Black & White Thinking in Anger

Here is Part 9 in the Black & White Thinking Series.  Please click on the respective links for Parts 1-8:  Part 1 (Introduction), Introduction (Part 2)Part 2 (Biblical Lens),  Part 3 (Grace),  Part 4 (Mental Illness), Part 5 (Depression), Part 6 (Anxiety), Part 7 (Pride), and Part 8 (Christian).

angry-dude

“You’re always doing that!”  “You never (fill in the blank)!”  “That stupid, #@!*%!”  You probably don’t have to look too far in the distant past (perhaps minutes!) to think about the last time you’ve been angry.  Anger is a universal emotion that all of us feel at different times, some more often than others.  Anger is an emotional reaction or response to situations or circumstances that we find are unfair, unjust, or simply wrong.  Being created in God’s image means that we will experience the emotion of anger as He does, though admittedly, our anger is often tainted by our sin and not as righteous as His.  Throughout the Old Testament, God’s anger and wrath is poured out on humanity for sins against Him and against others.  In the New Testament, we see God’s anger and wrath poured out on His Son for our sins.

There are several themes of anger that are fairly consistent with the Black & White Thinking.  These themes include 1) being right vs. wrong (meeting a standard), and the 2) difficulty of reconciliation.

BEING RIGHT vs WRONG (meeting a standard or expectation)

There are two points that are worth mentioning about rightness and wrongness that are reasons Black & White Thinkers can become angry: 1) What is right and 2) The need to be right.

  1. First, anger typically occurs when something happens that we know is not right. Since we are created in God’s image, we essentially are created to become angry at sin (wrong).  If you learn of sexual or physical abuse to children, do you become angry at the perpetrator?  Of course you do.  It is how we are made.  Ultimately, we ought to be angry at sin and evil and at all the things with which God is angry.  Yet, since sin entered the world, our anger has not been totally aligned with God’s anger. Instead of being angry at sin, we are more prone to welcome sin into our lives, and our anger shifts from being angry at the breaking of God’s law (sin) to the breaking of our own laws (expectations or standards).

We don’t need to look much further about anger than the story of Jonah, who, after running from God, finally relented and preached to the Ninevites to repent and turn to God.  After he delivered this message of repentance, he waited, hoping that God would wipe them off the face of the earth.  And when God didn’t give the Ninevites what they deserved, Jonah became so angry, he even wished death upon himself. Jonah was angry at God because God did not meet Jonah’s standard/expectation/law.  God SHOULD have wiped them out, because it’s what they deserved, but He didn’t.

Our anger is not much different than Jonah’s.  We get angry at ourselves because we did not meet our standards for ourselves.  We get angry with others because they did not meet our standards and expectations.  We get angry at God because He did not respond the way we think He should have (BTW, the word “should” is a buzzword to let us know that we have a standard or expectation).  Just this morning I got angry at a driver at my sons’ school for parking in the dropoff lane.  Why?  Because that’s the dropoff lane.  That’s the rule!  And he was breaking it, causing a backup of multiple vehicles waiting for him to follow the rules.  He should have known better!  He should have been more considerate of others!  You get the idea.

So, our anger has shifted from God’s law being broken (sin) to our own laws (standards/expectations) being broken, and when that happens, others deserve our wrath.  Or perhaps, these laws are not our own laws, per se, but societal laws (driving laws, etc.) or even unwritten laws (you have to wait in line with all the other cars when merging from 2 lanes to one).  In all cases, we feel justified because they did wrong according to the laws, and since we believe we are in the right, they are all “idiots.”  And, of course, being in the right can certainly feed self-righteousness.

2. When pride enters the picture (which it does for all of us), the need to be right in our own eyes and in the eyes of others often gains momentum.  Black & White Thinkers think more Right and Wrong or Good & Bad, and when pride reigns in the heart, admitting wrong is equivalent to being bad.  Some Black & White Thinkers feel the need to be right and find their esteem in being right.  When being right becomes more important than anything else, anger is often used to keep others quiet so as to remain under the illusion that they are right.  Anger, then, is used more as a control tactic to silence others and remain in the right…often by being wrong.

