The tension of the moment: dealing with anger and bitterness

One thing that has always been true about me is that when people get on my nerves, my immediate reaction is to put distance between them and myself.

If you say something that I don’t like, I’ll unfollow, unfriend, block, or avoid you, and I’m good.

If you do something that I don’t like… Bye, Felicia.

Eventually, my relationships with such people fade into the deep recesses of my memory, until I completely forget what caused the tension between us in the first place.

Bad habits become a bad lifestyle

As a single person, this is primarily how I lived my life, so it should come as no surprise that this nasty habit still resurfaces in my marriage. Changing your marital status doesn’t change the fact that you are a jerk. It just makes you more aware of how much of a jerk you are. Painfully aware.

When Ray and I first got married, we stayed in my hometown for a month. I’m not kidding when I say that the honeymoon phase lasted a mere week for us before we entered the “Hey, let’s fight every day” phase. As is in my nature, after most fights I would run away. Whether I angrily left the house and went for a long walk around the block or I went to my best friend’s house for hours at a time, I would cut off the conversation, spin on my heel, and leave Ray choking on my dust.

Moving to Kenya changed that with a quickness. While we were in Nairobi, I used to try to leave the apartment in the middle of a fight, but the howls of stray dogs usually forced me to return home. That removed the walks around the block for me. Not to mention the fact that I didn’t know a single soul outside of Ray’s family, so there was no friend to run to either.

Those dogs did me a solid though, for real. Because of them, I had to learn to deal with my problems.

Making a joint resolution

It was during that season that Ray and I made a commitment to not allow the sun to go down while we’re in the middle of a fight… basically, not to go to bed angry. I’m not going to lie or pretend like that happens every single time, but we generally don’t stay angry with each other for longer than 24 hours. Why? Because he lives with me AND works with me AND does ministry with me. We do almost everything together, and we know that not a single one of our ministries can survive if we don’t deal with the issue of us, since marriage is our first ministry, after all.

This particular trip to the States has definitely been the most trying season of our marriage in a long time. We’ve been living out of suitcases, on the road a lot, still working online and with our video business to make ends meet, trying to raise money for our ministry (which has been pretty slow thus far), and on top of that, we’ve realized that whereas we had gotten into a comfortable groove in Kenya regarding how we work together and communicate, being in the United States as a couple has changed everything.

You see, in Kenya I am dependent on Ray, and in the U.S. he is dependent on me. It took three years for me to be able to accept the fact that I had to rely on someone other than myself (I was nearly 30 when we got married and had been single for all but 9 months of my life), so now that we’re Stateside, I can hear Kelly Clarkson whispering in my ear to become that Miss Independent Woman again, and Ray has been forced to deal with the fallout. I’ve become impatient, rude, and insensitive towards his needs and an overall pain to live with.

I originally intended to write about that whole experience, but as I began drafting this post, I received a phone call that changed my mind…

Old habits die hard

At this moment in my life there is a particular relationship I once had that has gradually declined and bottomed out. It’s a relationship that is supposed to be very important in a human being’s life, yet for this particular human (me) the relationship has gotten so far into bitterness that I feel nothing but hurt, anger, and disappointment.

Maybe someone would say, “Well, now sounds like a good time to apply that sundown policy, eh?”

That would be great, but it’s about ten years too late. There is a root of bitterness so deep in my heart that choosing to refrain from daily anger cannot work anymore. In fact, it’s a lack of doing that in the first place that got me here.

And 800 words later, I finally get to the heart of what I want to talk about.

Red or blue? Choose well.

Whether you’re married or not, you have undoubtedly had those moments of inner tension, when someone has offended or hurt you. Just seconds after the knife has been placed in your back or your gut, your initial reaction will of course be one of pain, but then you have a choice to make…

  1. Do you follow your primal instinct and respond in anger?
  2. Do you give way to the urgent tapping the Holy Spirit is doing on your heart?

We all know that feeling, right? We’ve felt it since we were kids on the verge of doing something we know we shouldn’t. Back then we referred to Him as our conscience, but we all know that there is nothing wholesome and good about our hearts and the way we engage in this world. We need the guidance and direction of someone pure who can teach us what it means to love others. That’s the Holy Spirit.

