Was Jesus really nice? I remember having that thought as I learned about the times he took a whip into the temple courtyard and drove out the money changers. There were times in the Savior’s life when he was incredibly kind and merciful and gentle; with children, with women trapped in sin, with lepers, with those society deemed less worthy of kindness. There were other times he spoke with boldness and even with righteous anger.
In Mormon society I’ve often heard people dismiss these angry outbursts with something like, “Well, he was the Savior. He could do that. We can’t because we aren’t him.” They also like to quote that scripture about “can ye be angry and not sin?” as justification for the shaming of the emotion of anger.
With due respect for those who hold to these beliefs and have taught them to others, I want to point out a couple of problems I see that have arisen from the shaming of anger. First, we don’t have to be perfect to try to follow the Savior. Second, shaming our anger leads to unhealthy mental habits.
As to the first, we will never be exactly like the Savior. He was perfect and we are less. My son doesn’t know his letters yet. I am a voracious reader. I encourage him to work with fridge magnets letters, to learn one letter each week, to play silly phonemic games, and I celebrate each small success he makes. The Savior is like that with us. He is so much more than we are, but he loves us wherever we are at. He delights in each small effort we make to be more like him. If we say, regarding the cleansing of the temple story, “well that’s the Savior. I can’t do that,” will we say the same about his other works? I’m not suggesting that we march into church with a weapon, but I do think that as his disciples he expects us to do our part to stand against injustice with firmness and righteous anger. Anger is a difficult emotion to manage, but he expects us to try. When we mess up, we can repent and try again. When we use righteous anger appropriately, it can fuel us to greater courage, faith, and good works—but managing it takes practice.
That leads me to my second point. If managing our anger takes practice, but the age where learning to manage angry feelings in childhood the emotion of anger is shamed, we are set up for mental and emotional disorders. The thing about anger is, it doesn’t go away. It is meant to be felt and expressed. If we stuff those angry emotions down, they build up and show up in other ways. I’ll use a few examples.
A man is treated unfairly at work and feels anger. He knows he is unable to express that anger toward those who are responsible without losing his job. He goes home and yells and berates his wife and children for small inconveniences that evening, damaging those precious relationships. This is called misplaced or misdirected anger. We can’t safely express anger in one setting, so we direct it to someone else in another setting. This can result in abusive behavior creating generational trauma.
A woman feels angry at her toddler for tracking mud into the house and pooping his pants. She knows she can’t express that anger at him, so she turns the anger in on herself. She thinks, “Why can’t I be a better mom? I should be able to handle all this without feeling this way.” This is misdirected anger toward the self. Self-blame leads to discouragement and depression.
There is also anger denied. When someone hurts us or treats us unfairly and we think, “That’s okay. It’s no big deal. I can handle this.” Maybe we laugh along. Bully took my lunch money? No big deal. I’ll have a snack when I get home. I’m not angry…..but you are. The resentment and frustration you don’t allow yourself to experience begin to express in physical symptoms. You’re moody, anxious, and have an upset stomach all the time. Your neck hurts. You don’t have the confidence to apply for that promotion at work. The anger is poisoning you, and you have no idea what it is or why you feel what you are feeling.
So I’ve had a lot of angry feelings in the last month. Sometimes I’ve made mistakes with that anger. I posted an image on Facebook about the Turkish invasion in Northern Syria only to realize later that it was likely a fake. I lashed out at my mom for a dismissive reply to a post when I should have deleted it and confronted her offline instead. I tried to confide a secret to the internet. Not a good idea. Those are mistakes I’ve made. I’ve also had success.
In channeling my anger toward spreading awareness, many of my friends are much more informed about the Kurds. They understand better the desperate position these people are in and why what the president did was such a horrible betrayal. Many people even signed my petition. I emailed and called my representatives to advocate for the Kurds. The Savior acted on his righteous anger against the moneychangers. I acted on my righteous anger too. I also learned a lot about myself in the process. I learned there are some people who pretend to be my friends, but they are really not okay with my growth. They aren’t okay that Bridgette isn’t always going to be kind. She’s going to make mistakes. These people are a threat to me. They are dangerous to my recovery no matter how well meaning they are. It is important that I take the steps necessary to protect myself from anyone who tries to derail my progress.
As I have in the past, I’m asking again for everyone to own their own feelings about me and my recovery. If people don’t like the person I’m becoming, that’s okay. Not everyone can be in my life right now. I want people to be real with me and vulnerable with me. Some people can do that and some can’t and that’s okay. I’m trying to experience the anger and sadness of this moment in my life and move forward with faith and confidence in myself and the beautiful person I am becoming.
Unfortunately, the political and social upheaval of our times has taken a huge toll on my relationships and my mental health. I’ve spent hours crying, praying, and trying to know what is happening and why I’ve encountered so much opposition. My answers have been comforting and validating and sometimes gently correcting.
The conflict and chaos we are experiencing right now is the culmination of centuries and even millennia of ancient forces. The political unrest that has gripped not only the United States, but all the nations of the world that have been blessed and prospered in the last seventy years is not as new and unexpected as I thought. Only a few short years ago, I saw a bright and prosperous future with a stable global economy and political structure. Now that future is clouded with storm clouds. We see a small slice of history and we don’t understand that the battle that is raging in our families, in our churches, and in our houses of government is ancient and undying; freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press are memorialized in our Bill of Rights, but those rights of expression are not limited to citizens of our nation. They are given by God to all his children in every land and nation. They can only can be preserved when we acknowledge dependence upon His matchless power.
His power is not exercised by armies or dictators. It is likewise not to be used to force the human mind through the ballot box or legislative acts. It is to be exercised by persuasion, meekness, and love unfeigned; compassion, empathy, understanding, sacrifice, and service. Those virtues take courage and a personal connection with God and his children who surround us.
When we seek to force our will upon others, to compel others to believe as we do whether through woke political correctness mob attacks, or through presidential decree, or through violence or threats of violence we violate the principles upon which our freedoms are based. We offend the spirit and the power of God is withdrawn from us.
Today I read about M. Russell Ballard’s talk in Boston this week. When I read these words, it brought me a measure of comfort.
“We must stand boldly for righteousness and truth and must defend the cause of honor, decency and personal freedom espoused by Washington, Madison, Adams, Lincoln and other leaders who acknowledged and loved God.”M. Russell Ballard
Even though I have made mistakes and sometimes those mistakes have had consequences for the people I care about, none of this horror is really my fault. I have tried hard to stand boldly and defend the constitution from the threats I have seen. The forces at work in this world right now are far beyond my small power to change. The bitterness and conflict I am witnessing and suffering from is not of my making, nor is it solely the fault of those who are caught up in it. It simply is the reality of the broken world we find ourselves in.
Good news is, the Savior has the power to save. He will provide for all those who embrace His word and follow His will. Whatever sacrifices I need to make in his name, I will do. Blessed be the name of the Lord.