DIFFICULTY WITH RECONCILIATION

Anger is typically resolved when there is a good process of reconciliation.  Reconciliation often occurs when there is an acknowledgement of wrong, a seeking forgiveness (which often comes from brokenness for hurting the other person), and then followed by a change in behavior that comes from the brokenness. Reconciliation also occurs when forgiveness is granted combined with the willingness to move forward and work on trust. Granting forgiveness for past hurts may be difficult for some Black & White Thinkers since forgiveness is not a concrete concept to grasp, and to grant forgiveness would seem to “go against” the works related theme, “you get what you deserve” (as opposed to the grace related theme, ‘you don’t get what you deserve’).  Since the other person doesn’t deserve forgiveness and hasn’t earned it, forgiveness will not be granted, and anger can resume.   Individuals who hold to this belief do not grasp that forgiveness can never be earned, but is freely given; nor is it for the other person, but is actually for God (and us!).  Just as we will never deserve God’s forgiveness, others will not deserve ours.  But as we forgive as God has forgiven us, we are released from our anger and freed from resentment.  At minimum, the Black & White Thinker’s form of forgiveness may simply be to just not think about it anymore, but this falls short of actual reconciliation as discussed above, which involves the emotions of hurt, brokenness, and love.  When these emotions are not worked through, anger can remain the dominant emotion.

Is acknowledging wrong and apologizing enough to reconcile and move forward?  For some, yes, because apologizing is a tangible action (words) and corrective actions may be taken to show the other person change. Some may not find a need to apologize, but simply to recognize where they may have been “mistaken,” correct the mistakes, and move forward.  This seems more like a “taking responsibility for actions” type of response (though ‘mistaken’ is not admitting wrong), yet it certainly falls short of “taking responsibility for the relationship” type of response. Some Black & White Thinkers don’t recognize that apologies help heal any brokenness that exists in the relationship.  And some more severe Black & White Thinkers have an extremely hard time even being broken over their sin as they cannot empathize with those they hurt.  This is because these emotions have not been felt themselves for a very long time because they are uncomfortable and painful.

Some additional reasons for anger in the Black & White Thinker include situations perceived as being unfair, anger masking depression, or anger being used as a defense mechanism to protect oneself against hurt.  Protecting against being hurt is learned early in life, and some say causes Black & White Thinking.  Though I won’t say it is a cause, it can certainly be a heavy influence leading Black & White Thinking to increase, and thinking Relationally to decrease.

Anger is a universal emotion that we all experience.  Just as has previously been written in anxiety and depression, Black & White Thinking can certainly be present in anger as well. If you see this thinking in your anger, think some more about the situation.  When does it happen?  What laws/rules are being broken? What expectations do you have?  Then look at your own heart and how you have not met God’s expectations either and are deserving of the same anger (times infinity) you have towards others.  Yet in His love and grace, His anger was poured out on His Son instead of you.  Other people may be wrong, but so have I been wrong…many times.  Thank God for His grace and love on undeserving people like us.

From Bitter to Better

The term “bitter,” when used in the Scriptures, is not typically a word used with favor. In fact, “bitter” is typically used to describe one who holds contempt for another, or how awful something is. kermit-coffee-6When it reigns in the heart, sin is not far behind. Paul states in Ephesians 4 to “Get rid of bitterness” and instead “be kind and compassionate, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”
A bitter taste is typically unpleasant, but after a while, it may become an acquired taste. Some foods and drinks that we typically consume with bitterness in them are grapefruit, beer, olives, unsweetened cocoa and coffee. Since “America runs on Dunkin” and Starbucks makes some bucks on their coffees, we know that many have grown not only accustomed to the bitterness, but enjoy it. Others who like coffee attempt to cover the bitter taste with creamer and sugar, sometimes adding up to 5 packets of sugar! Crazy.

The bitterness of our hearts can’t simply be covered up by sweet acts.  Bitterness can only be altered at the source – the heart.  It starts with seeking God’s forgiveness for our bitterness.  When we hold on to bitterness, we are deliberately sinning against Him.  Knowing that He loves us, He will forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from unrighteousness (I John 1:9).  Did you get that last part?  He cleanses us from unrighteousness.  He removes the bitterness of our hearts when we humble ourselves before Him.  He continues to remove the bitterness when we humble ourselves and seek forgiveness from those with whom we are bitter.  This may not be possible in all circumstances, but when it is possible, to do so can be healing for us, too.  Finally, as we humble ourselves before God and recognize that He forgives us and cleanses us, we, in turn, forgive others who have offended us or hurt us.  Forgiving the other person, however, should come before seeking forgiveness from the offender.

“Rid yourselves of bitterness,” Paul states.  When we do this, we become more like Christ.  We become, well…. “better.”

