Speaking Your Mind: Communication
ILL - SKIT GUYS - CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW
Ever had the experience? You lose your cool and say things that you later wish you could take back, but just don’t know how? Maybe you’ve even made a commitment to the Lord to control your anger, but then your wife is late again, and on the very day when it is so important for you to be on time. Maybe it’s your husband who forgot your birthday again after swearing on a stack of Bibles that he’d never do that again. Maybe it’s your teenage son. He knows just what it takes to push your buttons and he loves to do just that. He gets on your last nerve and you find yourself shouting at him, all the while asking yourself how you got so out of control? Have you been there? Maybe you live in anger. You walk around with a constant “background” of frustration and anger in your heart constantly, and you don’t know why.
I know many of you do, whether you will admit it or not. The truth is, all of us, from time to time become angry and we have many ways of dealing with it.
When it comes to dealing with anger, some of us are what I call “sickos”. The “sickos” are those among us who deal with anger by “stuffing” it down. We push and push and stuff and stuff and then paint a grin on our face and try to fool the world into thinking that everything is ok. There’s only one problem: on the inside our anger is just smoldering and waiting for the time when our attention is turned so that it can erupt. A “sicko” is someone who plays “wack-a-mole” with his feelings. You’ve seen those games where you have this pillow hammer and whenever the head pops out of the hole, you whack it back down and it just pops up out of another hole. That’s the way stuffed down anger is, it may be pushed down here, but it will pop back up over there.
And that’s not all. Stuffed down anger will hurt you. There’s a reason I call this group “sickos”. Its because handling your anger this way will actually make you sick. In fact, studies have shown that chronic suppressed anger activates the sympathetic nervous system response. This fight or flight response results in the release of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. Over a period of time, these hormones weaken the blood vessels in the body, resulting in increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. Stuffing down your anger will make you sick.
And being a sicko really messes up your family life. It erodes your ability to really be transparent with your mate. You know that you really can’t express the anger you may be feeling, so you begin to compartmentalize your life. You have the persona you keep up around your wife and the real hidden territory of your heart. You can’t be for real with your family because you know that, if you showed the frustration that is really in your heart, you would totally annihilate your relationship with them, so you hide. I want you to know that’s a dangerous place to be. Compartmentalization is bad because, once you start faking it about your frustration, you may fake it about other things. This is one reasons husbands begin hidden affairs. They’ve learned to hide their anger from their wife, so they follow that with hiding their adultery from their wife. They are sickos.
When it comes to dealing with anger, there are the “sickos, but there are also the “psychos.” These are the people who invented road rage. They don’t stuff down their anger they are like active volcanoes spewing out the lava of an enraged heart. Wherever they walk the grass singes brown and dies. You can always find them because in their wake they leave wounded hearts, broken relationships, and sometimes damage that is much worse than even that. They are the psychos.
Well, there are the psychos and the sickos. And then there are the sullen. These are the people that don’t just stuff down anger, they hold onto it. Conversations with them are historical. They can recite every wrong done to them in their life and you get the distinct impression when they tell you their story that a ten-year old event just happened yesterday. There’s one thing you rarely see on their face: a smile! These are not happy people. They are disillusioned, cynical, negative people who are bitter and they may not even know it.
I don’t know about you, but none of these conditions appeal to me. I bet they don’t appeal to you either, but what in the world can we do about it? How can we conquer our anger? How can we keep our cool when our last nerve is gone?
Well, the Apostle Paul addresses the issue. In fact it is one of the first issues he addresses when he speaks to the Ephesian Church about how their position as believers should impact their lives and promote their unity. Churches are melting pots, or at least they should be. They should be places where people with different backgrounds and experiences can come and enjoy being a part of the unified family of God. But along the way as we are doing that there will be plenty of opportunities to practice what God’s Word tells us in Ephesians 4:26,27, where he says,
“Be angry, and do not sin”: do not let the sun go down on your wrath, 27 nor give place to the devil.
