When Anger Disguises Its Face

Originally published Monday, 24 June 2013.

His emotions have been lying on the surface lately. Little things have caused him to unravel into tears and frustration. Just last week, he exploded into tears while on a hike with friends. Sitting in the car to calm down and talk things out, he acted out in anger, making a mess of the car.

As we talked, I reminded him of the recent discussions we've had regarding his emotions, of choices and consequences, and of how what's going on in his heart pours out into his actions. "I want you to think about whether your anger has been your friend or enemy. Is it telling you the truth or a lie? And can you trust it?"

Later that day, he drew a story in his sketch book about anger and how its lies can bring about great consequences. We talked about times when anger might be telling the truth and how to know when it is trustworthy and when it isn’t. We also talked about God's righteous anger.

I've recently realized that anger has been an enemy to me as well, full of lies and malice. Folding laundry one afternoon, my throat and head hurt. My husband walked in and asked, "What are you going to do if you get sick?  I have to work and can't get out of it to help you."

Some sort of flu or cold virus had made its way through our house. Both of my kids were sprawled out in the living room, fevers high, and needing their mommy. My husband brought up a very good question, what would I do?

When circumstances like this occurred in the past, I often became consumed with depressive thoughts, overwhelmed with stress and fatigue at the mere thought of handling things all on my own. Especially while sick.

With my husband's work schedule keeping him away ninety plus hours a week, getting a break from parenting and getting the rest I need is a rare treat for me. I remember well the months of depression following the births of my two children. Going through each day on my own, exhausted and worn, I longed for someone to come and take over for me. If my husband announced he had to go out of town for work, I would often unravel, certain I wouldn't make it through until his return.

As I folded the laundry that day, I was struck by the fact that I wasn't feeling overwhelmed by the thought of being sick with my husband out of town. Reflecting back on the occasions where I would have responded in despair, I thought about why it had been so hard. I thought about my responses and the underlying factors. I realized that there was something that had fueled that despair that was no longer there. I realized that much of my depression and feelings of despair had merely been a mask covering a very ugly face--anger.

I've come to see that for years I have harbored anger and resentment about my husband's work schedule. All those late nights when I was left alone with a screaming baby or sick child, feelings of depression would creep up and I'd settle into my well-worn seat of despair to rock the night away. When all the while, anger was the real fuel behind it all.

Anger is a well-known source for depression. It often hides from view, burrowing itself in the deep recesses of our hearts. The truth is, many of us are uncomfortable with the strength of anger. It's ugly and fierce and we don't know what to do with it so we stuff it down. Because if we faced it head on, we might see that we're angry with God. We might see that we are angry with situations he's brought into our lives. We might see we are angry with how he's not met our dreams, hopes, and expectations.

We know that scripture admonishes us to not sin in our anger. We know we aren't to let the day end without resolving conflicts with others. And we know that we are to forgive as we've been forgiven. So when anger arrives on the scene, we deny what's going on in our heart and rename it something else. When overwhelming feelings arise, we often look at external circumstances as the cause: exhaustion, change, unexpected situations, losses, etc. We might look at those circumstances and say "I'd feel better if things were different." Maybe we even try to fix or change our circumstances thinking it will make everything better and our life would return to what it once was.

While it's not the source of everyone's depression or periods of despair, for many anger and depression go hand in hand. For me, coming to this realization was alarming but also opened the door to healing. Coming face to face with it helped me see how much control it had over my life.

No matter what we are angry about, whether it is hidden behind a mask or not, the ultimate source of healing and freedom from anger is the gospel. Because we can't control our feelings, because we can't love unconditionally, because we seek our own way above anyone else's, Jesus had to come. God took on flesh and entered the sin of this world to live the life we couldn't live. At the cross, Jesus faced not only the anger of the soldiers and crowds, but the anger of God the Father, all out of love for you and for me. He took on all our sin, past, present, and future so that we could be free from its bondage. It's these gospel truths which free us from the anger that threatens to control and rule our hearts. Knowing how much we are loved, that God's grace is greater than our very worst day, is the key to unlocking the door to the emotions that consume us.

In my own life, my husband’s work schedule has not changed. What’s changed is the healing and empowering work of the gospel in my heart. As both my son and I have learned, anger can often bring about great consequences. But the wonderful truth is, because of Jesus, we can go to the throne of God and receive the help and grace we need. Because of Jesus, we can repent and receive forgiveness for every time we’ve sinned in our anger. For the gospel and the love of Christ is more powerful than our greatest feelings of anger or despair. It has the power to remove its disguise and free us from its lies and control.

As I've taught my son, sometimes anger tells us the truth. But many times it doesn't. Because it often hides its ugliness behind a mask, we need to look beneath the surface of our emotions. We need to peel back our despair and see if anger lies hidden behind it. And then we need to take it to the cross of Christ.

So the question is, does your anger disguise its face?