On a similar note (yet also off topic), I have recently agreed to become a Consultant with a Cause with SOLUDE Coffee.  SOLUDE Coffee removes some of the bitterness at the source.  The gourmet coffee beans are air roasted from a patented technique so that the bitter taste that is present in most coffees is minimal.  If you purchase through my SOLUDE web page , a portion of the proceeds will be donated to Foundations Christian Counseling Services.  So here’s my shameless plug…“Rid your coffee of bitterness.  It will be better.”  🙂

Finding Hope Through Grace Part II: A Relevant Co-Sufferer

hope

Pain and hopelessness are feelings that are common to everyone. It is a good possibility that one of the earliest memories of your childhood includes a “crisis” that brought on significant amount of pain. The fact that we live in a broken world with broken relationships assures us we will not walk very far into life without experience a significant amount of pain. Even in scripture we see pages after pages of lives that are filled with pain. Take Job for instance, or King David. They were true men of God yet their lives were full of intense pain. How did they find hope to carry them through their suffering?

In Part 1 we talked about the importance of perspective and how it can change our outlook on a situation. Balaam was angry at his donkey for not moving forward, until God opened Balaam’s eyes (Numbers 22).  Balaam’s anger quickly turns to remorse and gratitude for God’s grace in sparing his life.  I can frequently respond in anger because of painful situations that occur in my life or I may become anxious and feel hopeless when my life does not seem to be going the way I want it to. However God has to frequently enlarge my perspective to understand what He is doing in my life.

The psalms frequently display this larger perspective that is given by God. In Psalm 142 we see David crying out to God about his troubles in a very personal and direct way (1-4). He asks God to come into the midst of His suffering and acknowledges that only God can truly rescue him (5-6). Another interesting point about this Psalm is that his desire is to praise and worship God and not simply to relieve his symptoms. Even though the Psalm ends in the midst of the suffering experience with no response from God, there is a sense of hope. David is comforted not by God taking away his present suffering, but by reflecting on the person of God, “for you will deal bountifully with me”.

There is no person or thing that can provide more comfort than leaning into the arms of a gracious God. I know I am saved by God’s grace and I am daily reminded that I need God’s grace to continue in life, but the Grace that gives me the most hope is the Grace that I look forward to. As God’s children we have been promised every spiritual blessing in “heavenly places” through the person of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:3).

God often has to remind me that here on earth I am to expect suffering because sin has left its thumbprint on the earth I walk on, the body I live in, and the relationships I interact with. God is in the process of restoring me to Himself and at times that means suffering, but I have a confident hope that one day I will see Him face to face and finally experience the full Grace of God. Then I will see clearly as all my suffering is put into perspective by HIS GRACE which He has LAVISHED upon me (Eph. 1:7-8). If you want to know the hope God provides through the riches of His Grace cry out to Him and invite Him into your suffering.

Psalm 142

You Are My Refuge

A Maskil of David, when he was in the cave. A Prayer.

 1 With my voice I cry out to the Lord;

with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.

I pour out my complaint before him;

I tell my trouble before him.

When my spirit faints within me,

you know my way!

In the path where I walk

they have hidden a trap for me.

Look to the right and see:

there is none who takes notice of me;

no refuge remains to me;

no one cares for my soul.

I cry to you, O Lord;

I say, “You are my refuge,

my portion in the land of the living.”

Attend to my cry,

for I am brought very low!

Deliver me from my persecutors,

for they are too strong for me!

Bring me out of prison,

that I may give thanks to your name!

The righteous will surround me,

for you will deal bountifully with me.

The Marriage Trap

When I was a kid, I enjoyed watching the movie, The Parent Trap. A story of twins separated at birth who met each other at a camp, switched places, and worked hard to reunite their parents. They plotted to “trap” their parents into getting together and rekindling their romance. And, of course, it worked and they’re all one big happy family.

Often, there are many people who feel trapped in marriage. As a counselor, I meet with people regularly who correctly cite Scripture in saying “God hates divorce” and believe that God would rather them be miserably trapped in marriage. “My husband is a jerk. He treats the dog better than me. If God hates divorce, then I am trapped in this miserable marriage. I guess this is God’s will for me.”

Sadly, many experience poor treatment by their spouses who do not treat them as God would desire. These spouses often tolerate a lot of negative comments, blaming, criticism, etc.   The spouse on the receiving end often feels emotionally empty…and trapped.  This often leads to an “either/or” thinking.  Either I remain trapped, or I find new life outside the marriage and get my “needs” met elsewhere.

Does God leave us trapped in a miserable marriage? Is this really his will? Are the “either/or” choices all there are?

Here are some points to consider:

1. What are your greatest emotional needs? Our spouses are not supposed to meet our deepest emotional needs of love, worth, and forgiveness. Though God has called husbands to love their wives (as Christ loved the church), these greatest needs must first be met in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Though God has called wives to respect their husbands, ultimately husbands must first recognize the honor received through Christ, in that he died for them because he honors them (men & women) above all living things. It is right to desire love and respect from spouses, because that is what we should do, but when we seek them from our spouses apart from God, we place too much on our spouses. Again, we are to find these things ultimately from God first.

