I sat on the bedroom floor encircled by books, lined paper, colored pencils, and my daughter, Noelle. Stacks of crisp notebooks and newly opened crayon boxes were eagerly unwrapped as if a new school year was like Christmas morning. Noelle was organizing her new gifts beside me. Starting middle school was a big deal and she felt the weight and anticipation of the transition. She read the directions on how to set up her class notebook and I saw her face turning red. Her aggravation grew as she couldn’t seem to get the paper to fit in the three silver rings of her binder. In frustration, she slammed her stuff on the floor beside me.
I talked her through a few deep breaths and she tried again. Within seconds, she screamed. I was taken aback by her overreaction to this small task — and now I had to remind myself to breathe. With all the patience I could muster, I softened my voice and tried to explain how she needed to calm down. She tried again. This time, hot tears slipped out of her eyes, intensifying her feelings.
“It doesn’t make any sense!” she screamed. With that, she threw her new things across the room, jumped in bed, grabbed a pillow, and yelled into it with all her might.
Then the strangest thing happened. Without forethought or consideration, I screamed too. I wasn’t angry at her. I wasn’t mad. But from my gut, I screamed. It felt almost like a release. I looked at Noelle and said, “Sometimes you just have to scream.” She buried her head back in the pillow and unleashed her pain once again. This time I grabbed a pillow and followed her lead. After a few seconds, she wiped her tears, looked at me soberly, and picked up her discarded notebook. Now, instead of cramming the paper and dividers onto the loops, she took her time and they slid on perfectly.
I’ve rehearsed this experience over and over in my mind for the past several weeks. It has made me really reflect on anger. I can weep with a friend. I can laugh with my kids. I can sit with my husband in his fear, but I have never considered “being with” another in their rage.
I grew up in a home and church culture where anger was bad, scary, and even sinful. I grew up understanding anger to be an emotion to avoid or get rid of as quickly as possible. But Scripture never says that anger is evil. The warning in the Bible is: ”Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:26-27 ESV).
Anger isn’t wrong, it’s actually an emotion that is welcomed in Scripture. But, the truth is, anger feels scary. I feel out of control when I get mad. When other people are angry, I feel my own fear. But the next part of this passage is such a beautiful invitation from God. I have always understood, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” to mean, fix or resolve your anger before the day ends. Paul isn’t saying to get rid of your anger and fast. He is saying to process your anger. Don’t suppress it by putting it down like the sun goes down. Instead, process your frustration and pain. Work it out. In other words, be angry. If you don’t let your anger come out, the Devil can get a foothold in your life. Unprocessed anger is a place where the enemy can sneak in and destroy.
I found this to be such an incredible invitation from God. I don’t need to quiet my anger or the anger of those around me, I need to be with others in this intense emotion. I need to let myself feel my frustration. I need to let myself be bothered. I need to let others have their anger too. But, don’t sin. Don’t act out in such a way that harms another or myself.
That day when I screamed with my daughter, something happened to both of us. She didn’t need to breathe more or exercise self-control. She needed to scream and get her frustration out of her body. When I screamed with her, she felt less alone and probably less afraid. Sometimes you just need to scream. You need to pound the steering wheel, shatter the plate, or yell into a pillow.
So when I feel agitation boiling up with me, I find ways to release it that won’t cause harm. I find ways to get what I feel out of me. Sometimes I release my anger with words, deep breaths, or shouts in the shower. On good days, I invite others into my anger as well. Recently, my youngest child was having a fit. Noelle quickly ran into the other room and grabbed a pillow for her to scream in.
And remember this: God is with us, especially in our anger.