Anger is a secondary emotion. It’s easier to be angry than to face the deeper issues of anger. Anger is not the problem it is the warning light. I came across a quote from Doctor Becca Johnson, she seems to say it smarter, clearer, and better. She says,
“When I was late to pick up my son from school I got mad at the clock, the school, the traffic
lights, my watch, and the stupid school schedule before I finally realized the real issue. I was embarrassed that the school secretary had to call me to come and pick up my son. When a client of mine was mad at his boss, he realized that the strong underlying emotions were really insecurity and fear, and not anger. When I got mad at the driver who made a virtual gesture at me, I later realized that the root feeling was guilt because I had pulled out too far in traffic and put him and me in danger. When I got angry at a colleague for not including me on a decision, I discovered really my anger was covering my own hurt pride underneath. If you and I are honest with ourselves and brave enough to peel back the anger, we can discover its true motivating force. When people abandon us, let us down, when someone doesn’t come through, when we feel rejected, left out, lonely, sad, or sorrowful, we usually cover it up with anger because these emotions are so strong, painful, and confusing. Anger serves as a more satisfying substitute. Anger artificially helps us feel in control when we’re feeling out of control and falsely helps us feel powerful when we feel powerless.”
And then she goes on to highlight some common emotions that cover anger. I’ll give you the quick version again so that you’ll go, “Oh.”
We often cover up with anger, when what’s underneath is hurt, guilt, shame, powerlessness, betrayal, insecurity, rejection, dashed hopes, feeling trapped, hopelessness, helplessness, unmet expectations, envy, jealously, resentment, pride, low self-esteem, failure, sense of worthlessness, loneliness, depression, worry, anxiety, pressured, stressed out, disappointment, remorse, exhaustion, fatigue, and grief. Those are real things that every human being experiences all the time in life and what I want to suggest is, the great majority of the time, that’s not what comes up on your radar. You get angry. Some of you, though, know that angry is illegal so you stuff it and you don’t know that those are the real issues. Some of you stuff it for a while, because you’re a Christian and you feel like blowing up is not very healthy - then you blow up. Other people you’re eating because you’re angry, some of you’re taking prescription drugs because you’re angry. Some of you started off with social glass of wine at night and now you have to have two or three. And you’re covering stuff inside that God wants to heal and forgive and restore.
We learned that we spew, we stuff, and we leak but I want to tell you that anger is a secondary emotion and we all struggle with it. It’s the tip of the iceberg. There are many, many underlying causes of anger. I just read about twenty-five of them. But when you pull them together, you basically can come up with about three big categories. We get angry as a result of unmet needs - I’m gonna call that hurt. Because that’s what it feels like. I just feel hurt. I had a need to talk. I had a need to get connected. I had a need for someone to come through for me. I had a need to be loved when I was grieving.
The second is unmet expectations, I call that frustration. I expected people to be awake. I expect a friend to be available. I expect people to return my calls. I expect people to do what they said they would do. I expect people that love me to help me when I have a need. When they don’t, I get mad and so do you. The third underlying cause is insecurity. When we’re personally attacked or threatened.
I’d like to walk through each of those and give you some Biblical examples. I’m going to pray that God begins to help you have an “aha” experience so that from now on when you get angry, you’ll go, “Ah! This is a secondary emotion! I have bolted to anger. I wonder, is there an unmet need or hurt that I need to address? Is it an expectation issue? Or was I personally attacked?” I’ll give a tool for each one of these and how to deal with it so God can use your anger to help you instead of make you a prisoner.
So with that let’s look at hurt - real or perceived unmet needs. Notice Proverbs 19:3. “A man’s own folly ruins his life yet his heart rages against the Lord.” Haven’t you seen this? People make stupid, bad, terrible decisions. You know, they drive drunk, they do all kind of crazy stuff, they blow up at maids, they don’t care about people, and then when life falls apart, they shake their fist at God. “How could you do this to me God?” Because it’s too scary to admit their own guilt, their own lack, their own culpability, and take responsibility for their bad behavior.
