I didn’t know there was a monster
Hiding inside of me
I didn’t know it was lurking there
Waiting to be set free
I didn’t realize that there was so much
Ugliness in my heart
I didn’t think I was angry at all
That rage played any part
Yet I have reacted and yelled and spat
A vicious diatribe
My face has gone red and stiff and cold
I’ve sunken to the dark side
I’ve drowned in hurt, self-deceit, and hot pride
All for justification
I have sunk far below civility
All for guilt allocation
Yet the monster never left me alive
My spirit always dead
It ate and devoured my peace and my joy
Puking up what I had said
Then it hid deep down within my heart
Awaiting another meal
It knows that eventually I’ll feed it
A dish of repress-ed zeal
It was yesterday that I caught this Thing
Feeding on my life
Holding tight and tearing into my soul
Bleeding and breeding strife
I was shocked and pained to find it inside
An actual part of me
I was embarrassed, ashamed, terrified
At all that I did see
I wanted control, and I wanted out
Of burdens, need, and stress
And I had been willing to get them all
By feeding that angry Mess
I wanted to avoid pain and some hurts
Annoyances and noise
Quite willing to obtain perceived com-fort
By sacrificing joys
Though I know there’s a monster inside me
I can’t seem to set it free
I keep trying to cage and kill it
This evil part of me
I’ve tried to stab it and wrestle it down
It’s a slippery fiend
It keeps yelling that it’s a piece of me
That it can-not be weaned
So last night I came before the dear Lord
Begging for His healing
Offering up my anger and my rage
To His al-tar of sealing
For only He can sacrifice this piece
Of my broken mess of soul
If I give it to Him with all my heart
That is indeed His goal
It’s His now… I have given it away
The monster is now done
And I can now live my life in sure peace that…
My angry monster is gone
What Does Your Angry Monster Look Like
I wrote this poem not long ago. It was therapy. You see, I never thought I was an angry person. I’m not, really. I hate contention, heated debate, unkindness, and hurt. I’ve always avoided arguments and fights. Recoiled from them. I’m always the first to self-evaluate and apologize for my part. I can’t stand the suspense of things not being resolved between me and those I love.
But, in the past year and a half this unruly, hateful creature came out of me. It was called righteous indignation. It was called justification. It was a monster of many names.
I suffered under attacks from this monster far more frequently than I’d like to admit. And each and every time it came out, I fed it. It was very persuasive, you see. And then, as soon as it left I felt as if I was on the verge of emotional death. It sucked everything out of me.
So, for quite a while I thought I understood the monster and thought I could handle it on my own. So, I put a little chain around that anger monster and pretended I could master it. And yet, it kept snapping the chain and getting free. Impatience and unkindness were seeping out of me from every direction. I was like a simmering pot of unhappiness and condemnation. I couldn’t seem to get control.
Finally, after months of trying, I collapsed on my knees one night and asked God where this monster had come from. “This is not me!” I cried. “I’ve never been like this, ever. Please help me figure this out.”
In that moment, a few clear memories from my childhood came up to the surface of my own little internal pensieve (thanks to Dumbledore for making this a part of my life). I saw my younger self running around with a smaller, younger version of this very same anger monster. Most importantly, God showed me the triggers that let the monster out: helplessness, frustration, tiredness, and a tendency to react rather than act. I saw my supposedly righteous anger and justified reactions from a place outside myself. They didn’t look the same at all. I looked ridiculous.
It was in that moment that I suddenly began to understand that as far as mortals are concerned (in my opinion), there is no such thing as righteous anger. Righteous anger is a fallacy. I don’t believe it exists—inasmuch as we refer to the action we take* when disappointed, hurt, frustrated, offended, or injured (whether on purpose or not). There is no such thing as justification for letting out our anger monsters. There is no time when it is okay to scream and yell to get a point across. There is no time when it is okay to hit or strike another person in an attempt to make them listen or do what we want them to do. There is no time when impatience, unkindness, insults, emotional digs, or vengeance is okay.
