[March 22, 2018]
“It is far easier to be angry than vulnerable.”
And I feel like I’m angry all of the time.
Not long ago, I discovered a book titled How We Love by Milan and Kay Yerkovich. It’s probably the best marriage resource I’ve ever come across — not just for understanding your spouse, but for understanding yourself.
I’ve learned so much about myself lately. It hurts as much as it excites me.
When I discovered the Enneagram, it helped me to figure out who I am, how I function, how my brain works, and how it works in conjunction with other people like friends, family, and co-workers.
But the How We Love stuff-it’s telling me more about the root of who I am, why I am.
What is the root of all of this anger?
Nolan lied to me a couple of weeks ago. I was furious. I felt so betrayed. I laid awake in bed that night dreaming about what I could do to get back at him-my son. I justified thoughts of retaliation by telling myself that he needed to learn a lesson. It’s not punishment; it’s parenting. But at the end of the day, I was thinking far more like someone who wanted an eye for an eye that I was willing to turn the other cheek, let alone raise up a child in the way that he should go. I wanted him to feel what I felt.
I could smash his phone in front of him, I thought. After all, I discovered the truth there. I legitimately thought it would be a good idea to use a hammer to smash his phone into pieces while he looked on. The problem was, I didn’t know where we kept the toolbox, and I ended up doubting that Jeanette would think it as great an idea as I did if I asked her to find the hammer for me.
So then I thought, I could avoid her altogether! I could throw his phone in the ocean!
After a few hours of fuming, a question crossed my mind: Do I want to create this kind of memory for my son to weep over when he’s my age, thinking back on how angry and punitive a person his father was?
What was it about this situation that had me so furious at Nolan? Did it even have anything to do with him with at all?
I started crying.
I didn’t stop for about an hour.
When I was a kid, anger was my dad’s first response to everything. When I lied to him, he never tried to show me the importance of the truth; he just started screaming. I’m not sure what it was about his upbringing that made him feel so out of control, but I think that my faults made him feel like a failure. He carried that identity around everywhere he went, and into every aspect of his life.
I don’t know if he knew how to feel anything other than anger, or if it was just too difficult — as I’ve discovered, myself — to be vulnerable.
But I’m trying.
When Nolan lied to me, I heard all the lies that my best friends had told me throughout the past couple of years — the ones that hurt the most — and I responded in the only way I’ve ever been taught:
Misplaced anger is residual pain that someone else inflicted upon me.
I’m still carrying it around. I thought I dealt with it. I thought it was resolved.
Think again, Craig.
Considering it now, it’s incredible how much our un-and-subconscious “knowing” plays out in real life before we realize that it has anything to do with us.
A couple of months prior, I was struck with the idea that XXXchurch shouldn’t be starting conversations about pornography with the issue of addiction, itself, but with the emotions that fuel dependency, and the pain beneath them.
I’m usually the first one to be skeptical of claims like this, but as I sat in prayer one day, I felt as though the Lord gave me one specific word to focus on for our ministry’s audience:
At the time, I didn’t think it had anything to do with me.
Think again, Craig.
Over the past couple of years, our ministry has begun to use the language of “medication” over and above “addiction” when it comes to helping people move beyond their unwanted use of pornography.
What “illness” are you self-medicating with pornography? What wound is this escape helping you assuage?
Not only do those questions completely reframe the conversation, but they get past the shame-filling, “When’s the last time you jacked off to your computer screen?” condemnations, and spark empathy and compassion.
They get to the root.
So, as it seems that I am stuck with this Craig Brain, I made a project of Resentment. We built a website, hosted an event, made it into a video series, filmed it, integrated it into our current XXXchurch course trajectory, developed workbooks, and curriculum.
We wanted to talk about how pornography and other unwanted sexual behavior are ways of putting a band-aid on top of the real problem — the actual trigger, or pain point.
Sure, porn’s a problem, but it seems as though we’re always talking too much about the things that we run to, and not enough about the things that we run from.
We’d been asking people surface-level questions and beating our heads against a wall when they — who genuinely desire to move beyond addiction — remain unchanged by platitudes and behavior modification.
A tree can’t help but grow out of the seed that gave birth to it. And what did Jesus have to say about the seed that must die to bear fruit?
My friend told me about a song lyric: “If there’s blood on the roots, then there’s blood on the branches.” Those words seem pretty applicable here.
I, too, have resentments that I have been harboring, roots to deal with and pain that needs healing if I am ever to let go of the anger that drives me to sin.
I saw my dad cry twice in my life. Once was in Middleton, Ohio. I took him to the house that he grew up in, and the current homeowners were kind enough to let us have a look around. We found the blueprints to his childhood home — complete with his name written on them — and he stood in his old room, and he started to cry.
That memory will never leave me.
What I saw in him, as a sixty-eight-year-old man, was the child beneath his fury. I saw the pain. I saw why he was stuck in all of the anger that I received from him as a kid. I saw the origin story.
We’ve got to go deeper.
We’ve got to start asking why?
Why are we the way that we are? Why am I the way that I am?
Why are you?
Why do I get angry instead of vulnerable? Why is it that I defer to seeing that kind of emotional exposure as weakness, like the day my friend David began to cry in my presence, and I didn’t know how to handle him?
And once we’ve uncovered the why, how do any of us start to heal?
I’m convinced it has something to do with beginning to learn to feel.
Levi turned me on to a book called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. In it, author David Scazzero writes:
To feel is to be human. To minimize or deny what we feel is a distortion of what it means to be image bearers of our personal God. To the degree that we are unable to express our emotions, we remain impaired in our ability to love God, others, and ourselves well. To cut them out of our spirituality is to slice off a part of our humanity.
That’s all well and good, but how can I start? How do permit myself to feel? How do I express anything other than the anger that comes so naturally to me?
I think we have to start with putting in the hard work of understanding ourselves. How else will we ever know what we need unless we have indeed found out who we are?
Am I am an angry person? Is that my identity? Or have I merely learned that anger is my default reaction because it is easier to express than whatever lies beneath, or acts as a salve atop the pain that I’m too scared to come to grips with?
I’ve come to learn that I need comfort just as much as any friend, family, or audience member I’ve ever sought to serve, but acknowledging that need — let alone asking for and receiving comfort — means accepting the pain underneath.
That’s the hardest part for me. That’s the challenge.
But maybe the payoff is worth it.
Could I be less angry? Could I experience less stress? Could I have fewer blow-ups that my family has to endure? Could I have fewer headaches? Could I have less chance of the heart attack that my friend Cameron just had?
What would be the best part? What would less give me — us — more of?
Could I receive the comfort I never did as a kid? Could that child still be saved?
Could you and yours?
Could our spouses comfort us? Could we comfort them?
Could the Lord?
Could we pay that comfort forward to our children and break the curses passed down for generations before us?
Could my kids grow up with an emotionally healthy spirituality? Could they grow to say that they felt secure in our home? That they saw parents willing to go through the sometimes-excruciating-but-wholly-worth-it work of understanding themselves, and one another, and are better equipped for this life because of it?
Could we trust God enough to relinquish control — to take a back seat to the work that I have to believe He is doing in us — and plead grace from the one who also knows what it is like to suffer and prevail?
The one who suffered and prevails on our behalf?
The one who authors and completes the work that he has started?
Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing. — Eph. 2:2–7
I have hope.
For you and me.
It’s going to take work and time, but it’s going to happen. Life, it seems, tends to force itself upon us one way or the other, no matter what. May as well start now.
There is a lot of hurts to heal under our Sunday best.