry, and he overturns things, throws them into the air, makes a mess.

So the first thing preachers do is to explain that Jesus’s anger is not like ours.

“That’s righteous anger,” they say. “One when you’re in control. Not like our anger.” 

And I know that Jesus’ anger differs from my anger, but maybe it’s not as different as we think. He got angry on behalf of others, whereas at this very moment I am angry on behalf of my own injured self—but today, grinding my teeth in my bed, I wonder about the similarities between our anger. I wonder if Jesus felt that burning in his stomach, the adrenaline pumping in his veins, his hands shaking as he finally gave physical expression to the fury he felt at injustice.

Jesus was livid that people were excluded from worshipping God in the temple. He didn’t deliver a well-reasoned, moderate speech, he pushed over tables and scattered coins. He shouted his diatribe against the temple authorities.

What if Jesus gets angry on my behalf?

It doesn’t look very in-control to me. It looks a lot like my rage. 

Jesus got angry, and he was good. Good people get angry. I know this needs caveats and qualifications, but I sit with this thought for a minute. My breathing slows a little.

***

Later that day, I confess to my Christian friends that I am angry. I am secretly looking for support for my minor injustice, but I expect them to tell me that I need to be the bigger person and swallow it. 

Wonderfully, beautifully, they don’t tell me to be the bigger person. They get angry for me. Their voices join mine in pitch and energy, and they are telling me all the reasons I am wronged. They are furious on my behalf.

Little by little, I feel my anger dissipate: they have taken it for me. They are angry; I am soothed. It is a curious pendulum effect: as if there is a maximum amount of anger in the world, and because they have taken some, there is now less for me to feel.

After chatting with them, I rest my head back into my pillow, placated, when a thought flashes hot-white through my mind. 

What if, when I get angry, Jesus gets angry on my behalf?

I had always thought that when I got angry, Jesus was up in heaven, hands on hips, frowning in disapproval. 

But what if, when I get angry, Jesus is up in heaven, overturning tables and shouting frustration?

The thought is revolutionary. All my life I have thought that when you “give your anger to Jesus” it means you hand over your contraband thoughts in disgrace. But maybe, like my supportive friends, he is getting angry at injustice on my behalf, allowing my anger to dissipate naturally. This is what it actually means to give Jesus your anger. 

I blink at the sunshine, overwhelmed for a second. The tulips, crimson and flame-yellow, look so fiery and full of life. 

(This post was inspired by the women at The Angry Women Blog https://theangrywomenblog.wordpress.com )

 

Over to you:

  • What do you think about the mix of anger and Christianity?
  • How do you respond to the idea of Jesus getting angry on our behalf?
  • What do you think are the similarities and differences between Jesus’ anger and ours?
  • What helps you when you feel angry?

 

Tanya Marlow
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Tanya Marlow

Writer at Thorns and Gold
Tanya Marlow was in Christian ministry for a decade and a lecturer in Biblical Theology. Then she got sick, and became a writer. She loves writing honestly about finding God in hard places at tanyamarlow.com. She also loves belting out songs without knowing the words. She is the author of Coming Back to God When You Feel Empty, using the biblical book of Ruth as a path back from disappointment, which you can download for FREE here.
Tanya Marlow
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Latest posts by Tanya Marlow (see all)

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  • Tanya, this is a fascinating idea. I agree with feeling like as the good girl I should never be angry. And it’s so unrealistic. As my kids grow and I realize that I don’t want to invalidate it when they’re feeling angry, which I’m prone to do. I’m prone to want them to be the good kid and breathe deep and get rid of the anger as fast as they can. But now I’m wondering, how powerful it would be if I got angry on their behalf. Because sometimes their anger is justified. Hmmm. Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

