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About this series
Overcoming Emotions that Destroy
Practical Help for Those Angry Feelings that Ruin Relationships
How do you deal with those angry feelings we all experience? In the series, Overcoming Emotions That Destroy, Chip Ingram will help you identify whether you are a spewer, leaker, or stuffer. You will learn the difference between good and bad anger, how to gain control of it, and how to use it in constructive ways. This no-nonsense, practical series, will give you biblical tools to express your anger appropriately and deal with those who express their anger toward you.More from this series
I was an adventuresome eight or nine-year-old. It’s probably hard to believe but I was a very high risk, loony kid that was in the emergency room regularly. And so, we were visiting my grandmother, and she lived out in the country in West Virginia, and had this huge hill right behind her house and there was a little barn, and of course, when I got there, I was about nine, maybe ten, I can’t remember exactly, but she said “Someone’s keeping a horse in the big field that goes straight up. Don’t go near the horse. The horse is wild. It hasn’t been ridden in years. It’s a huge horse. You could really get hurt. Chip, do you hear me? Don’t go near the horse.”
And I’m thinking, “I got that one down. Absolutely.” You know? I knew exactly what I was going to do. So, I got my sisters to help me and we found some stuff and we fed the horse, and we got him closer and closer and I saw there was a saddle. I’m ten years old. Me and my sister, “Here, you feed him here,” and we got him so we put the saddle on it, I’m not sure how to do it. I start pulling stuff, you know – you watch those Westerns, you can figure this out.
So, it’s a little loose but this ought to work and we had a rope, I didn’t know how to do the bit through the mouth and all that so we just put a rope around his neck and I say, “Hey, now Punky,” that’s my sister’s name, “now you, you keep feeding him, and I’m going to get on him.”
In the back of my mind, my grandma, “Don’t you touch that horse!” So, I get on this horse, and I know you’re not supposed to hold on to the horn but when dear life begins to – this horse bolts up, I mean it’s like a forty five degree and there’s rocks and he runs as fast and I’ve got to tell you, I was having a blast. I mean, it was like, “Whoa, do do do do. Bum di de bum di de bum bum.
And he gets all the way up to the top and then he stops, and then he turns around. And I’m going, “Ohhhh.” He goes straight down and I mean now I’m just hanging on like this, like this, like this. And I’m realizing we’re going toward this fence. And I’m thinking, “I’m going to die.” And so, I thought, We’re going so fast if I bail out it’s going to hurt, if I hit the fence it’s going to hurt more.
And so I just jumped off the side of the horse and hit a rock and rolled a little bit and then he was angry and ran and tried to nip me in the rear end. And I got out of there.
And you’re thinking, What does this have to do with anger? Many years later, after learning that a horse can be really wild and dangerous, I have a friend who trained horses and I went to this little camp. And I got on this horse and he described the horse, he says, “If you want it do this, say that.” I said, “What do you mean? You mean, you just say it?” “Yeah.” He said, “If you want it to do this, with your knee, you go like that. He’ll do this. With your other knee if you tap here he’ll do this. Just make this sound and he’ll back up.” I said, “Aw, get out.” It was like driving a car. I mean it was an amazing deal!
Now, here’s the deal. They’re both big, strong animals. One was a wild stallion out of control. The other, with a bit put in its mouth, became a source of great joy, good transportation, and a lot of fun. That’s the picture I want you to have about anger. Out of control, I’ll tell you what, it’s like a fire outside of the fireplace. Under control, focused, understood and used, it’s like a fire in the fireplace that brings light and warmth.
And so, what we’re going to talk in this session about is well, how do you do that? How do you make anger work for you? And I just touched on it. I want to go through the A-B-C-Ds of anger. And as we do that I’m going to ask you to pull back in your memory my “a-ha” moment. I actually learned this sometimes God does something and you have this “a-ha” moment and what I’ve learned to do is say, “God, how did you do that?”
Okay, I was studying all this stuff, I came home, I was lonely, hurt, struggling. I got mad, I didn’t even know I was mad. I went to bed. I got up and yelled at my kids and was a jerk as a husband. Okay? Then I sat in my car, I sat there for ten minutes, and I realized, “I’m angry,” because I’m studying this right now.