Isn’t it insightful what Solomon has to say? “A man’s own folly ruins his life. Yet his heart rages against the Lord.” Notice Proverbs 27:4 it says, “Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming but who can stand before jealousy.” He pictures anger as this storm and it’s cruel but he says there’s something behind it. Jealousy is rooted in hurt. Jealously is the fear of losing someone, the rejection we feel when affection or attention or honor or money goes to someone else that we think belongs to us. When I feel like, “Well, my kids need to be giving me this attention, or I should have got credit for that.” and I start to get jealous. Let me show you that Biblically. Let’s look at a quick picture in scripture with regard to the whole issue of jealously here.
Joseph’s brothers - you know the story. You have the youngest son at this point. Genesis 37 to 39 is the long story. We pick it up in verse 4. It says, “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.” So you have a father who is showing partiality. He gets the nice coat. He gets the easy job. He gets all the attention. You have the other brothers over here and what are they feeling? They feel hurt, they feel rejected. This isn’t fair. So they go to their father and say, “You know Dad, I’ve been reading a couple good books on parenting, and I just really want you to know that this type of behavior is going to be unhealthy for Joseph, for us, and for you as a father. And what I want you to know…” No, what do they do? They bolt to anger. They take their anger and their jealousy, that’s the root cause, out on, not the object of it, but on the person who’s receiving the attention. Isn’t that interesting? They displace their anger to a safer object. Why am I yelling at my kid in the hallway for not making his bed? Because I bolted to anger and I’m gonna take it out in a safer place.
Joseph’s brothers. The lament psalms are sometime read with a little less sanctified view of how wonderful David and psalmists are. 25% of all the Psalms are someone whining and complaining to God. Do you know why they’re so raw? They don’t cover up their anger. David loves God with all of his heart. “Why have you forsaken me? What’s the deal? This isn’t fair! The enemies are this. You anointed me king! I’m hiding in caves! I’m dodging spears! I don’t get it! I loved you - I risk my life and I’m out doing your work and I come back and my kids and wife and everyone they’ve been taken away and now I gotta go fight!? Where are you, God? I’m depressed. Where is the living God?” And he pours out his lament. When he’s really honest with his emotions in almost every lament psalm, “Yet thou are enthroned on high O God. You are the faithful One.” And he’ll get perspective and he’ll look back, “You’re the one that delivered us. You’re the one who’s done this”. He takes the raw emotions of his anger and he gets down to what the real issues are - then he gets back and he gets God’s perspective and then he responds differently.
Some of us don’t feel like it’s safe to share with God our anger and our hurts and our frustrations. My favorite passage in this one is Psalm 73. I was so bummed out. I was so mad at God and life. I made a commitment in college after becoming a Christian to be sexually pure and I decided I was going to walk with God and that commitment meant that I ended up breaking up with a girlfriend. I loved her and I thought she was going to be my wife.
I was playing college basketball and for a year and a half after every college game she would be at the top of the stairs waiting for me. We had broken up and time went on and it was about four months later and I’d prayed, you know, God would change her heart and we’d get back together and all that good stuff. And I came out of the locker room, hair wet, and she’s at the top of the stairs and its like, “Yes. Thank you Lord, thank you, thank you, yes.” You know? I get to the top of the stairs and she kind of looks at me and then one of the other guards on the team walks by and the two of them walk out the door.
I mean, from that doorway to my dorm room, I was enraged. “God thank you, I really appreciate how you treat your servants. I’m really glad for how you bless the, I’m doing life the way you say and this is what I get.” I mean I was just ready to can it. “If this is what you get for following you with all your heart for staying pure well I’ll tell you what, God.” Some of you, haven’t you felt that? You know? My finances are in order and now look what’s happening in this and that and people are getting bailed out and this and that. I did this and what happened and my husband or my wife or one of my kids, someone walked out on them. I was faithful and I came in on time and now they’re downsizing and I get ripped off, right?
