It’s easy to stay pissed off. Bitterness is so easy. Sort of, ha. Anne Lamott says, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past…Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die… ”
Where does anger fall into all that?
There is a wound. For many folks the wound includes fear – of hell, of God, of being punished and smote. There was exclusion (even if you were on the inside), conformity, obligation and above all – shame. Shame over our wants, our desires, our basic existence.
I’ve noticed three things that are helping me move through bitterness, toward forgiveness. Not because “Hey, no problem — all good!’ But because there is something in us that longs to be free. And that longs to be connected and loving. And staying with shame and bitterness is one sure way to keep yourself closed off from all of that.
First, know that it’s okay to be pissed off.
I’m not talking about clutching at past hurts. Like the time you were 13, and the preacher went on and on about the sinfulness of wearing big earrings. And there you were, channeling your best Pat Benatar. But now you’re actually feeling super skanky. Plus you might be going to hell. Because the preacher said so. Because of the earrings.
Try not to waste energy on stuff like that.
I recently read an article about Jen Hatmaker offering free “Mom Hugs” at a Pride parade. Some responses to them were, “I miss this.” “My mom doesn’t love me anymore.” “My Dad hasn’t spoken to me in three years.”
Maybe it’s okay to be angry that there are still people in our pews who stay busy thumping Bibles at the LGBT community and boycotting Disney films, but have nothing to say about parents disowning their gay children. If that’s you, then maybe it’s best you just stop talking. Today.
Second, I try to recognize when I’ve lost some objectivity.
We all see things through lenses that were shaped by our experiences. We can’t always tell if our lenses are cloudy, but a good starting point is to realize that we’re wearing them.
I can’t always pinpoint where the fear and shame came from. I know that this was not everyone’s experience, but I also know it wasn’t just a figment of my imagination. On the other hand, it wasn’t completely that either. Of course I had many truly and loving and fun and sincere people in my life! If I’m honest, I know that I can let part of my experience cloud my memory of the whole experience.
I went back recently, and felt only love. Real love. Not the kind we sometimes do that says, “So nice to see you’ve returned from the wayside…” (Thanks.) Plus I didn’t burst into flames, as expected, so that was nice. But it showed me that with change, sometimes there is panic and confusion. Sometimes things are lost or altered — and perspective can be one of them. Like the Eagles song, “…I guess every form of refuge has its price..”
A wise friend on Facebook said, “I find certain subjects really get under my skin… usually because it triggers something unhealed in me.”
I sometimes wonder about Donald Trump, or our reactions to him. Trust me I’m not a fan, but why do I respond so strongly? Other world leaders do horrible things and my base reaction is a mild, “Okay, he’s a bit of a douche…”
But with Trump, it’s like physical anger. Does it have anything to do with the Christian support he seemingly receives? My mind goes, “Okay, the same people that made a federal freaking case of Harry Potter movies and Starbucks cups voted this guy as their leader? What? Just… WHAT?!”
Yeah, I’d say it has something to do with that. But maybe I’ve lost some objectivity when I put so much focus on him, and start to believe that every single person who voted for him must be some kind of closet white supremacist?
Third, something transformative happens when you start to think for yourself, when you open yourself to new ways of seeking God and his will.
There are two ways of not thinking for yourself:
One way is to blindly follow the people around you. Maybe this comes from a fear to think differently. Maybe you never knew that you should? Somehow there is the notion that a search for God, that is outside the standard train of beliefs, will somehow fast track you to hell. But don’t you think that God can appreciate an honest search over an unquestioned belief?
The other way to not think for yourself is to blindly go against the people around you. Guilty, over here. Sometimes when we pull away from something, we pull so hard that when we break free we swing further than we meant to. Maybe that’s necessary, I don’t know.
All I know if that when someone tells me I shouldn’t do something, my inner Scarlett O’Hara digs her heels in and whispers, “It’s go time, ya’ll…”
This can be a handy party trick when its powers are used intentionally, and for the common good. But blind push-back is not wisdom. It feels pretty satisfying, but it probably won’t get you to truth.
A bonus fourth thing: I try to remember that we’re all human, and also I don’t know everything. Which is probably a good posture to have on most days.
Philip Yancey writes about church wounds. “… women, much like this prostitute, fled toward Jesus, not away the him. The worse a person felt about herself, the more likely she saw Jesus as a refuge. Has the church lost that gift?”
Anger has a place. Bitterness is not a place to stay. I know that in the end, there is not much that can be gained from a widening gap between people. But there is something that can be gained from taking some space. Especially if that space gives you some quiet shelter — away from the shouting and pointing — to seek God, and practice some intuition.
And when you find that God is there with you, you might also find the courage and compassion to forgive yourself, release fear, and start living.