It is in that moment that we have a very important choice to make… to give in to the Holy Spirit’s promptings and mend things or to allow anger to fester until it becomes a giant, oozing sore of bitterness. All too often, the easiest and most desirous option is bitterness. For some of us there may be an issue that has held us captive for years, and it’s simply because every time we’re given the choice of the red or blue pill, we go for the red one. Every. Time.

I don’t say this to be preachy at all. I’m still in the throes of figuring out how to deal with the deep root of bitterness I have in my own heart. I want desperately for the issue to be resolved and would love to do whatever it takes to make that happen, but here’s the rub. How do you do that when the other person believes that they have done nothing wrong? How do you have a conversation about a problem that the other person cannot see? Trust me, it’s impossible. I’ve tried.

And so I’ve come to this place again where I’ve said, “Bye, Felicia,” and written that person off. I noticed my inclination towards running away once again the other day when said person called me and really pushed on a nerve. As I hung up the phone, I said in my heart, “I’m done. I could care less if I ever see this person again.” And these were more than just words. This is how I legitimately felt in the moment, and it’s how I continued to feel as I sat on the couch for the next twenty minutes chewing on the conversation, regurgitating it, and then chewing on it some more.

Thank God for “yet”

Yet, in the midst of my pity party I felt multiple nudges from the Holy Spirit.

Ray and I have some friends that we spent some time with while we were in Manhattan, and they had talked to us about living “on the other side of the line”, which essentially means to see people and situations as Jesus sees them. That conversation kept coming to my mind.

“Take a moment a check out what I’m seeing,” the Holy Spirit said.

I furrowed my brow and dredged up the most hurtful thing the person had done to me and began to feast on it.

“I know that bitterness tastes so good to you right now, but I can give you something that tastes much better. It’s called freedom.”

When we are in our right minds, we all know what we should do, and yet like me many of us still refuse to change our heart position. Unfortunately, the more that we reject the prodding of the Holy Spirit, the harder our hearts become until we can no longer hear Him, let alone respond to Him. I thank God that my heart is not yet hardened to the point that I can no longer feel those nudges. That would be a truly scary place to be. But even so, I know that if I continue doing what I’ve been doing, that’s where I’m heading. Romans 1, anyone?

So what do we do?

To be honest, I don’t know. I’m still dealing with it myself, so I can’t give you a five-step strategy to overcoming, but I’ve at least got three points that I’ve learned so far.

Fill your heart and mind with Scripture

Put something in your spiritual reservoir for the Holy Spirit to work with. There is a direct correlation between the amount of time you spend in the Word or in prayer and your willingness to respond to the Holy Spirit in the midst of turmoil. The less time I spend with Him in the quiet place listening to Him speak, the less inclined I am to listen to Him when He speaks and all my feels are up in the mix shouting just as loud.

Develop new habits

It only takes a few times of choosing the right thing in order to retrain your heart and mind to begin to do it naturally. You just have to take that first step… then do it again and again until you’re walking, and one day running, in grace and peace.

Repent

This is the most important factor. The other steps keep the wall from getting any higher around your heart, but repentance is what tears the existing wall down. I know of people that have testimonies of God miraculously healing a relationship overnight, and I have actually had that happen in my own life, but what had to happen before that was daily confession and repentance. I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t okay in my heart, that I still felt bitterness towards these people, and that I needed God’s help to forgive. For a particular relationship in my life, after years of running the crazy cycle of getting angry and then confessing my anger to God, He literally healed the relationship in one 20-minute phone conversation. True story. I have not had a single ounce of bitterness towards that person since.

I choose to believe that if He did it for that relationship, He will do it for this one as well. I also believe He’ll do it for you, if there’s a relationship in your life that has left you with a root of bitterness in your heart. God desires nothing more than to see His children walking in freedom. So let’s be free, yeah?


Additional shameless plug because… Well, why not?

Ray and I have one month left in the States. We would love to reach the goal that we have for our ministry, but anything helps. We’re going to hit the ground running as soon as we get back, regardless of whether we hit the goal or not.

You can read more about our goal here: A Place to Call Home.

You can visit our general fundraising page here: Gofundme.

You can make tax-deductible contributions or become a monthly partner through our mission page here: Mission Quest.