    • oh my, yes! With kids it’s such an interesting interaction. I remember reading ‘how to listen how kids will talk and talk so kids will listen’ and it talks about an example of a kid getting mad because they want a different cereal. Instead of the parent saying ‘well, there isn’t any of that cereal, suck it up.’ (paraphrase) they say, ‘OH, HOW ANNOYING! I wish there was some of that cereal too. It’s the best cereal.’ That way the kid can choose what they want to do as a result. (that probably didn’t make any sense- ask for clarification if needed!)
      When th boy gets angry, i encourage him to shout and stamp his feet (because it’s a physical way of expressing anger than doesn’t involve hurting himself or others). sometimes i shout and stamp too, with him. Sometimes i forget I’m supposed to be doing this, and tell him to just get over it. Such is life…

      • (But re kiddies, see also Ashley Hales’ reply about the danger of reaching too quickly for formulas about behaviour… It’s a wisdom call, for sure, especially with parenting. I don’t wanna sound like I’m being legalistic). Xx

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      (But see also Ashley Hales’ reply about the danger of reaching too quickly for formulas about behaviour… It’s a wisdom call, for sure, especially with parenting. I don’t wanna sound like I’m being legalistic). Xx

  • Such a great post — yes, I’m right there with you that Jesus takes our anger. Love it. Have you thought much about how the church COULD equip us for dealing appropriately with anger?

    • Thank you! And good question – one I’d probably need to think about for a while. Do you have any ideas? I’d gladly steal them! 🙂

      • Well, definitely if we actually talked about anger (like you’re doing) that’d sure by helpful. The problem though is that we so often reach for programs and equations (“If my kid does X I reply with Y), rather than seeing it all (including anger) as part of God’s heart for justice ultimately to triumph. I guess it’s learning how to deal in the already-not yet tension.

        • This is really astute – we do so readily reach for formulae rather than seeing the bigger picture. And we forget that jesus dealt differently with each person he met. These are such good thoughts.

          • I think we just want the formulas to work. To make walking by faith all easy to understand and control. Thanks for beginning a great discussion. 🙂

        • Agreed. In fact I think the beginning of this problem came from the “when you feel angry, it is wrong. Get rid of it as fast as you can. And never express it” formula.

          And ‘anger’ is one of those words that just encompasses too much. It needs so many qualifiers and careful consideration both in our lives and our parenting. There’s a big difference between my three year old selfishly furious because someone has touched ‘his’ toy and anger at a legitimate wrong that has been done to you or someone else.

          Tanya, good discussion starter.

  • This is really good, Tanya.

    • This makes me very happy. 🙂 Thanks, Esther – I really appreciate you taking the time to read.

  • pastordt

    Tanya, I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS! LOVE IT. THANK YOU for putting such rich words around a hard, hard truth. There must be room for the full gamut of human emotions. And the thought of Jesus getting angry on our behalf? YES, please. Just YES.

    • Yay! This makes me so happy that you liked this. Huzzah!

  • Mark Allman

    Tanya,,
    I know most of the time when I am angry it is because I am hurt so I do believe Jesus stands with me there in my hurt and yes perhaps angry for me. I do know some things I let hurt me I need to work on but when I am hurt and it boils over in anger I do not need to beat it down. I need to decide what to do with it. Shall I turn over a few tables? Shall I tell a few friends? Shall I take a course of action that works to resolve what is causing the anger? I don’t like losing control for sure but I don’t mind being angry but if I choose just being angry and do not follow up with any action then I think that turns me bitter and I don’t want to end up bitter…. ok Tanya all over the map here I know… what do you think ?

    • I love this stream of consciousness! I think most people have a similar stream of consciousness. I like the way that you’re practical and that you point out this should lead to positive, rather than negative action. I think it’s a wisdom call, for sure – knowing when to speak up about our anger, and how. Talking to God about it is of course an easy start. I don’t think it’s wise to talk widely about our anger when someone’s hurt us, as it can easily turn into gossip, but talking to a trusted friend and processing the emotion with them can be really helpful – what do you think? If it’s possible, it’s best to go directly to the person who has hurt us and say how we feel – but that is not always possible. It’s a wisdom call, for sure. These things are so complicated, aren’t they??