I believe God is capable of righteous anger (i.e. acting righteously in perfect love with perfect justification for His actions). But, as you read the scriptures, it seems God’s references to anger, jealousy, and wrath are much more of a rhetorical device (wording used to persuade, achieve a certain purpose, or to emphasize something). They imply how He feels about our wickedness or lack of repentance. But, you’ll notice He never calls anyone worthless except those who purposely offend little children (Matthew 18:5-6), and then I might have to agree with Him there. He doesn’t insult or jibe to purposefully retaliate or hurt us. His anger is always represented by a spiritual ultimatum. He does use appropriate terms such as fool, hypocrite, deceiver, and liar. But these terms when in use by God are not used lightly. They always accurate describe the actions of those He is addressing. They are not meant to insult but to teach and call to repentance. Again, He can do it right, I don’t think we can.
Even when God is speaking of curses that will come upon us if we don’t repent (spiritual ultimatum), I can hardly imagining Him yelling and screaming them with a red face, glaring eyes, and clenched fists and gnashed teeth. That is how Satan looks. Not God.
When I imagine God reprimanding me I imagine only sad looks of love mingled with disappointment. And those are sufficiently powerful to make me want to improve. I imagine Him delivering His “rhetorical devices” with sadness and looks of pleading for me to repent, to trust Him, and so forth. If I imagine a firm voice, it is firm and loving. It is firm and pleading. It is forthright and honest. (Kind of like Dumbledore or Gandalf…always measured, understanding, seeing the bigger picture, etc. although obviously these are mortal, fictional examples and very rare in actual humankind even on good days.)
There is a scripture in Doctrine and Covenants 19:15-19 that is often read in a way that is wrong (in my opinion). People always read it with the idea of this angry God in their minds instead of a God (Jesus in particular) who has already suffered for their sins and is pleading with them to not waste it. It’s a firm, loving, pleading voice (to me, anyway). Not an angry one.
So, I invite you to imagine a God who has given everything for you, and you are running around wasting it. A God who loves you infinitely. A God whose love you can’t escape. Imagine Him now pleading with you, perhaps firmly, perhaps with tears in His eyes. Perhaps both. Imagine Him saying the following to you with gravity and sincere intent:
Therefore I command you to repent—repent, lest I smite you by the rod of my mouth, and by my wrath, and by my anger, and your sufferings be sore—how sore you know not, how exquisite you know not, yea, how hard to bear you know not.
For behold, I, God, have suffered these things for all, that they might not suffer if they would repent;
But if they would not repent they must suffer even as I;
Which suffering caused myself, even God, the greatest of all, to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink—
Nevertheless, glory be to the Father, and I partook and finished my preparations unto the children of men.
Now, there are some powerful words in here that have sufficient rhetorical device: smite, rod, wrath, anger, sufferings, sore, exquisite.
Now, notice some other words: tremble, bleed, suffer, bitter, shrink
Have you ever smitten someone with words? Have you ever used your hand or another device as a rod to beat someone? Have you ever exercised your wrath upon someone physically or with words? Have you ever purposefully tried to make someone suffer? Have you ever been sore emotionally or physically after berating someone for their flaws? Have you ever caused someone to tremble, bleed, suffer, or shrink from you? Have your pains ever been exquisitely terrible when you have come down from your anger and you have realized what you’ve done?
Imagine now that Christ suffered these things. It was Him you smote with words. It was Him you beat with a rod. It was Him you had wrath against physically or verbally. It was Him you purposefully insulted or made suffer. It was Him you berated. It was Him you made to shrink. (Matthew 25:40) It was because of His atonement that you felt terrible when you exhausted your anger. His mercy allowed you to feel the horror of what you had done. That horror is merciful because it encourages you to repent.
Does He not have a right to use rhetorical device to persuade you to stop being angry? Does He not have the right to plead with you firmly to please repent, to stop feeding your anger monster? Does He not have the right to remind you that if you don’t seek His help to rid yourself of this monster that you will suffer that which you have handed out…that He has already suffered?
God has to remind us of what will happen if we don’t repent so He can be just and merciful. If He didn’t tell us how horrific it would be, that would be eternally unfair. We need true information to use our moral agency completely. Thus, God is capable of using rhetorical device in an attempt to help us repent. He can do it righteously. You and I cannot. Our motives, no matter how justified we think they are, are selfish and satanic.
Satanic is a powerful word. Let me elaborate.
This is Moses 1:18-22. Moses has just talked with God face-to-face. After God leaves him and Moses recovers a little bit, Satan comes tempting (which is often Satan’s pattern, coming after we’ve had spiritual highs and feel invincible).
