Something’s a brewin’.
You can feel it in your gut.
You know that feeling that wells up inside you. It starts somewhere in your chest or stomach area, travels up your throat making you a little nauseous, and then BAM! — it suddenly transforms into something like having a cinderblock virtually strapped to your chest. Perpetually weighing you down . . . till you deal with it or foolishly learn to live with the unnecessary weight of refusing to remove it.
What started it? Maybe she said something that cut to your heart. Maybe you said something that you know was insensitive and hurtful and now you wonder if you have caused her pain. Maybe he did something carelessly hurtful . . . again! Maybe you disrespected him in front of others (whether intentional or not).
Tension begins to mount. There is hurt. There is guilt. Uneasiness may only be the tip of your relational iceberg. Trust is threatened. One or both parties is experiencing pain, and ANGER is clearly entering the picture.
What do you do?
The first principle of dealing with anger is all about keeping current with what is needed to build relationships rather than allowing them to crumble. I like to refer to this concept as the importance of having constructive and loving “pre-conflict” before greater relational friction has the chance to heat things up.
Pre-conflict can be considered as much preventative as it is restorative in the context of relationship building.
In other words, when we deal with potential problems as they arise, we give less room for anger to become an issue or for the issues to compound to the point that they are more complicated to work through in both the sense of the expanding web of contentious details and the mounting emotional investment involved.
We all know that the more we allow offenses to build, the more rapidly our “emotional stew” climbs from a slow simmer to a rapid boil.
Ephesians 4:26-27 says, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity” (NASB). In this verse, the Holy Spirit urges the believer to deal with anger-inducing issues within a timely fashion so as not to allow it to grow into sin.
Sometimes dealing with our anger means that we confess to the Lord that we never should have felt angry in the first place. If we experience anger because we are jealous, controlling, or if we idolize the praise, affirmation, agreement, and approval of others, our problem lies more with our expectations than with the actions and words of others.
For example, the most abusive people I have encountered are those who will fly off the handle, so to speak, at certain individuals they believe owe them every sinful desire they vehemently hold to with clenched fists. These individuals are self-deceived into thinking that they are entitled to the desires mentioned above. They blindly rationalize thoughts like, “If she would just admit that I have a point, I would not have to scream at her and throw the kitchen plates across the room.” The lies that they tell themselves are the most dangerous and insidious of all the lies they tell. Abusive individuals also typically will limit their displays of rage to those closest to them sensing these individuals will be easiest to control (in order to keep their sin hidden). For this reason, abusive relationship dynamics occur most in parent and child relationships and in marriage relationships.
Other times our anger may be a righteous anger. In these cases, it is our job to make sure that the hurt that we feel leads us to be angry at the prospect that sin could damage our relationship with another person rather than directing our anger at the personhood of the offender.
This is exponentially easier said than done. In fact, I believe it requires the supernatural empowering of the Holy Spirit in a cooperative vessel to truly achieve this from the heart rather than merely displaying the “right” behaviors out of the motivation of self-righteousness.
Our anger should be focused on the sin more so than the sinner. Ephesians 6:12 teaches us, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (NASB).
What if we all approached conflict this way?
What if we viewed others (especially other believers) as a teammate in a great game against an opponent (Satan) who is ripe for defeat against the power of believers who are indwelt by the very Spirit of the Living God?
True, it will take both parties humbly and lovingly participating to gain maximum defeat against the wiles of the enemy in any given interpersonal conflict, but even if both parties are not working together as teammates, we can individually do our very best to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to have a heart that overflows with words and actions that will be a pleasing aroma to the Lord by seeking to make peace with others rather than simply “keeping peace” by staying quiet through denial or destroying peace by adding to the relational chaos by reacting in a spirit of anger.
A healthy dose of preventative “pre-conflict” can save a relationship so much trouble. It requires honesty, humility, and a heart that worships God as King, which means dethroning any personal desire, attitude, thought pattern, or behavior that would attempt to take the place of the supremacy of God’s ways over the ways of the sinful flesh.