As I hung up the phone my blood was boiling. I needed a minute to calm down. I’d really let that upper-level-middle-manager have it as I expressed my discontent with their treatment of me as a valued customer.
As I think back on that moment, I have no idea what the issue was. I think it was my cell phone provider. Or maybe it was the power company. But, the fact that the memory is strong in my mind but has no details associated with it tells me two things:
#1 I felt strongly about my cable bill — electric bill — or water bill — or something.
#2 The level of rage I had experienced at whatever injustice had been afflicted upon my 25-year-old existence was perhaps disproportionate to whatever had actually happened.
I’m 40 years old now and working to be a godly husband and father, but anger is an emotion that rears its head in my heart way more often than I am comfortable with. Through the years, I have found myself startled and confused at the power it has over my actions, words and VOLUME of those words coming out of my mouth.
I don’t think I’m alone in this though.
I recently sat around a table with pastor friends telling stories about the crazy situations we find ourselves in as dads. We roared with laughter as one guy told of his son washing his dirty feet, after tracking mud through the house, with a full cup of water poured out on the hallway floor. His son had said, “How else do you expect me to wash my feet!?”
Another friend shared about his use of the infamous “angry whisper” with his kids while shopping with his family. We laughed about these moments after the fact. But in the moment, the tantalizing seduction of control expressed in an outburst of anger was something all of us were sobered by. We’re all in different stages of parenting, but anger is an area we hunger to see redeemed.
My wife and I have been in ministry together for our entire married life, almost 18 years. We have discovered that anger can be a surprising source of frustration and bondage for men and women alike. Most parents we talk with share similar stories of the power of anger in their lives and real desire to walk in freedom from this emotion.
The shame of a raised voice, over reaction, or patched hole in the wall is covered with promises to do better next time, and a resolve to keep this struggle quiet because “good Christian parents don’t lose their temper.” Whether you're a single dad, married dad, discouraged dad, successful dad, worried dad or a dad who thinks you have it all together — I suspect you, like me, have struggled with anger. And, the antidote isn’t so much a thing as it is a person. I may not have it, but I hope to point you to one who does.
Did you know the Bible tells us to be angry?
It’s right there in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church. Ephesians 4:26-27 (CSB) says, "Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and don’t give the devil an opportunity." It feels strange to be told in Scripture to “be angry.” If you keep reading in the chapter, you come to Ephesians 4:31-32 (CSB) which says, "Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. 32 And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ."
So, which one is it!? Is anger wrong and something to be put away, or should I go ahead and be angry? I think here’s what Paul is after: reality. Biblical fatherhood understands anger is a real emotion that is part of what it means to be made in the image of God. He is also telling us that often — outward expression of that emotion is a sinful distortion of that image. It becomes a reflection of the bondage of sin in our lives. As Jesus’ brother James said, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.”
Jesus felt anger
There’s an intense moment in the 11th chapter of John’s gospel. Jesus has received word from His good friends Mary and Martha that their brother Lazarus is ill. Jesus loves this family, and they are expecting, for good reason, that Jesus would come and heal His friend. But then, in a move that felt confusing to everyone, John tells us Jesus waited two days before he made the journey to see this friend whom he loved. In the meantime, Lazarus died.
32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Mary is crushed. Her brother has just died, and I don’t think it’s a stretch to say there is anger behind her words to Jesus. Why hadn’t He been there!?
33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. 35 Jesus wept.
There’s debate among scholars about the language John uses in verse 33, but the word picture used in the original language is a snorting horse. D.A. Carson nails it with his translation of the word we read as “deeply moved” when he translates this moment in Jesus' life by saying: “he was outraged in spirit and troubled.” So, two things important to our discussion come into view.
1. Mary is doing the ugly cry, she is discouraged, sad and arguably frustrated with Jesus’ delayed arrival. Jesus doesn’t shame her for this or tell her to stop.
2. Jesus is outraged and sad. He feels angry.
If you know the end of this story this may feel confusing. It’s true Jesus intended to resuscitate His friend and show us in a tangible way He “is the resurrection and the life,” but even in allowing and stepping into the pain of this moment Jesus has shown us something. Jesus felt outrage at the effects of sin and death ravaging his friend and his family. Jesus saw the pain and anger in Mary and didn’t rebuke it.
Anger as an emotion in you
Anger isn’t all bad. It’s not wrong to feel deeply about something, the question is what do those feelings tell you, and how will you respond to those feelings? Anger can be a good gift from God that leads our hearts to be passionate and not passive about things that grieve the heart of God. But, the more common experience for many of us is anger enslaves us and holds a mirror up to our selfish and fearful hearts.
Chip Dodd in his book Voice of the Heart has this to say about anger as an emotion.
In truth, anger is possibly the most important feeling we experience as emotional and spiritual beings because it is the first step to authentic living. It shows our yearning and hunger for life. Anger helps us pursue full life by exposing the substance, desires, and commitments of our hearts.
A game changer for me in seeing and understanding the anger coming out of me — was understanding the anger inside of me, as an emotion, was not inherently sinful or wrong. Typically, my response to the emotion of anger is sinful and wrong. But seeing the anger can expose misplaced passions in me. It can lead me to new tools to work with when passion is stirred in my heart.
Jesus was outraged at the destruction of sin and death. The gospel is the story of His righteous response to His hatred of sin. The gospel frees us from being slaves to our emotions. Instead our emotions can tell us specifically where we have difficulty believing the transforming truth of the gospel.
Question: What has been your experience with anger? Would you call yourself an “angry dad?”
Additional resources for dealing with anger
- Blog post and video of 3 key takeaways from Matt on Anger's Antidote
- Blog post: The deadly sin of anger and how to eliminate it
- Anger's Antidote Field Guide
- Field Guide Removing Doubt - How of overcome failure & regret as a dad
Kent Evans, founder of Manhood Journey, recently sat down with Matt Morgan to talk about his Field Guide Anger's Antidote. In this post, not only will you learn more about Matt and his heart for dads, but you'll get more of a feel for what's in his field guide. Sit in on the conversation and be encouraged while learning more about how to tackle the issues of anger.
Can't see the video? Click here.
About the author > Matt Morgan, M. Div.
Matt's been married to Tricia for 17 years and they have five kids. He serves as Lead Pastor at Reston Community Church just west of Washington, DC. Matt has a BS in Psychology from Mary Washington College and a Master of Divinity in Practical Theology from Regent University. He loves music, working with his hands and being around water as often as possible. Find Matt on Facebook and Instagram and grab his Field Guide Anger's Antidote.