Putting Away Anger

I have been called out a few times recently by some of my friends for saying things like “I’m tired of being angry all of the time”, or saying that we should really put away anger and offense. I sometimes think that people misunderstand what I mean and assume that must mean I am hunky dory with every horrible thing in the world and we should just put it aside and forget about it and live our lives as disconnected from people who suffer as possible. If you stop reading here, let me assure you that’s not what I mean.

I was honored to be sitting in the homes of several women lately who are working very hard to provide for their children. They are deeply religious, deeply loving, and care very much for the lives of their kids and want their kids to do better. But they are not able to work very much, and the little work they can scrounge up is never enough to pay for heating, the rent and food. So they go hungry and cold far too often.

Why are they like this? Well it is because of the Taliban. And no, I don’t mean some group like the Taliban, which is what I’ve sometimes heard folks say. Sometimes they’ll go, “Oh, those people are the American Taliban.” No, I mean the literal Taliban.

Because we were in A******stan, and these women who were probably only a bit older than I am, were denied the opportunity to go to school and so they grew up largely uneducated and illiterate. They now have very few opportunities to support their families — through no fault of their own. They want to, they probably love their kids more than you love yours (seriously) — but because of their circumstances what they can do to help lift themselves out of this situation is greatly limited.

And it’s because of the Taliban. A group of people that has pursued a broken and corrupt ideology for a very long time. And incorrect ideologies and bad theology leads to real consequences in the real world.

One of the ladies we talked to told us of her husband who left the family. They don’t know where he is or what he’s up to, but she thinks he joined the Taliban.

As our translator translated this part of her statement, I got lost thinking about this. A man who has seen the bad results of the bad ideology of the Taliban went out and joined it again. I don’t know this man, I know almost nothing else about him, but my second reaction was sympathy. (My first was surprise. I don’t know why. I was in A******stan, what should I have expected? Was I expecting her to say he joined the circus?)

Here’s why: it’s easy to look on the outside and criticize this guy for this obviously short sighted decision. But I choose to believe he loves his kids as much as his wife does, and went out and after years of not being able to give them the life he wanted, he went out and did something desperate hoping it would help.

And then I identified with him. Because how many times have I returned to something destructive? How many times have all of us? We’ve gone back to alcohol, gambling, porn, anger, that bad relationship, weed — whatever it is that’s been destructive in our lives. We’ve gone back when we were desperate, and we’ve gone back and done what we said we never would just because we couldn’t see any other way.

Maybe that’s what this guy is doing, too. Maybe, maybe not. I legitimately don’t know. But I can tell you that she’s not angry with him (or, more likely, she has moved on from her anger) so I am not sure what right I have to be angry with him. I don’t know if she has forgiven him, or if that idea has even crossed her mind, but she at least has moved on to some amount of peace with the decision her husband made.

Why do I say all of this?

It isn’t to condemn anger. If you read her story and got angry at the Taliban – that’s good! There are a lot of things to be angry about here. And feeling deep emotion – whatever that emotion is – is very much a good thing. Really.

My problem with anger is that it feels like it’s all we’ve got.

We are the outrage generation, we know how to rile people up around injustices, but we really don’t know what to do next. I feel sometimes like I’m traveling from crisis to crisis and the only thing that I can do is retweet all the outrage I feel inside.

I think it’s telling that Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 “in your anger do not sin” and also “do not give the devil a foothold” by dealing with your anger before the sun goes down. There’s some connection between being angry and the devil getting a foothold.

I am not anywhere near smart enough to figure out the theology in all of that, but I’m an avid twitter user and I think one of the footholds the devil has on us is this: we are all too angry about everything to do anything. And I think the devil likes it that way.

I think most things we’re angry about are things we should not become complacent about. (Except all of you who get angry about candy corn every fall. Take a lesson from Frozen and let it freaking go!)

People think that anger and complacency are opposites when they are actually siblings. Being angry doesn’t accomplish anything. In fact, what I’ve seen and I recognize this is anecdotal, but the angriest people I know also tend to do the least about injustice in the world. It’s because I think they’ve fooled themselves into thinking their anger will bring about change in the world. And wanting change in the world is a good thing, but human anger so far has been a remarkably poor way to bring it about.

Here’s what’s helped for me: go spend a whole lot of time with the people you say your anger is for. For me I’ve done this in four ways:

  1. Sitting on the muddy ground in Uganda and listening to a man tell me about how his wife didn’t receive the seizure medicine she needed so while she was cooking dinner, she got a seizure and fell into the fire and now has burns over nearly all of her body, can not walk and her unborn baby at the time nearly died.
  2. Visiting central Asia and listening to women who have been oppressed all of their lives talk about how they want so desperately to provide for their families but can’t because there are no opportunities, no way for them to learn, nothing for them to advance themselves with.
  3. Visiting with my local middle and high school students and listen to kids talk about the bullying, the harassment, their terrible families who have abused and mistreated them.
  4. Listening to the stories from foster care.

Find the people your anger is for and go humbly listen to their stories. When you hear how they’ve been abused, mistreated and persecuted, let it work you up. Let it get you passionate. Let it stir you up.

Then take those stories, those names, those people you care about and love by name, and do something about it. Find the groups of people that are addressing these challenges really well and then give them money. Do it sacrificially. Give something up to help the injustice you now know by name. Speak up about what you have seen, and talk about the vision for the future. Talk about a future where things are better. Help people connect the dots between a future where we’ve solved all of these problems and how to get there. It will involve more stories, more sacrifice, more movement.

These are 4 areas that are near and dear to my heart: poverty alleviation in Uganda, in A******stan, the crisis happening among our teenagers, and foster care. I am not cold, heartless or hopelessly privileged and naive — all things I have been accused of. I am relentlessly engaged on these issues and I am motivated to do everything I can to advance these issues as well as I can. I have been doing this for over 10 years and the consistent thing that I’ve seen tug people out of complacency and into long term lasting engagement is not anger, it’s hope.

Hope that we can change these stories.

Hope that tomorrow can be better than yesterday.

Hope that we are not powerless.

Hope that we can pass down to our children a better world.

Hope that I can make a difference.

Hope that the evil we see today will be smashed under the foot of justice.

I could go on and on and on about stories of transformation and change. I could go on and on about why I am hopeful. I could go on and on about why I think the world tomorrow will be better than the one we have today. I could go on and on about how I’ve seen my small contributions to these causes create change and hope for tomorrow.

If you feel passionate and angry and you want to change the world, I believe you absolutely can. My challenge to you is not to put away anger and replace it with happy thoughts that everything is going to be ok. My challenge is to put your anger aside and do something.

One day you will not be able to do anything. You will be too old, too broke, and your ideas will be seen as irrelevant (“ok, millennial”) and your words are not going to do much.

In that day, your greatest anger will be directed at your younger self: because you could have done something but you chose to do nothing.

God gave us all a sense of justice. We should feel worked up when injustice is served. We should be angry at people who deal injustice. But we should never ever stop there.

Go put twitter away, and go make a change in the world. Today is all you have.

from my journal, written shortly after returning from central Asia last year