And then, once I acknowledged my anger I backtracked to the primary emotion and I realized, Anger’s not the problem. I’m sad, I’m lonely, and I’m disappointed. And then number three, what do I do? I considered the cause. I had hurt and expectations. I expected everyone, very unrealistically, at nine thirty, to be waiting on the edge going, “Daddy’s home. Life’s wonderful.” But I didn’t think this all through.
And then finally, the last thing I did is I determined how to best deal with it. And my moment of truth was: do I sit in this car, stuff it, leak it later, like at dinner. “Hey honey, well, what was happening last night? So did you give a sleeping pill to all the kids? Ha ha ha ha.” You know? “Did you have a good day? I did.” And that’s what I would do.
Or do I walk in there, feel very vulnerable, very naked, and say to my wife, “I feel hurt and lonely and disappointed because I needed you and you’re my best friend and you weren’t available. And I understand why. And I understand my expectations were totally unreasonable. But I need to be around you.”
By the way, I never finished that story. I can tell you right where I was in the kitchen. My wife put her arms around me, and she said, “Hon, I understand. And you know when you get home tonight, let’s take a walk, grab a cup of coffee, and I just want to hear what’s going on.”
And I got this great hug. And I had a little decision that turned an entire day – instead of stuffing anger, getting mad, leaking later, and probably not having a good day being mad at other people. And instead, I acknowledged my anger, A; I backtracked to the primary emotion, B; I considered the cause, C, my expectations; D, I determined a course of action, and in this particular one, although I wish I could say I do it all the time, I did the right thing, and I experienced God’s grace.
I went from a wild stallion out of control, “Make your bed! Have you had your quiet time? Take out the trash!” to a father who’s forgiven, filled with the Spirit, reconnected with my wife and with my kids.
My anger taught me something. It helped me grow. It also helped me realize the extent of need that I have and it told my wife something, a lot of women, especially married to people that are kind of, have a lot of energy, and it let my wife know: I really need you. I need you a lot. And so it actually communicated love to her.
And so, I’m going to encourage you, that when you get angry, and by the way this will be very hard for stuffers, you may need people to tell you you’re angry, because you’ve been so trained in stuffing it. You actually need to give them permission, that when you start behaving in certain ways, they can say, “I think you’re angry.”
But, this can be a tremendous process and now what I want to do in the real practical is the who, what, how, and when of determining how to deal with your anger. Okay?
So, what – what do you do? So, here are the questions you want to ask, “At who am I really angry? Myself, someone else, the situation, or God?” Now this may sound simple, but I expressed my anger. I thought I was angry at my son for not having his chores done or my daughter for not making her bed or my wife because she had the audacity to say I’m being unreasonable with the kids. That’s not who I was angry at. And until you get clear on who you’re angry at, you can’t deal with it rightly and you can’t heal.
My friend, Dr. Becca Johnson, in her counseling tells the story of the young woman who was date raped. She had been in counseling for a long time and was not making progress. And she said, “We had a breakthrough in one of the sessions, and this young woman discovered that her anger’s focus was really not so much on the perpetrator, but she was mad at herself. And she was taking on the guilt, which is not uncommon with rape victims. It was, “Why did I ever go out with that guy? I saw a little red flag.” Obviously, nothing. And so, she was blaming herself, mad at herself, and it wasn’t until she realized, “You know what? I’m angry with me.” That then she can say, “Now wait a second. Are you responsible when people hold you down and do unmentionable things?” No.
See, until you understand who you’re angry at, you have a hard time dealing with: what are the real issues? We believe a lot of lies. By the way, we do a series on spiritual warfare. If you think this isn’t an arena where the enemy is…he’s a liar, he’s a condemner, he’s an accuser. In fact, the key passage is what? “Be angry yet don’t sin. Don’t let the sun go down on the anger.” And why? “Lest you give the devil a foothold.”
So, a lot of these, when you have unresolved anger, there’s all kind of Christians that never think there’s demonic, satanic, powerful forces. He doesn’t need to have things move in your house or scare you to death if he has you believing a lie about condemnation and ruining your present relationships. I mean, why should he show you himself when he has you buffaloed now? And by the way, some of you are starting to deal with anger issues, and starting to talk about things, and it gets really hard and really difficult and really threatening. I’ve got news for you. There is huge spiritual opposition about you doing and obeying and listening what we’re talking about.