Now that instruction is important not just because the Apostle wrote it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. No it is important because quite possibly the most destructive emotion to the health and well being of your family could possibly be this one: anger. I’ll take it further: It is anger that finds its expression in words that hit like a fist. If that is so, how are we to handle it. More importantly, how are we to conquer it. Well in these 22 words, we get the answer. We are told first that we must:
DIVISION 1: SENSE ANGER’S DANGER
Now I say its dangerous because of what giving into anger causes. You see it actually in verse 27. It says “Be angry and do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down on your wrath, (verse 27) nor give place to the devil. The Bible tells us there that the result of not conquering our anger; the result of becoming a sicko, a psycho, or a sullen husband, wife, father, mother, or child is that we will “give place to the devil.” The Greek word “place” is topos and suggests our English word “topography” It means “any portion of space marked off from the surrounding territory.” Literally when you let your temper go, you invite the devil to take territory in your life. You give him a foot hold. It’s like standing on your front porch and crying out, “Come on Satan, come right into my house and take over.”
And what happens when you do that? What heartache does Satan’s action through your anger cause? Well in the first place, it effects everyone around you. It will cause disunity in the body of Christ. When there is anger between different belivers, the body is disunified and the Holy Spirit cannot work. One commentator wrote:
Jesus stated that the devil has nothing to do with truth . . . he is a deceiver. This is why Paul does not want believers to give the devil an opportunity by their anger. The devil twists and distorts the truth. If there is no quick restoration between parties, further anger mounts and dissension and revenge often results.
No wonder Henry Brandt says that “‘anger’ is only one letter away from ‘danger’”. It cedes territory to Satan. And, by the way, it doesn’t just effect everyone else, it will effect you too. Not only will it cause disunity in the body, but it will also cause you to defect from your commitment to Christ. In fact, Satan uses anger more than anything else to discourage believers and cause them to turn their back on Christ and walk away from their faith.
I’ve seen it many times. One of the most pronounced I ever saw was several years ago. I watched this one young man as he just blossomed in his Christian faith. He was gung ho. He shared his faith and he really seemed to be on fire for the Lord. He wanted to do everything for God. But then he got hurt. Something happened in the church that severely disappointed him and even made him angry. The change was sudden. Satan didn’t just get a foothold, he took over. Within a period of weeks he had gotten into heavy drinking and drugs and if you’d have met him on the street you would have never known he’d ever walked with God. I watched his life disintegrate until he lost everything he ever had. That’s the power of anger: It will destroy the body of Christ and it will destroy you personally.
And you might say to me this morning, “I do sense it, Rusty! I know its dangerous! I know I should let go of it! You don’t have to tell me that its destroying my life, just sit here for a moment while I tell you of the job I lost because of my temper, or the friend I hurt because of my anger, or the marriage that broke up because of my constant anger. You don’t have to tell me how bad it is, I know that. Tell me what I can do about it.” Well it’s right there in these verses. You see, not only must we sense anger’s danger, we can also
DIVISION 2: SUBDUE ANGER’S POWER
How do we do that? How do we subdue the great power of anger? Well let me give you three things the apostle tells us right in verse 26. First, we must discover our anger. Notice how v. 26 begins. He says, “be angry.” Wow! Isn’t that refreshing? You know we often go around saying the five dumbest words a human being ever uttered: “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Don’t you just want to lose your temper and hit the person who says that to you. You know, it’s a little late to be telling me how I feel when I already feel the way I feel! (Some of you will need to think about that one for a minute).
Now the thing that’s so refreshing about v. 26 is that the Apostle doesn’t tell the angry people of the world not to feel that way. No, he tells them, actually commands them to “be angry.” See, the Lord knows that our feelings are a part of being human and being created in His image. Emotions are neither good nor bad; they are normal things that happen in us and it does not good to act as if they are not there. So the Bible tells us here that we should recognize it when we are mad and not try to lie to ourselves, but freely admit how we’re feeling! The first step in subduing anger’s power is to admit to yourself that you are mad!