      • Mark Allman

        I do think the best course of action if someone has hurt you is to deal directly with them. I think it helps the relationship grow most of the time. I would not share my anger with many at all as you say all a few trusted people. My anger tends to be a slow burn as to a raging fire which means it burns longer so I have to be careful about letting it continue without taking some positive action. At one time I thought it noble to not say anything when someone hurt me or made me angry but the consequence was the relationship was damaged. Issues need to be resolved or they continue to hurt.
        It takes courage to confront but the payoff can be great.

  • This was very good Tanya. Thought provoking. James 1:19 helped me think through this idea as well. “Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” It doesn’t say never get angry. It says do it slowly. Don’t sin in it. Let the raw emotion reside a little. But the feeling of anger isn’t the problem. Saving this article for reference.

    • This is really helpful! Yes – slowly and don’t sin – but not to feel it in the first place. Thanks, Traci.

      • Tanya, I’ve thought about this one too! Also, Don’t let the sun go down on your anger. Again, having anger is assumed. I really liked your example of finding a safe place to express that you’re angry. We can help carry one another’s burdens when we are real and honest.

  • Rebecka

    I love the thought that Jesus gets angry on my behalf. Thank you, Tanya.

    • Thanks so much for reading, Rebecka. (If it helps, I also am often very angry on your behalf. Hey, I’m not jesus, but all the same…)

  • Love your perspective. Jesus alongside, rather than in opposition. It’s a hopeful picture.

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  • Lisa England

    I love this so much! I can really relate to feeling the church hasn’t equipped me for dealing with strong emotions. I suck them all in just as you describe, and feel every uncomfortable about having them. But I’m finding the longer my illness goes on, the angrier I get, not just because I am sick but because my illness is a tiny part of a massive picture of injustice and unfairness everywhere in the world. That leaves me wanting to fight for all those that have it tough and yet unable to do anything because I am ill. I think/hope that maybe God is somewhere in all those feelings. I’m still figuring out how to use them for something good. Throughout the bible God is shown as hugely emotional in every direction and encouraging others to express all their feelings. It seems a shame to me that the church has done its best to split our feelings into acceptable ones and ones that need to be got rid of as quickly as possible. I think maybe we need to be less scared of our emotions and, as you say, know God is alongside us in all of them.

  • Tammy Perlmutter

    I appreciate this post, it has forced me to look at the way I process (or don’t process) anger and whether or not I feel I have permission to be angry. I didn’t always have that. Growing up in foster care, I learned to suppress the emotions for fear of getting sent to juvie or a group home. The anger came out in other ways, self-harm, drinking, risk-taking behaviors, sexual acting out. But I NEVER showed my anger when my mom stopped showing up for visitation, or when we had to leave a great home because my brother couldn’t get along with their son, or when my parents had me go to a psych ward then went on vacation. I didn’t believe I had a right to be angry. I saw how destructive it was in my brother’s life, I experienced it at the hands and belts and rulers of foster parents. I swallowed it whole and let it sit there in the pit of my stomach. I began to feel the safety I needed to be angry when I was in my 20s and working and living in full-time ministry. It was a slow process with lots of angry outbursts but there were no repercussions. There was forgiveness and resolution. When I got married my husband and I both started struggling with anger and it was frightening, until we realized we had become that safe place for each other. We could be angry but it wasn’t destructive, the working it out brought us closer together. All that to say, thanks for bringing this back to me and reminding me that anger does not equal loss. This probably should have been a blog post.

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  • Liz

    I want to add the thought that maybe Jesus’ anger was righteous because he was angry about a genuine injustice? Not because of how he expressed it, but because of the target.

    I agree as well that the church is generally not very good at equipping us to deal with strong emotions, especially when they are negative ones. I’m thankful that I have an amazing tiny church with friends who free me to laugh and sob and express myself how I really am, but even with that it’s a struggle and it makes me uncomfortable sometimes. But I am determined to keep going and keep assuming that they really mean it when they tell me it’s okay to cry; and go ahead and keep expressing myself, because I know so many people who feel they can’t, and I want to show them that no matter what people say, God says it’s okay. Even if we do mess things up it is covered!

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