Footsteps in Faith: People who sleep with anger create destructive patterns

| October 7, 2010 | 0 Comments

Chaplain (Maj.) Steve Hommel
Installation Management Command-Pacific Region

HommelThe root cause of many of the problems facing families today is a failure to resolve deeply-seated anger and bitterness.

The best answer I have for this situation is advice that my wife and I received as newlyweds 24 years ago – don’t go to bed angry.

Working my way through Bible college, I distinctly remember my crusty old foreman, Bob, imparting that particular bit of wisdom to me. Aside from the fact that anyone married longer than 40 years must be doing something right, what interested me most about Bob’s advice was that he was paraphrasing Scripture without realizing it.

His advice echoed Ephesians 4:26-27: “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.”

The passage doesn’t say don’t ever get angry, because anger in itself is not sinful. Jesus was angry several times in Scripture, yet had never sinned. Of course, the sorts of things that made Jesus angry are not usually the sorts of things that make most of us go off the hinges.

Anger — even for all the right reasons — becomes wrong and destructive if it is expressed inappropriately, held on to, nursed, buried or allowed to fester into bitterness.

When we repeatedly go to bed angry, we give the devil an opportunity. The memory of what exactly made us angry tends to fade, but we do not forget our anger. It resonates, just under the surface, waiting for an excuse to explode.

When couples get into huge fights over minor annoyances and irritations, the fight is not actually about the clothes on the floor, whether the toilet seat was left up or down, or any number of other minor quirks. The fight is really about unresolved anger that lingers, simmering just beneath the surface, waiting for an excuse — any excuse — to go off.

Anger is like living in a minefield. Say or do the wrong thing and kaboom! 

In his book “Making Love Last Forever,” Dr. Gary Smalley said, “The average person has little or no idea how damaging forgotten or ignored anger can be — alienating loved ones, sabotaging relationships. Worse yet, most people don’t even know how much destructive anger they’re carrying around — and from past experiences, everyone has some degree of buried anger … This (unresolved) anger causes more pain, drowns more marriages, sinks more children than any other power I know.”

On an individual level, the way a person expresses anger is usually learned in childhood. Angry, bitter parents usually produce angry, bitter children. It is a vicious cycle that can go on for generations.

Left unchecked, people will usually react to situations in marriage, or in raising their own children, in the same sorts of ways they observed while growing up. Lashing out, ignoring, nagging and manipulating can seem natural because it is all they have ever known.   

There is hope, but changing a destructive pattern in your life and home must start with you. You can’t change other people. You can only change yourself.

Do not wait for a nagging wife or insensitive husband to change before you start dealing with your own issues. This delay is just an excuse to avoid taking responsibility for your own actions.

The first step towards change starts with a good, hard look in the mirror. Whenever I can be honest and accountable with the person that caused the pain and suffering in my life — namely, myself — it suddenly becomes a lot easier to forgive other people for their faults and failures.

It may take time, but even small changes in this area of dealing with anger and bitterness can have an enormously positive effect on your life and relationships.

Category: Footsteps in Faith, News, Standing Columns

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