You may say to me, “But that’s just the problem, Rusty. If I obey the Bible and ‘get angry’ I’m going to hurt somebody. You’ve never seen me mad before, have you. The reason I don’t admit my anger is because I’ve see my anger and its not pretty.” Well that leads us to the second step in this process of subduing your anger. Not only must you discover your anger, secondly you can discipline your anger
V. 26 again says, “Be angry, (notice) and do not sin.” The great mistake we often make with our anger is in thinking that if we admit it we will not be able to control it. But the Bible makes it clear that we are to admit anger and then refuse to let that anger take us down the wrong road. As bad as it is to refuse to acknowledge your anger it is even worse to refuse to discipline your anger. The man who allows his anger to go unchecked is an inmate (Think about it!)
The person who is walking in the Spirit never has the luxury of “venting.” You hear that all the time, don’t you. Someone will get mad and explode and some one will has, “Why did they treat you so badly?” and you will reply, “O, they just needed to vent!” Wrong answer!! Venting is sin!! I must be able ( by the way, I’m preaching to myself too) through the Holys Spirit to discipline my anger.
You say, “Well, if I admit my anger and then I can’t get it off my chest, I’ll explode. After all, if you don’t vent, your anger just gets worse, right?” Well, actually . . . no! Now, there has been a long-standing debate in the mental health field of whether it is healthy to vent angry feelings. Some recent studies indicate that expressing anger in an aggressive or intimidating manner tends to escalate the irritation and frustration rather than releasing the anger and helping the individual to calm down and gain self-control. Besides that, venting anger on a consistent basis can have long-term physical and social consequences: Consider these
Angry individuals tend to have negative thoughts that accompany their emotions. Because of this, resolving their problems becomes more difficult.
Someone who regularly vents his or her anger tends to come across as unfriendly, intimidating and even hostile.
Approaching a person with whom you have a disagreement from an angry position is likely to result in the other person matching your behavior and becoming angry in return.
Anger has a very negative effect on our physical health. It has been associated with stomach and intestinal problems such as ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis.
A key predictor for coronary heart disease is the Type A personality individual with chronic hostility.
An anger outburst typically results in an increase in blood pressure. Individuals with ongoing high blood pressure problems are often those who chronically suppress their anger.
TRANS: Well, if I’m supposed to admit my anger and not stuff it down, but I’m supposed to discipline my anger and not explode, how do I handle it? It’s in the last phrase of v. 26
You can defuse your anger. The Bible says there, “Be angry and do not sin. Don’t let the sun go down you your wrath.” You notice that the Bible uses the word “angry” in the first part of the verse and “wrath” in the second and those two concepts are different. When the Bible says that we are to be “angry” it speaks of the normal response of anger that occurs from some perceived wrong against us. The word “wrath” on the other hand is “exasperation” or “being intensely provoked.”
A young girl who was writing a paper for school came to her father and asked, "Dad, what is the difference between anger and exasperation?" The father replied, "It is mostly a matter of degree. Let me show you what I mean."
With that the father went to the telephone and dialed a number at random. To the man who answered the phone, he said, "Hello, is Melvin there?" The man answered, "There is no one living here named Melvin. Why don’t you learn to look up numbers before you dial"
"See," said the father to his daughter. "That man was not a bit happy with our call. He was probably very busy with something and we annoyed him. Now watch...." The father dialed the number again. "Hello, is Melvin there?" asked the father. "Now look here!" came the heated reply. "You just called this number and I told you that there is no Melvin here! You’ve got lot of guts calling again!" The receiver slammed down hard.
The father turned to his daughter and said, "You see, that was anger. Now I’ll show you what exasperation means."He dialed the same number, and when a violent voice roared, "Hello!" The father calmly said, "Hello, this is Melvin. Have there been any calls for me?"
