“How are you?”
It was a simple question.
But how was I supposed to answer, when the truth is that I was ready to tear my hair out, throw over the furniture and scream like the devil himself?
In hindsight, maybe I should have been holed up at home instead of out in public fielding how-are-yous from strangers.
But I wasn’t.
I was at the coffee shop, and I’d just given one of the other regulars some line about how great everything was going.
Or I might have said something about raising baby elephants by hand. I’m really not sure, but he smiled and said nice sounding words, so I must have lied convincingly.
I’m so unused to feeling anger that I don’t know what to do with it. I don’t even know where – or where not – to take it.
And, yet, this afternoon, I found myself angry. Very angry.
So I did what I often do in a crisis. I called my wonderful church lady.
“I’m so angry,” I tell her. “I don’t even want to make dinner.”
Whoa. Take cover. Someone declare a state of emergency.
“I feel like throwing things instead.”
That’s more like some real anger, but it never sticks around long. I automatically snuff out the ‘wrong’ feeling. So, as it ebbs, we talk about the reasons for my anger.
She knows me well. I’m angry about injustice, past and present. The injustices are real. She tells me that I have reason to be angry.
“I have no idea what to do with it,” I tell her.
Somehow, as a small child, I internalized the belief that feeling angry was not allowed. So I haven’t been.
Now that I am feeling angry, it looks like I have only two options, and neither has a positive payoff.
Vengeance vs. Victim
Option one is vengeance. Throw things, scream, and make them get their own damn dinner. I’m feeling particularly vulnerable to doing just that.
The other option is resignation. Stuff it down and forgive, again.
Jesus says seventy times seven times, right? I’m no mathematician, but I know we’re nowhere near that number.
Vengeful combatant or resigned victim. Neither one is right.
I get off the phone and reflect. It comes to me that I’ve been resigning myself for years, all the while thinking that I’m forgiving.
I reasoned that, if being angry is not forgiveness, then not being angry is forgiveness. I thought that, to forgive, I had to let go of my right to feel anger or hurt about an injustice.
But here’s what I heard on the phone:
Forgiveness is handing over my right to pass judgement on and dole out vengeance for an unjust situation. It’s not giving up my right to feel angry about it.
Anger and Vengeance Are Not Part and Parcel
Anger is a feeling that tells me something is wrong, and it’s mine to learn how to deal with.
“Write it, out or find somewhere to scream it out, if you can,” she said.
Getting far enough from other people to scream would mean being carried away by mosquitoes in the bush.
So here I am. Writing out the anger.
Vengeance, on the other hand, is not mine. Romans 12:19 ends with, ‘“It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.’.
Sounds terrible that I’m to ‘leave room for God’s wrath’ to come to those who are unjust to me, as it says earlier in the same scripture. Do I really want God to bring his wrath down upon my loved ones when they are hurtful?
Yes. I do.
The more I reflect on God as the judge, I see that his wrath is far more fair and unbiased than mine would have been. It’s the perfect mix of judgement and mercy.
My judgement is tinted by the lens of my life experience. My vengeance would bring past injustices and my own failings into today’s events.
On top of that, I can only see my own heart (and imperfectly, at that). I can’t see the other hearts involved, only the other behaviours.
“God loves justice. He won’t let it go, but he has the whole picture. He can see all the details and will make a good judgement.”
As usual, I hear her words without understanding them right away. So I keep writing.
I thought ‘good judgement’ was an oxymoron. Judgement is bad, isn’t it?
If I pass judgement for the hurts of the day, nothing good would come of it. But if I give it to God, the judgement will be good.
It hadn’t occurred to me that God could make something good out of this.
I’ve believed that, unless I made it happen, there would be no consequences for those who were unjust to me. But I also believed that my anger was wrong.
My only option was to swallow the whole thing; pretend the injustice and my anger never existed. You can imagine how well that has served me, over the years.
The idea that God hates even the small injustices that have me refusing (in my heart) to make dinner tonight, is new to me. And it brings with it a new-found peace.
Until now, I never realized that, not only is he seeing my hurt, but he’s going to do just the right thing about it.
I am not defenseless against the injustices of my world. I’m just not the defender. He is, and he loves me – and you – enough to do it, with the perfect measure of justice and mercy.
One reason I wasn’t truly forgiving is because I felt I had to balance the scales and couldn’t do it. But, he can, and he will.
And, that’s one of the biggest mercies of all.