2. What are your greatest physical needs? Is your life in danger due to your spouses actions? Do you need to be physically safe? If so, this may certainly warrant leaving a home (though not necessarily a marriage) for safety. Even Jesus and Paul ran when people picked up stones to throw at him.

3. What are some other options besides a) leaving, and b) being trapped and miserable? What actions are you doing (or not doing) that are contributing to this cycle? Are your actions enabling (not causing) your spouse’s actions? If you change…the relationship will change.

4. What godly help are you seeking? Are you speaking with your pastor or a counselor? Even if your spouse is unwilling to go, you can go and seek godly wisdom and learn to be confident in who you are (through Christ) and begin to change inside.

This list is just to get you started and thinking that a struggling marriage is not a trap that God has you in to be miserable. His desire for you is to first find your fulfillment in Him. When you find fulfillment in Him, your life takes on meaning and direction. God will give you the wisdom and strength to alter the direction of your marriage in a way that honors him.  For more on this, read The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick.

Don’t give in to The Happiness Trap, that is, “God doesn’t want me to be miserable, but God wants me to be happy. So, I’ll leave my marriage so I can be happy.”  When you seek Him with all your heart, you will find Him.  Happiness is found in relationship to Him and not due to circumstances or relationships with others.  More on this in The Happiness Trap (next blog).

Every Day Yours

Have you ever received a card for your birthday, anniversary, or Mother’s / Father’s Day that said, “Celebrate! It’s Your Day!”?  Or perhaps someone you loved told you that this special day is your day and you can do whatever you want.  You want to rest?  Go ahead.  You want to see a movie?  Great, let’s go.  You want your favorite dinner?  Fine, I’ll make it for you.  This day is yours, so what would you do?

I woke up with an agenda of things to do today and places to be…and of course, a schedule to do them.  No sooner when we out the door did we (my boys and I) meet our Arch Nemesis, Bus 134.  The bus that makes a bunch of stops that makes us late.  The bus driver’s patience was greater than mine, as she waited about a minute for the child to first get out of their house and casually walk to the bus, being oblivious to the fact that I am waiting.  (On a side note, since when does the bus have to wait for the children?  Shouldn’t the children be waiting for the bus?!  When I was a kid…..I digress.)  After these stops and getting stopped by a few crossing guards and then realizing I left my laptop at home, I just shook my head saying, “Fred, this is not your day.”  As I said this, I immediately had another thought prompted by the Spirit. “No, this is the Lord’s day.”

When the day was my day with my schedule and my agenda, these inconveniences and my forgetfulness (of my laptop) would lead to my anger at the child for being late, the bus driver for not holding the child accountable for being late, and myself for running a tad behind and for forgetting my laptop.  But when the day shifted in my mind and heart to being His day, everything that occurred was viewed in a different light.

In my day, nothing happened in my timing.  In God’s day, all things happen in His timing.  When this day was designed by me and nothing worked, I became impatient and angry.  But when I began to see the day as designed by God, the impatience and anger subsided as the truth of His goodness, His love, and His promises overshadowed my ego-centric world.  My forgetfulness was part of His design for my day.  I then experience a freedom from self-deprecation and anger towards others and instead have hope that this day, when viewed as His day, will instead be held in esteem as it is written and given as a gift by Him.  By God’s grace, the shift was made in my heart from a me-centered day to a God-centered day.  If only this shift was made every day!

Friends, in your mind and heart, dedicate this day to the Lord.  See it as His day for you…to teach you, to love you, to train you, and sustain you.  Talk to Him, “Lord, help me to make every day yours.”  You won’t regret it!

Uncle!

As a child, my sister and I, as well as other friends, played the game “Uncle!”  The point of the game is this:  while facing the other person and interlocking their hands in yours in a hand death grip, you move in differing positions and show off your strength and cunning while inflicting pain upon the other person until you either hear something break, or they call out the word, “Uncle!”  The purpose of the game is simple:  to win.  The strongest survive while the weakest either go to the Dr. for a sprained wrist or humble themselves by crying out for mercy.  Why the game is called “Uncle,” I don’t know….but if you do, please comment below or offer suggestions…

Recently, I heard about a book called “Radical,” by Pastor David Blatt where he challenges people to follow Jesus.  In this book, he shares how the American dream is often in conflict with Jesus’ invitation to “Follow Me.”  Though some had chosen to do so, many others left when he challenged them with hard to understand teachings.  Jesus often tried to warn people that in following him, there would be a huge cost.  For some, the cost involved leaving family and friends, for others it would involve leaving occupations, and for one man, he was asked to give all of his wealth away.  Though the cost for following Jesus is great, the reward is even greater.