In this verse Paul tells us that this anger that is a normal reaction to wrong can become “exasperation,” if it is not handled properly. To handle it properly he tells us that we must not “let the sun go down on our ‘exasperation.’” In other words, we cannot allow anger to stay in our hearts and not be resolved. Now some would say that you must talk to the person with whom you are angry before you go to bed, and while that might be a good idea, limiting what Paul is saying to that one concept misses the point.
You will notice that the words “Be angry and do not sin” are in italics. That means that those words are actually quoted from the Old Testament. One of the places that phrase is found is in Psalm 4:4, and , in this passage, we gain more insight into how we go about defusing our anger. It says,
Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And put your trust in the Lord.
The psalmist says, here, that if we are going to defuse our anger we must meditate. He uses an interesting phrase: He says, “meditate within your heart, on your bed, and be still.” See, when the psalmist gets angry, he gets alone by himself and he thinks through the situation. It is implied here that he not only thinks through the situation, he prays through the situation and he stays there on his bed until he conquers his emotion and he defuses his anger. He doesn’t just lie there, however, and think about the negative thing that happened to him. It is implied on down in this Psalm, that he turns his thoughts to God. Look at verses 7-8
You have put gladness in my heart, More than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; For You alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
The way to defuse your anger is to dwell upon the faithfulness of God. You meditate.
But not only does the psalmist meditate: He also consecrates himself. V. 5 says: Offer the sacrifices of righteousness . . .” You see in the middle of our anger, we must remember Who we belong to. We must remember Who it is we are serving and ultimately where our allegiance lies. We must remember that we gave our lives to God and we laid ourselves on the altar for Him and that if this is how we are to become a sacrifice for Him, then we must be willing to do that. And even more than that, we come to realize that in almost every conflict there is a lesson God wants us to learn. When I consecrate myself, I come to the place that I surrender to God’s control of the situation.
Last of all, the psalmist defuses his anger by dedicating himself. He says, in v. 5 Offer the sacrifices of righteousness and put your trust in the Lord. The psalmist remembers who it is who is in control of the situation after all. He remembers that God is God. He remembers that his brother may have made him mad by his unthoughtfulness or even by his intention to hurt him, but ultimately he remembers that his brother is not in control . . . God is. and he accepts his situation as the ultimate will of God for his life and he decides to trust the Lord in it. I love the quote of Hannah Whitehall Smith. She said, “If I swing my fist towards your face, that is not God’s will for me. I have been disobedient and I am guilty before God. But if God does not allow you to duck, and I hit you in the face, that has become God’s will for you.
You see, while anger is a normal reaction to life that must be dealt with, nursing a grudge and refusing to deal with it is an absolute rebellion against the will of God. I defuse my anger by turning my attention to God, giving my life to God and putting my trust in God. I meditate, I consecrate, and I dedicate.
So, if I am not to be a psycho or a sicko, what am I supposed to do when inevitable conflict arises? Well first
Face your fear of confrontation
See, I know that some of us cringe at the thought of confrontation. Overcoming this fear starts with understanding that confronting your spouse is an act of love. It may be helpful to write down a list of the benefits that will result when the hurtful issue is resolved. This will keep you focused on the reasons for talking about the situation. Refer to it when either you or your spouse becomes defensive. Shining a positive light on a delicate confrontation will help keep peace between you.
Discuss the conflict as soon as possible
The old proverb, "time heals all wounds" does not apply to conflicts in marriage. But the modern-day saying, "timing is everything" does. When an irritating issue is unresolved, it builds emotional distance between you and your spouse. And just like a splinter, the issue gets under your skin and continues to fester until it is dealt with. When your spouse's behavior bothers you, make a decision to confront your mate as soon as possible. If the issue needs your undivided attention, choose a time when no one else is around-even if you have to ask for a few minutes alone together.
State exactly what is bothering you
Donna was upset. She had repeatedly asked Frank to pick up his clothes. But, once again, she stared down at his dirty socks lying on the bedroom floor. "I shouldn't make such a big deal out of it," she thought. "After all, I'm the one who's home all day."
