Right around Easter I wrote a post that was a little bit pissy. I did this intentionally because I was feeling pissy—and I was pretty sure other people were as well. (And indeed, they were.) But I got a little bit of push-back for being “too negative.” So let me say this about that, there are spiritual benefits to being pissy.
If you were raised in fundamentalist Christianity, or even in the slightly less stringent evangelical flavor of the faith, you were probably not allowed to be pissy. This is especially true for women, because fundamentalist constructs are primarily patriarchal in format. Even if you didn’t come up in church, if you grew up in America you still got the lite version of this patriarchy model, because we are, in theory, “one nation under God,” which means our religious roots are showing.
Women, religious or otherwise, are generally speaking taught to be nice. Politeness and gentleness reign supreme. It’s not lady-like to raise your voice, express disagreement in public, or swear like a sailor. And why should you be questioning authority anyway? There’s an established belief system going on; men (for the most part) control that system; and your status as a member of that system and therefore that community requires acquiescence to those beliefs. To question, contradict, or to complain threatens your belonging. And so the tendency to suppress disagreement is strong. And suppressed disagreement, along with being unheard, being denied a “voice”—these lead to anger.
But anger is healthy, normal, and to be expected. In fact, anger is helpful. Here are my top three reasons anger is spiritually beneficial.
Anger Signals When Something is Wrong. Anger, like pain, is a helpful thing. Just as pain signals that something is wrong within our bodies, anger signals that something is amiss in our souls. When I talk to my children about anger we often refer to it as “a cover-up emotion.” I ask them what the anger is hiding, and they can usually come up with an answer. Women who have grown up in the church are not so skilled at this. They haven’t been practicing it since they were 3 years old, like my kiddos have. And it can be a hard skill to learn. But in time, with practice, it becomes easier. The next time you feel a surge of anger, ask yourself, “What is underneath this?” You might even try visualizing the anger as a stone. Then imagine yourself lifting up the stone, and see what is underneath. See if you can address that root issue. I bet you’ll be surprised at how skillful you are!
Anger Allows us to Live our Authentic Self. The modernist approach to faith values conformity to creed over allegiance to our authentic self. In a post-modern milieu (which is where much of the non-religious west is living these days), authenticity is highly valued. It is considered a hallmark of emotional and spiritual good health. For those of us raised in church, especially fundamentalist and evangelical branches of the church, were brought up in the modernist approach. (The church is about 10-20 years behind the cultural learning curve when it comes to the modern-to-post-modern shift.) But we are living in a post-modern culture. This push-pull relationship between these two messages—“agree with the creed” and “be your authentic self” creates cognitive and emotional dissonance. This dissonance often manifests as anger. Pressing through the anger into your God-given internal authority, and trusting that authority to give you permission to express your authentic thoughts, releases you from that dissonance and allows you to flourish in the playground of truthfulness. Doesn’t that sound lovely? Embrace your authentic self by expressing your anger and find your way to the other side.
Expressing our Anger Allows us to Mentor the Next Generation. Post modernity is not strictly a generational game. I’ve meet people in their 70’s who are more twigged into post modernity than I am, and I’ve met 20-something’s (mostly those raised in fundamentalist churches) who don’t get it at all. But generally speaking anyone born in the Gen X, Gen Y, and anyone falling under the category of Millennial Kids are thoroughly embedded in the post-modern mindset. This means they value transparency over all. They can sniff out a lack of authenticity from a mile away, and intuitively recoil from it. If we are to be good guides—good teacher/learners—for and with these next generations, we must embrace our authentic selves. And if we are going to be honest with and about ourselves, anger is going to have to be acknowledged as part of the package. Learning to identify and express our anger will help the next generation—especially the young women who are coming up behind us. Isn’t that a legacy worth leaving.If you can’t be angry for yourself, do it for your girls.
What do you think? What has been your experience with expressing anger in your life? Have you found a way to express anger within a conservative religious construct? Have you had a breakthrough in dealing with anger? Share your story in the comments below, and add to the giant pool of wisdom, forming now.