It’s a stronghold. So the first thing you need to find out is who are you angry at? I have a very, very close friend. Godly young woman, known for years, and about every six months to thirteen months she has a complete meltdown. She’s been single, she’s now in her late forties, and attractive, bright, all the things you would ever think. And I mean, gets depressed, just, it took about five years to realize, and for her to admit, she’s mad at God.
She’s really mad at God. “Why haven’t your brought someone into my life?” And she has some really warped views of God, and so, she thinks God is punishing her, and she has a lot of things.
But until she came to the point where she realized she wasn’t mad at these guys who asked you out once, these guys that want you to get sort of serious, back away, she wasn’t mad that Christian guys seemed to be… she had her anger in all kind of different areas, she finally realized, “I’m mad at God.”
And by the way, at least from the book of Job and from the psalms, God doesn’t seem to be too upset when people are honest and candid and angry with Him in order to get to the heart of issues. He can handle it. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, He’s near to those who are crushed in spirit. He’s near to those who come to Him in Truth.” Isaiah quoting God says, “Call to Me, present your cause, that you might be proved right.” God longs more than anything else for us to be honest and come to Him with the raw pain and the hurt that we have.
So number one, as you go through this you acknowledge your anger, you’re backtracking, and then you want to say, “Well who am I mad at?” Second, what should I do? Right? Now, I’ve discovered who I’m mad at. Well, it’s my spouse, it’s one of my kids, it’s me, it’s God.
Well, what should I do?” Express it directly or release it indirectly. Do I confront the situation or do I conceal it? Will my plans make matters worse or make them better?” And this is where I’m going to ask my friend Dr. Becca Johnson, she says it in two paragraphs. Because this is critical. What do you do when you realize, A) you’re angry, and B) you’re angry at someone. Do you directly go at it and deal with it and when do you not?
She writes, “When we find ourselves in an unwanted situation with angry feelings we basically have two choices. Do I express my feelings directly to the person or do I release them indirectly through various activities? Dealing with it directly means choosing to confront the situation. We try and change it. We act rather than acquiesce. We take action and appropriately let the person involved know about our anger and its root emotions, what contributed to their existence and what we would like to be different.
“It’s best to express ourselves clearly without blaming or attacking. We let our anger be known but in ways we’ve previously discussed. ‘I feel blank when you blank.’ ‘I wish you would versus demand.’ We get it out wisely and carefully, never impulsively or without consideration of the consequences and the causalities.
“Dealing with our anger indirectly gives us more options. Sometimes it’s best to accept things the way they are. Conform. And not to share our anger with those involved. Conceal. But it’s important to make sure our motivation isn’t from an uncomfortable situation. We choose this option not by default or out of hopelessness but out of a calculated conclusion that it would be best not to stir the waters or rock the boat at this particular time, in this particular situation.
“Wisdom sometimes demands that we choose not to provoke or reprove someone when past history or other circumstances dictate it to be an unwise practice. Sometimes we have to find a new job. Do business with a different company. Discontinue an unhealthy relationship. We choose not to confront but to quit. We should consider this only after we’ve weighed all other options carefully and determine that letting go is the best course of action.” Does that make sense?
See there’s times where you work for a boss and he’s making sexual advances. You say, “I feel uncomfortable when you make jokes like that” and they continue to make sexual advances. And you understand that your role in the company is of the kind that there may be a time there’s someone you’re to report this to, and you need to directly say, “This is the way it is” and understand the consequences.
There are other times where maybe it’s a different situation and you realize no matter what you do you’re powerless. Your role in the company, your role in the relationship, you’ve said it seventy-eight times, it’s the seventy-ninth, nothing is changed, you’re trying reprove a mocker and you realize, “You know something? All it will do is inflame the problem, I’ve prayed about it, I’m willing, I’m not uncomfortable, I would do it.” And you pray and God says, “You know something? This is not one, don’t go down this road again.”
How many times do you need to knock your head against that wall for that bump on your head to get bigger and bigger and more painful and realize on this one, you know what? There was a time – what did Jesus say to some of the disciples? “Get the dust off your feet, move onto the next town.”