Justifying an irritating action or hoping an issue will just go away doesn't work. Hiding the pain that you feel today will only later resurface in the form of sarcasm, criticism, or anger. When you choose to overlook a potential conflict, you allow resentment to build, while inviting strife and division to take up residence. It also means that you are giving your mate permission to continue his or her bothersome behavior.
For a marriage to remain on equal footing, both spouses must take responsibility for their actions. Be willing to state exactly what is that you don't like. Then the two of you can discuss some specific solutions.
Stick to the subject at hand
In many marriages, confronting an issue is the gunpowder that ignites World War III. Defenses kick in. Accusations fly. And by the time the smoke has cleared, spouses have bombed each other with everything that has happened since the day they were married.
When you decide to face an issue, don't allow yourself-or your mate-to drag in past hurts. Deal with one issue at a time. Make a rule between yourselves that if neither is willing to discuss a sore point as soon as it happens, then the issue cannot be used as ammunition for future fights.
If your spouse says you do, then it's true
This statement attacks our tendency to hide behind statements such as, "No I don't" or "You're just exaggerating." When your mate states that you're doing something irritating, trust him or her. Consciously choose to look past your defensive walls and ask your spouse, "Why does this bother you?" Then listen to what is being said. Try to see his or her point of view, and be willing to change for the good of your marriage.
Two words that we must eliminate are “You always.” Extreme words such as always, never, right, wrong, good, or bad will cause your mate to be defensive and lash out at you. These words generalize a situation without giving proof that what you are saying is true. Stick to concrete examples of present-day behavior. Then your spouse will have a vivid illustration of his or her actions.
Avoid personal insults and character assassination
If you want an enemy for life, just attack your mate’s character. To avoid this, it is important to see the issue as the problem-not your spouse. Hey! That’s how God deals with us. He accepts us just like we are, but He always confronts us when our lives conflict with His Word.
Stay focused on the issue at hand. This will help you to remain objective and express your thoughts clearly without alienating your spouse through personal attacks.
Confront with truth. Affirm with love
"Honey, I really appreciate all of your hard work around the house. But when I asked you to bring in the mail, you ignored my wishes. Why is that?"
The best way to talk about something negative is to start with something positive. Next, state the issue, and give your mate the opportunity to reflect on the problem you've presented. Your partner may not realize that their actions are upsetting you. And when you give your spouse a chance to think things through, he or she may surprise you with a positive response.
Listen to learn
Be ready to listen to your spouse after you confront him or her. Just as you want to be heard, so does your spouse. If there are hurt feelings involved, be patient as you wade through the tough issues together.
As you ask your spouse to see from your perspective, be willing to see from his or hers as well. Are there changes that need to be made on your part? Confrontation can be an opportunity to learn new things about your spouse, as well as develop greater teamwork and accountability together.
Confront to heal, not to win
The comedian, Jeff Allen, says that on his wedding day his father gave him some advice. He took him aside and said, “Now son, I want to tell you about your only to options in marriage: When it comes to marriage you can be right or you can be happy.” Then he goes on to say with a plastic grin, “And after 30 years of marriage, I’m a happy, happy man.”
What Jeff Allen is really saying is that conflict isn’t about winning, it’s about healing. If you have to win, you’ll never have a healthy marriage, and you really won’t be happy. Working out a hurtful issue is not about who's right and who's wrong. Your goal should not be to win, but to confront a conflict and restore the harmony in your relationship.
Whenever possible, the solution to a problem should benefit both parties. When both spouses feel good about a resolution, it will reestablish the emotional bond between the two of you. Confronting to heal instead of to win will keep your marriage on healthy ground.
Now here’s what you need to know. Dealing with conflict in a healthy way may not save every communication problem you have, but I tell you it will solve about 90% percent of them. Sure the world may not be willing or even have the spiritual power to do that. But we are God’s children. We have the Holy Spirit. I am confident that His Spirit can give us the power to speak our mind without losing our marriage.
