Column: How to deal with anger

Professor Stephen Draper, Contributing Writer

I can’t forget how lovely my wedding day was.

A small church in the Amish countryside. My bride glowing in the dress.

It was a day of beautiful fantasy, like the sheltering arms of a mother to her child.

The world’s harshness couldn’t touch us. Not that day. But like all fairy tales, the story ends and real life begins.

We hadn’t even finished eating all the wedding cake in our freezer when we had our first married fight.

She said something.

I didn’t like it.

I got mad. I yelled. She cried.

This cycle would repeat itself for some time until I apologized just to appease her. How self-centered she was, I thought. She never admitted her faults. For several months, this routine played out far too often. We went from that blissful summer day in the country to a life where most of our days we could barely talk to each other.

She kept telling me it was my temper. I could only see her as the cause of my anger. If only I could say something piercing or shout loud enough, she could finally understand. We could finally walk in harmony, like that wedding day, if only she could see things my way.

But none of it was working. It was getting worse.

Just a little over a year in marriage, after a particularly bad bout of words, I relented that we needed counseling. “You need counseling,” my bride corrected.

Again she was defiant to her faults. Anger boiled inside.

But, perhaps I was exhausted from yelling or I just wished to prove myself better, I agreed. “Fine. I’ll get help.”

I wasn’t going to get any actual help. No. Counseling was far too costly.

I had a better idea.

I went to Lifeway Christian Bookstore. I browsed their cheapest books.

I found one called, “The Answer to Anger,” by June Hunt.

That works, I thought. It’s more than she was doing.

I began reading as soon as I got in the car, hoping to return home like some enlightened sage, shattering her defiance with my brilliant insight.

Like any good discussion on anger, the book began by talking about hurts and how we respond. I reflected back on my own upbringing.

I came from an angry household.

My mother yelled. My father yelled. I soon discovered I could yell too.

Arguments ended, not in resolution, but slammed doors, thrown objects or driving off.

In those initial chapters of the book, my eyes were opened.

I realized anger is not actually sinful.

It’s a natural emotion when there is pain.

Even God demonstrated anger in Scripture.

My anger was not the issue. It was my actions.

My actions were only creating more anger, which is why it continued to be present through so much of my life.

The manifestation of my anger was to yell and dominate.

It was here, that I realized, I had been sinning.

Suddenly, I saw a sad truth. My wife was right.

I was the one who needed help. I would often not listen to her; I assumed she meant harm;  I blamed her for pain; I manifested my anger into sharpened poison-tipped words.I had a major stronghold in my life that was crippling me spiritually and strangling my marriage. I was the one destroying the memories of that peaceful June wedding.

There were three key points that I took away from my reading.

First, was to surrender our past and existing pains to God. Second, was changing how we handle anger moving forward: ask. Ask ourselves why we are angry. In doing so, we create a buffer between the moment of anger and our response. We need to both question and pray (ever so quickly) about what a godly reaction would be. Finally, I recognized what perhaps you might have in reading this.

I was seeking counseling from a Christian self-help book. What about the Word of God? That, I’m afraid, I had been slacking off on.

We can’t expect Christ-likeness without actually submitting to Christ. I had neglected time with God and the results were showing. However, I began using this new approach and noticed a surprising change.

My wife said something. I didn’t like it.

Now, I asked why. Why am I upset?

Well, I feel disrespected. I expressed that thought. “That comment made me feel disrespected,” I’d say.

“No, I didn’t mean it that way. I meant to say this,” my wife would respond.

The anger would diffuse, now seeing it was a misunderstanding. Even when it wasn’t, I learned how to better dialogue. Anger would still be felt but not expressed nearly as often.Anger was no longer a constant force.

We began to experience a peace. Laughter and joy returned. In time, we felt a new harmony.

Yes, it’s true my wife and I will never have the fantasy that our wedding album displays. Those pictures are frozen moments, far removed from reality; it’s naïve to think otherwise. We are imperfect beings called to love one another in perfection. It may be an unobtainable goal, but that doesn’t mean the effort is without merit.

Surrendering the anger in my life to God creates space for Him to do remarkable things.I now experience a marriage that is far stronger than the pictures and memories of our wedding ever present.

It isn’t built on romantic bliss (though that is present). It’s built with Christ at its core, where I surrender my emotions to Him and learn to love from the Author of Love.

*Written with the blessing of my best friend and ever beautiful bride, Sarah Draper.

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