A while back someone did something unjust to me that they did not realize was unjust. Although unintentional, it was infuriating, and I was appropriately furious. Not that they would ever know; I’m from Minnesota and my cast iron armor of niceness cannot be shattered. I explained to them why their behavior was inconvenient, without getting into the rights and wrongs of the thing, removed myself from the situation, burst into tears, and then raged about it for a bit.
My normal strategy at this point would be to ignore the fact that I was unjustly treated in any fashion and immediately begin repenting for my anger. Growing up, I thought that Christian love meant that you never have bad feelings about anyone, ever. If someone mistreated me, and I had a negative emotional reaction, I would spend all of my time repenting for my negative emotions against that person. I wouldn’t actually deal with the situation at hand.
This strategy had the benefit of me never actually having to confront another person or deal with my actual negative emotions. I would just busily repent of all things that were wrong with me. It was terribly ineffective as a life strategy, but I was “conflict-free” and occupied, and really, what more can one ask for in life?
But ignoring situations, sadly, does not make them go away. The mistreatment would often continue, or even if it didn’t, I would hold grudges against the perpetrator for the original offense since I had never actually processed it. And that was great, because then I could continue to repent of the grudge! So much work to do! So much “sanctification”!
Then I learned that some negative emotions are not inherently sinful, and that they actually deliver priceless information. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t uncomfortable, but the discomfort has a point. I previously thought that the message of negative emotions was, “Anna, you are a sinner, look at you having these bad emotions!” While negative emotions can mean that, they can also mean, “This person mistreated you.”
That is important information to have. Because just as I sin against others, at times I am sinned against. It is ok to register that fact with negative emotions. That’s often how you realize it’s happening! And then you can deal with that fact in a constructive way, by telling the person how you feel, or overlooking the offense in love. Either way, you’ve acknowledged that something wrong happened, worked through the negative emotion, and come up with a constructive solution.
In the situation above, I finished my raging, but the injustice of the thing was still stinging me. After I thought about it some more, I remembered that when I explained the inconvenience, the person seemed willing to try to accommodate me, even though they didn’t understand the original injustice. And that’s ok. I prayed about it and decided to let it go; I didn’t need to go back and school them in the particular and precise way they had failed me. Everything was going to be ok.
I’ve learned that the important thing is that in my anger I need to be careful not to sin. When I am angry I can start to slip into nastiness and cynicism and a fierce self righteousness. Those are negative emotions and deeds I do need to repent of. But I can repent for those things and still work out an actual solution for the actual conflict in my life.
Sorting all this out is a lot tougher than just repenting of all my own bad emotions, but my relationships are a lot healthier and I have a lot more free time. And that’s a pretty good life, too.