Although I have just started reading this book and am only a few chapters in, I can’t help but notice the challenge that is ever-present…”Will you give up your comforts, your occupation, your family, or wealth (or whatever God calls you to give up) to follow Jesus?”  Now giving up is not something I tend to do easily.  It goes against my pride that says “I can do it.”  I never did like crying out, Uncle!! I would hold on as long as I needed to until the pain in my body would shout louder than my pride.  Holding on would only result in more pain while humbling myself and crying Uncle would result in more freedom.

Why is that we choose to hold onto things that grip us and will eventually lead to more pain, or at least, a long-distance relationship to Christ?  When we hold onto these things, we are telling Jesus that these things are worth more than he is.  These things we hold onto can be the opinions of others, an addiction, bitterness, time, money, occupation, other people or relationships, etc.  And as we hold on, we cause ourselves more grief.  Our pride and self-centeredness refuses to give in and believe that giving up will be too costly and the rewards of surrender are not worth it.  Somehow, we cannot see (or trust) that just by crying Uncle!, we will gain so much more.    When we surrender to Christ, we don’t surrender as a prisoner of war to be tortured, but as a prisoner of Christ to be loved.

So what say you:  Is he worth it?  Is he worth crying Uncle! to?  Is he worth following?

The Plumbing of a Godly Marriage: Just Say “No” to Poop-Slinging!

Godly marriages have plumbing? Really?  Absolutely.  Every house has plumbing.  Every person has plumbing.  And every marriage has plumbing, too.  As we continue in the series “Building a Godly Marriage” and using the analogy of building a house, I figure it’s good to stick with the theme.  So, what is the plumbing of a godly marriage?  Well, hold your pliers, we’re getting there.

The plumbing in a house is responsible for two tasks:  The first task of plumbing is to bring in a steady flow of clean water.  The second task of the plumbing is to get rid of the poop (or waste).  The second cannot be done without the first.  If something goes wrong with the plumbing, you often know about it quickly.  A small leak is usually not a big deal, but should be addressed before it becomes a bigger leak.  A toilet that is clogged must be addressed before the next use.  A water heater that busts or a pipe that bursts must be addressed quickly.  When these issues are not addressed in time, they can become expensive to repair.

The plumbing in marriage is bringing in the clean water of God’s grace and removing the poop in marriage.  What do I mean by this?  The poop in marriage is the bitterness that has built up from the sin-stained clogs in the relationship.  It’s the stuff that has built up over time and which has not been addressed.  And if that happens, yes, you too can become a poop-slinger.

I know a person who had a septic pump that broke and a warning signal that never came on.  After a short amount of time, the waste built up so much in the septic tank that it eventually came into the house at its lowest level.  Do you think they took care of the issue right away or let the waste build up and stink up the home?  Well, they took care of it right away.  When holding on to bitterness and resentment, the waste of anger builds up until it enters your everyday living space.  Then when that  happens, spouses, in their anger and revenge (they would call it justice, but it’s revenge), end up slinging the poop at one another.  The stench is awful in their nostrils and in God’s, too, but, they argue, “they can’t seem to help themselves” and “the other person deserves it.” So the poop slinging continues.   Instead of addressing the issue, spouses often choose to live in it and use it against one another.  Friends, this should not be, especially as believers in Christ.

Thankfully, there is another part of this plumbing which is important.  It is the bringing in the clean water of God’s grace.  We need His cleansing.  We need His forgiveness.  We need His love.  If we were to take an honest look at ourselves, we would see how covered in waste we really are.  Our hearts our filthy.  Our hands are covered in sin.  We need Him now more than ever.  Jesus shared in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt 18) that we should forgive as the Lord forgave us.  If we are unable to do this, the Lord won’t forgive us.  Wow.  Did you see that?  That is serious.  When the plumbing in our marriages is clogged, our relationship with the Lord is significantly affected.

God has forgiven us so much.  If we are to have marriages without plumbing difficulties, we must remember our sins, how we brought him to the cross through our sins, and how he loved us so much to take the punishment of our sins upon himself.  When we forgive, we must first consider his grace and then give as we have received.  For the plumbing in our marriages to flow without these clogs and poop slinging, we must be constantly aware of our sins and his love.  Then that which we have received, we must freely give.

This portion was taken from the Marriage Seminar: Building a Godly Marriage.  For more information about this seminar from Foundations Christian Counseling Services, please call Fred Jacoby at 570-402-5088.