Tri Robinson tells of his own recognition of this in his own marriage. When I got home from [a] mountaintop weekend [that had changed my life, drawing me closer to Christ], I was excited to share with Nancy what had happened. This was the very thing that for many years she had desperately wanted and prayed for. In the years since she had invited Christ into her life on the side of the canyon, she had been praying for me every day.
1. Proverbs 13:12 says, "Hope deferred makes the heart grow sick," and I believe that must have been what happened. I think Nancy was recovering form a sick heart after all those years of not having her prayers answered concerning me. For so long she had wanted me to become the spiritual leader of our home, and when it was about to happen, I think it was kind of a letdown for her. At first, she was elated, but her happiness soon turned to anger. She got mad and over the next couple of weeks, her anger became visible. I couldn't understand what was happening, and I remember wondering if receiving the Lord was such a good idea. I started to question everything about faith and this stimulated real and honest prayer—for the first time in my life.
It was during this time one Sunday after church that everything came to a head. Our younger daughter, Katie, had gone to the home of some friends. The rest of us headed home for lunch, and our three-year-old son, Brook, went down for a nap. We had just met a new older couple at church that morning and had invited them to drop by later that day. Everything seemed fine until something snapped, and a fight between Nancy and me began. I don't know what started it or even what it was about, but I do remember it escalating rapidly. All at once everything came out—all of Nancy's anger and all of my frustration erupted, causing Nancy to pick up a pottery mug and hurl it at me across the room. I was able to duck quickly, and the mug missed me and smashed through the window of the front door.
As only fate would have it, the couple we invited from church arrived and were walking up the front steps at that very moment. They ducked and evaded the flying mug but decided it was not the best time to visit the Robinsons. They turned on their heels and headed for their car.
I was embarrassed and humiliated, and I lost it like I have never lost it before or since. I started yelling and hitting walls and cupboards. Framed pictures and dishes fell to the floor. I went from room to room turning over furniture and shouting in complete frustration. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't make Nancy satisfied with our life, and I didn't know what I could do about it. In the wake of this realization, I fell apart.
All my life I had prided myself on being composed and put together; I always felt that showing emotion was a sign of weakness. That day God tore down everything I leaned on for strength. He was showing me that without him I would never be the person he created me to be. I needed him to be more than my Savior—I needed him to be the Lord of my life. That day I learned in my confession of weakness that he would make me strong (see 2 Cor. 12:10).
As I surveyed the aftermath of my rage, I saw my three-year-old son staring at me with huge, frightened eyes. I will never forget how he looked as he stood there in shock and disbelief. That's when it happened—that's when I finally broke. My deep frustration turned to tears, and the floodgates opened. I started to weep in a way I never had before. Tears welled up from the depths of my being, and my entire body started to convulse. I cried and cried and couldn't stop the tears. I cried for a whole life of pain and frustration, most of which Nancy had nothing to do with. I was broken in a way I can't fully express, but it was a brokenness that forever changed me. I held my son and Nancy held me, and together we cried and prayed. We repented for the way we had treated each other and together asked God to take control of our lives.
It was a divine moment in our marriage and a divine moment in our life with God. I believe it was the moment the seed of God's love and truth penetrated my life. It was a turning point, more powerful than any other I have ever experienced. My journey with God entered into the depths of good soil—to a place where my spiritual roots penetrated his provision for healing and wholeness. Not only did my relationship with God heal, my relationship with my wife changed as well. I could now love because I had come into the assurance that I was first loved.
This is the answer to this struggle. You see, I am not asking you to turn over a new leaf this morning or take a “no more arguments” pledge. I am asking you to humble yourself. You’ll never conquer that temper without the power of God resident within your heart. You’ll never have the peace of the Spirit until you have the power of the Spirit and the only way to get that power is to surrender to Him.