I remember that night saying, “God, this isn’t fair.” I was angry and I opened Psalm 73, and I read Psalm 73 and it says, “My heart was embittered. I was like a beast before you. I was ready to give up the Christian life. I looked at the arrogant and the evil and the pride as they’re neckless, and they don’t have any pain and everything goes great for them, yet when I came to the sanctuary of the Lord, I perceived their end. Then I got perspective. Their life is like a vapor. God in a moment can pull out the rug and all they have is gone and they have no future. As for me the nearness of God is my good. I’ve made the Lord God my refuge. My heart and my flesh may fail, but you’re the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
All I want you to see is that underneath your anger often is hurt. The tool to deal with this is what I call an “I feel message.”
I shared that Theresa and I had a lot of struggles and we went to counseling and we paid a lot of money to give you a lot of help later. We didn’t know how to handle anger so when she got angry she closed down, she stuffed, and I leaked. It was not a good combination. So we went to this counselor and he realized, you guys can’t resolve anger - and when you do, you attack each other, which is not good either. And we did it in real Godly ways, I mean, we weren’t throwers and shouters and screamers and cussers…but you know what, it just tore us apart. On a 3 x 5 card he wrote, “I feel _________ when you _________” and we put that 3 x 5 card on the refrigerator and he taught us this is how you communicate your hurt or your anger.
It goes something like this: “I feel hurt when you pay more attention to the kids than me.” “I feel disappointed when you don’t come home for supper and don’t call.” “I feel rejected when I want to be physically close to you and you shut down emotionally.” “I feel angry when you shout and yell when we talk about a sensitive issue.” For two years that was on our refrigerator and we learned to say “I feel” messages to one another. And God really used it. I mean he used it in an amazing, amazing way.
I would like you to think about who might need to hear an “I feel message” from you. When’s the last time you really got angry with someone or something and as a result of our time already you realized you kind of stuffed it or you sort of spewed and that really didn’t work very well. Or you find yourself joking about the same thing, you know, a little sarcasm, a little barb. I’d just like you to think about what’s the real? What’s behind it? What really bugs you? Why are you mad?
Okay, the red light, its anger. But what’s underneath that? Who hasn’t come through for you? Which one of those grandkids, after helping them go through college, doesn’t write, doesn’t call, and you’ve realized, I’m just ticked off. I’m just mad. Who at work? You’ve helped them get to where they are and they’ve made some progress and now it’s like you don’t exist anymore. Who’s one of your friends you used to hang out with a lot? There’s sort of that unwritten rule if you’re really close friends and you call you get a call back the same day and now it’s like four days or five days and you don’t even get a call, you get a email, “Hey, I got your call. Thanks, I’m busy.” There’s just something that’s happening inside, you understand what I’m saying? There’s something happening inside and it’s not like you’re gonna go, “Hey, I’d like to really confront you about our relationship right now. Okay? Coffee shop, just you and me. Mano to mano. Womano to womano. Alright? You are not responding to my email in a timely manner and I feel deeply hurt.” I don’t think we’re gonna go there. But what it would be like to have some time together and say, “Hey could we get a cup of coffee?” And just say, “You know I sense a little drift in our relationship. And this may sound silly but I feel hurt after all that we’ve been through when I call and I don’t get a response for three or four days. Could I just share that with you as a brother?”
See, you’re attacking the issue not the person. I will tell you, when you hold that inside, do you know what? You get resentment toward the person - and then for some of us it turns into, “I won’t call him back and when he calls me, I’ll give him an email”. We start these silly games and God wants you to know, he wants to use your anger for your good. Anger is a secondary emotion. One of the primary causes is hurt. We see it from Joseph’s brothers and we see it throughout the Psalms. I want you to just stop right now - close your eyes. I’m gonna ask a question and let’s just do a quick little exercise. Father right now, I ask you to bring to mind, a person or a situation in the lives of the people in this room, where they have been hurt. I’d like you to right now just practice visualizing in your mind what it would look like and it might be a phone call because you’re too far away but what it would look like just to say “I feel hurt.” “I feel left out.” “I feel wounded.” “I felt disappointed when you didn’t invite me to the wedding.” “When you…” you fill it in. You got it?