So, last week while camping, I did something I shouldn’t have. I let my frustration turn to anger and in my anger I acted badly. I hit the gas in the car a bit faster. I took my turns a bit sharper. I muttered things under my breath a bit louder. And then, in the back seat, my son said to me “Dad, remember what it says in the Bible about being mad.” That caught me. I slowed me down.
When my kiddos argue and fight, I try to sit them down and talk with them about what happened. I want them to walk through why it escalated to hitting, punching, kicking, or all out wrestle mania in my living room. It always boils down to one being angry at the other. And so, I tell them what I tell a lot of people: It’s okay to be angry, just don’t do something mean when you’re angry.
I get this from Ephesians where Paul writes
“‘In your anger, do not sin.’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Ephesians 4:26-27
I tell my kiddos that in their anger, do not sin. Now, I don’t say that anger is wrong. I don’t say that mad is bad. I tell them it is okay to be upset. But in being upset don’t act out in a way that can hurt others or themselves. Something I was not modeling that particular morning.
When doing one on one coaching or marital or premarital sessions, I talk to people about dealing with anger constructively. I remember being told by older couples when my wife and I first got married that we shouldn’t go to bed angry at one another. That this would give the devil a foothold in our marriage. So, early in our marriage we had a fight. Like knock-down-drag-out-bring-up-the-past-and-the-in-laws type of fight. And so, we didn’t want to go to bed angry. At 3 AM not only were we still angry and arguing with one another, we were massively cranky. It got the point where we were both on the ropes and were at an impasses. We came to a truce and went out for Steak-n-Shake which is opened 24 hours. We were still upset with one another, but we were able to set it aside to work together to get chocolate shakes at 3 AM.
When we try to not go to bed angry, we still fight and just get more cranky which then leads to more fighting. What Paul is saying here is that we shouldn’t allow things to end without being willing to make amends. When we continue to stay angry at someone without resolution to the problem, the devil likes to get involved. Say what you want about spiritual warfare, the devil truly does come in and begins to whisper. That’s all he needs. You’re tired and angry to begin with. A small whisper of discontent and refusal to forgive and make amends deepens and widens the problem with our own arrogance and stupidity. And in our anger, we begin to sin.
Too many times people are taught that mad is bad. That we need to repress our anger. We need to keep things calm and keep the peace. We need to not be angry but instead always be nice to everyone and cheerful and all that crud. When we push down the anger, we push down how we’re really feeling.
What I tell people is that anger is neither positive or negative. It is an emotional reaction based upon a situation. We can choose to act out meanly and sinfully in our anger but fighting back or throwing a punch (physically or verbally) or going over an kicking a hole in the wall or punching a cow. That isn’t right. When we’re constructive in our anger, we’re able to let it teach us, grow us, help us understand the situation.
When we act out badly in our anger, we give the devil a foothold. That’s all he needs. Just one little thing of us being stupid in our anger. Too many times in anger we an do a knee jerk reaction which then leads to life long consequences (been there, done that). Instead, step back. Allow the anger to be present. Understand why there is anger. And then make amends. Don’t sin in your anger. Don’t let the problem go away but instead face the problem not your own personal desire to react.
And so, what my son said to me last week stuck. He taught me at that moment what I’ve been trying to teach him and my daughter. Our anger when dealt with wrongly can lead to knee jerk reactions that can harm and hurt ourselves and others. And in doing so, the devil has another foothold.
So, when anger arises, don’t think mad is bad. Accept the reality of the anger and see where you might be able to direct it, channel it, and allow it to create a way to make amends and even build a relationship up instead of tearing it down.