You don’t always have the ability and sometimes it’s not God’s will to resolve everything with everyone. You do the best you can as far as it depends on you and that’s why we have a Holy Spirit. He will show you if you’re willing and open, what to do in various situations.
The third issue is not only the who or the what, but the how. How do I deal with the situation? Should I do it in person? Should I do it on the phone? Should I do it through a letter?
How do you know what to do? I would say the best way if at all possible is in person. It’s the hardest way, but that’s the best way because, one, you can read the body language and the goal is you speak the truth in love. I feel hurt, I feel disappointed, I felt used when, and really, you get to express your anger to a person when your motive is, “I love them and I want to restore the relationship.” Not, “This will make me feel better because I’m getting vengeance.” The goal of most anger is vengeance.
And so, you need to forgive the person, right? “I’m going to release you,” that’s what forgiveness is all about. “I’m going to be merciful to you the way God has been merciful to me but I’m not going to be a doormat. So, I’m going to tell you I feel this way when you do this, but I’m doing it not because I can guarantee the result, it’s because I love you and you need to know the truth, and the truth will set you free. And I’m not going to sit on this and bury this and stuff this and pretend that things are okay and have an inauthentic relationship.”
And so in person is usually the best way. But, sometimes because of how the person might respond, you might say, “Well gosh, I did that once and that’s when they rewired my jaw, right?” Or, “I did that once and it was...” And so maybe a letter’s the best way to go.
To a person that, whether they’re dead, or whether it would be totally inappropriate and you know the response, to write a very specific letter. “I feel _____when you____ and because you_____.” And you write it out and you list it out and you get it out here.
I remember a time where, a long story, I won’t go into it, but I was, a guy called me under the premise of something and was trying to trap me and recorded the conversation, trying to make me say something bad about someone else and then never played it, but told people I’d said things. And I was pretty young, I was like thirty-eight, and I was livid. I mean, I found out about it and I was livid.
I had anger fantasies. Pretending terrible things happened to him and saying, “Thus says the Lord.” And I was eaten up and I couldn’t sleep and I was angry. And I remember eating lunch with a fellow pastor, a really godly guy and he said, “You know what, Chip, you need to do, you need to write that guy a letter. You need to get it all out. You need to get really straight.” And man, it was a brother that really loves me and so I did. I wrote it all out, wrote it all out, wrote it out and he said, “Let me read that thing”, and I let him.
He read it out, he goes, “Wow, so the motivation for this letter was?” “Well, man, this guy did this terrible stuff and he needs to know!” “So the motivation is justice, right? And then I noticed that there’s some little innuendo here, except it’s not very innuendo, it’s like you’re really slamming this guy.” “That’s true.” “Well, okay. It’s true, but, so you really want to pay him back?” “I don’t know if I’d call it that. That sounds too much like vengeance and that sounds like something only God should do.” Anyway I wrote that letter and he said, “Why don’t you try rewriting it again when you feel like the goal of the letter would be to restore his relationship to God and his relationship to you.”
It took me three or four days before I could get to where I was willing to do that. I eventually did it. I wrote out a letter. And then he challenged me, he said, “You know what I encourage you to do? Why don’t you take that letter, put it in an envelope, and put it in your briefcase. And why don’t you sit on it for thirty days?” And I did.
And all the venom, all the junk, all the injustice, then God began to speak to me, and then, in that particular case, that letter became just a little monument of, “God, I’m going to trust my reputation to you.” At the end of it, the core of my anger was not what he did. The core of my anger was I was zealous for my reputation. I was zealous for what people might think. And for me it was a step of faith to say, “I’m going to entrust that to you, Lord.” And I watched after years later, God took care of all of that. I never sent the letter.
There’s a time to send a letter. There’s a time not to send the letter. For some of you, you write a letter and you have a good friend look at it and help you process but there’s some people in this room, I guarantee, that have ten, twenty, thirty, forty years of pain and resentment that’s buried toward parents, or people, or someone who walked out on you, that is unresolved and it’s been a poison in your soul and you need to sit down, maybe this afternoon, and write a two or three page letter of what they did, how you actually felt, how angry you really felt, the negative impact and consequences it’s had on your life.
And you get down to the end and then by the grace of God, when you can say it and mean it, “And I forgive you.” And you may never need to send the letter. And make sure someone reads it a couple times before you ever send anything.