Holding on to Anger

I am not an angry person.  I don’t hold onto hurts or foster grudges.  Or so I thought. As one of the great spiritual advisors in my life is fond of saying, “We all have PhD’s in self-delusion.”

I was praying with one of the reflections from my Give Us This Day devotional.  The author reflected on her own hot temper, and shared her practice of naming those with whom she was angry during the forgiveness portion of the Our Father.  My reaction was strange. Even as I thought to myself, That’s not something I really need to do, memories came bubbling to the surface: times I complained bitterly to my husband about individuals with whom I am, in fact, angry.  

I let perceived hurts and actual wrongs compound one another until each new infraction was more than itself.  Each hurt, however small, went straight to that wounded place festering inside me. I had better alternatives.  I could have let things go – truly let them go, in prayer and by choosing to act contrary to the dictates of my hurt feelings.  I could have met my feelings face to face to face, named them, and taken them in honesty and vulnerability to those who had hurt me.  But I hadn’t. I had let those painful feelings stay in a place of dark secrecy, letting them out only to fan the flames of discontent with my complaints.  

All this did was to hurt me and my relationships with these people who, ultimately, love me.  I think that subconsciously, holding onto my hurt was a misguided form of self-protection, every misstep vindicating my beliefs that these individuals were no longer trustworthy.  It was a passive aggressive way of punishing them for hurting me. Of course, because I hid my feelings, it punished me the most.

Now, in this moment of prayerful reflection, God offered me a moment of humility, a moment to reflect on my own responsibility in these relationships.  I had been so absorbed in my own hurt that I didn’t see the ways in which I was failing these loved ones of mine. I withdrew, became less honest for the sake of hiding my feelings.  I made these relationships all about me. I forgot to give.

I’m not ready for reconciliation. When you hold onto something so tightly for so long, your fingers forget how to let go. I know that, ultimately, allowing myself to be vulnerable and to apologize for my own wrongdoing is the path to greater intimacy. I’m not ready for that just yet. What I am ready to do is to move past my own hurt, to let go of my pain and move towards greater freedom.

This doesn’t mean forgetting the wrongs done to me; it means moving forward with greater empathy for the reasons why people behave the ways that they do.  It means knowing their flaws and loving them anyway, right now, for exactly the people they are today. We’re all struggling to be good, to love each other the right way.  We need to have more patience with each other, and more empathy for the times we don’t get it right. If we can’t practice this with the people we hold most dear, how to we expect to create peace in our communities alongside those with whom we radically disagree?  

St. Francis of Assisi prayed, “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.”  

Here I am, Lord.  Help me to do Your will.

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