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It was a shock when I realized I was imitating a Biblical villain.
I’d been married for about eight years when I studied the book of Esther with Beth Moore’s curriculum. A few weeks in, Moore talked about the story’s enraged anti-hero, Haman, identifying his meanness as the “spirit of Haman.”
“As Christians,” Moore said, “We must recognize the ‘spirit of Haman’ not only in our world but within ourselves.
I paused over those words.
Meanness. Within myself.
I recalled my last fight with my husband. I’d screamed, hurling ugly words at him as if they were arrows.
I’d had reasons to be angry. But I had no excuse to be mean.
I felt astonished. Me, like Haman? I’m a goody-two-shoes. I hate gossip and mean-spiritedness.
Except, apparently, when I got really angry.
That night, I asked my husband’s forgiveness. I vowed to handle my anger differently from then on.
And I did. I still get angry. But I rarely let it turn mean-spirited.
I was able to manage my anger because of some soul searching after that night. Considering Moore’s words, I realized that like Haman, I’d been using lies to justify my behavior.
With Moore’s insight, I decided to stop believing them.
Haman justified his anger by assuming his opponents deserved terrible treatment. He wielded anger like a battle-axe, chopping anyone down that got in his way.
It’s that spirit that most convicted me. When I yelled at my husband, I did it mostly to punish him. I wanted to make him sorry.
Instead, God invited me to use my anger as a spotlight to reveal my needs to myself and to my husband.
Anger itself is a powerful and necessary emotion. After all, God himself gets angry.
Feeling my anger has saved me when I experienced abuse; it helped me recognize unsafe situations and gave me the courage to get out of them.
But as with most tools, we can use anger for good or for harm.
There’s a big difference between telling someone that I’m angry and calling them names. There’s a difference between addressing anger intentionally and using it as an excuse to mistreat someone.
One is life-giving. The other is abusive.
The truth is that God has created all of us—even people who enrage us—in his image. We all deserve respect because of His majesty. Whether in political situations, at home, or with people who hurt us, we can learn to channel our anger towards justice rather than furthering harm.
Thankfully, when God commanded me not to sin he could help me stop. I just had to confront the next lie.
When I screamed at my husband, I told myself I’d been pushed past all tolerance.
But once I repented of misusing my anger, I saw, quite quickly, that I had a choice about how I’d handle my emotions. In fact, the healthy options were dizzying.
Soon, I saw that throwing words like spears wasn’t just sinful, it wasn’t effective. I didn’t get what I needed, I didn’t mature, and I alienated my spouse.
In contrast, better communication skills helped me ask for what I needed. Therapy helped us heal hurts from the past. Journaling and prayer helped me find more resilience when my husband disappointed me.
Meanness quickly lost its appeal.
Still, though, when anger runs hot, it’s hard to keep my mouth shut. Which is where addressing the next lie helped.
Unresolved conflict makes me anxious, gives me a stomachache, and keeps me from sleeping.
So whenever I have a conflict with my husband, I want it resolved right now. Over. Finished. Kaput.
However, as I started trying to control my anger, I realized my desire for quick resolutions often got me in trouble.
It would be late. Exhausted, I’d say things I later regretted. Or, a brief irritation turned into a huge fight—then later, I’d realize the original irritation wasn’t really a big deal.
I’d assumed anger was an emergency. But as I practiced self-control, I realized it was more like a warning flare. It invited me to pray, think, and be intentional.
If my husband angers me, I’ll often wait a day or two to make sure it’s a real issue. Often, my irritation disappears. If I’m still upset later, I bring it up with more confidence, fortified with prayer and deeper thinking.
In addition, if an argument turns south, we often table it for later. Sure, things are uncomfortable as we wait, but not ugly. We usually come to the next discussion with more insight and humility.
We must address anger eventually. But learning to have patience as we deal with issues made it a lot easier to keep our feelings under control.
After I cultivated patience, I had one more lie to unpack.
Our culture often portrays violence and aggressiveness as the ultimate display of power. But we follow Christ, whose power was made perfect in surrender.
This doesn’t mean ignoring my own needs or agreeing to be a doormat. But it does mean violence—verbal or otherwise—is actually weakness.
As I learned to control my tongue, I discovered a buried sense of powerlessness. I often didn’t ask for what I needed, say no to things that bothered me, or even understand how I wanted to be treated.
In other words, I didn’t have appropriate boundaries.
Shouting and unkind words were easier than getting to the root of my hurt—or understanding my husband’s needs. Anger was easier than worrying I’d disappoint or displease my husband by being honest.
It’s shocking how much courage it takes to say no to someone I adore. It’s shocking how hard it is to be truly honest with my spouse and myself.
I love Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s a list that describes real power—to rejoice in the truth, avoid dishonoring others, keep hope and goodwill alive. With love we can be patient, kind, and seek justice.
It’s love that has moved my husband and I from adversaries to partners. As my therapist puts it, we stop viewing each other as the problem—and see any obstacle as a something we work together to solve.
That unleashes tremendous power in our marriage.
Addressing my anger in healthy ways was the beginning of a lot of positive changes in my marriage. Learning healthy communication planted seeds of hope and healing between my husband and I—and spilled over into my other relationships, like with my kids.
I see now that when I turned mean, I was desperately hurt and afraid.
I’m so grateful He revealed my sin to me—and empowered me to change my heart.
Image Credit: Thinkstock.com
Heather Caliri is a writer from San Diego who uses tiny, joyful yeses to free herself from anxiety. Tired of anxiety controlling your life? Try her mini-course, “Five Tiny Ideas for Managing Anxiety," for free here.