And again Moses said: I will not cease to call upon God, I have other things to inquire of him: for his glory has been upon me, wherefore I can judge between him and thee. Depart hence, Satan.
And now, when Moses had said these words, Satan cried with a loud voice, and ranted upon the earth, and commanded, saying: I am the Only Begotten, worship me.
And it came to pass that Moses began to fear exceedingly; and as he began to fear, he saw the bitterness of hell. Nevertheless, calling upon God, he received strength, and he commanded, saying: Depart from me, Satan, for this one God only will I worship, which is the God of glory.
And now Satan began to tremble, and the earth shook; and Moses received strength, and called upon God, saying: In the name of the Only Begotten, depart hence, Satan.
And it came to pass that Satan cried with a loud voice, with weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth; and he departed hence, even from the presence of Moses, that he beheld him not.
Notice what Satan does:
- cried with a loud voice (yelled) twice
- ranted upon the earth (threw himself down? punched something?)
- made demands
- created fear and embodied the bitterness of hell in his visage (scary!)
- trembled or moved in a way that shook the earth (stomped his feet? beat on things?)
- weeped (manipulatively), wailed, gnashed his teeth
There is nowhere in scripture where we ever witness Jesus Christ doing any of these things—the things we tend to justify in reaction to others. There is one instance in the New Testament where Christ overturns a few tables in the temple because people are defiling it. He also casts many people out, but I can hardly imagine Him accosting them bodily and throwing them out. Can you? I also do not believe He screamed and yelled and went red in the face. I don’t believe He stomped, punched things, ranted, raved, or gnashed His teeth. It is my opinion that He spoke with a direct and firm voice, even an incredulous one, teaching them saying, “Is it not written, My house shall be called of all nations a house of prayer? But ye have made it den of thieves.”
Many people might say, “But he/she hurt me on purpose?” and will claim justification for the injury they have received on purpose. So, to that I ask, “Do we say that Satan was justified in yelling at Moses and threatening him all because Moses hurt his feelings and wouldn’t do what he wanted on purpose?” Certainly not. Satan reacted in enmity and hatred toward Moses because Moses would not do what he wanted. He threw a fit to scare Moses into worshipping him.
Do we ever throw a fit to get others to listen to us? Do we ever rant and rave and overkill our point to silence another? Do we create an environment of bitterness and fear to manipulate others into doing what we think is right? If we do these and other related things to elicit a certain reaction in others it is because we believe in compulsion. We are acting a certain way in order to get others to act a certain way. It’s a circle of reaction; of allowing ourselves to be acted upon by others.
We cannot claim our reactions are ever justified.* Why? Because we were created as beings to act and not to be acted upon (2 Nephi 2:14). If sin is compulsory (meaning others can make us sin), then we have no power to become godly. We are trapped in a hellish state. But, sin is not compulsory. No matter how strong the threat, injury, frustration, or persuasion, we can always choose to act how we wish. We always have the power to choose the right. That is the very power of agency. It gives the power to change. It is the power that makes it possible for us to become like God.
The Holy Ghost speaks in a still, small voice. God is not in thunder, earthquakes, wind, or storms (1 Kings 19:11-12). He speaks by the Spirit.
Make a Comparison
For those that are able to attend temple endowment sessions, I encourage you to evaluate what you find there about how God expresses His wrath, disappointment, and judgment. Pay strong attention to His responses to Adam and Eve’s transgression and Satan’s willfully rebellious actions.
Evaluate also how Satan reacts when he doesn’t get what he wants. Pay attention to his variability and his reactive nature.
Then, consider whom you resemble more? Ya, that’s a sobering thought.
So, what does your angry monster look like? What situations trigger its need to feed on your soul? Have you identified these triggers? Have you made a plan? Have you come up with a coping mechanism, that you can turn to when these triggers hit?
Most importantly to consider is how you can sever ties with your adoring, self-destructive monster. Anger can be an addiction. Are you addicted? If so, treat it as an addiction. For some people it’s as powerful as pornography, alcohol, and drugs. If you are addicted to your monster, it’s time to humble yourself and get help to sever its hellish ties to your soul. Addiction Recovery Programs now dot the world and the Internet. You need plans, backup plans, and backup-backup plans for coping mechanisms you can adopt to help you vanquish your monster. And, you can do it. You have been created to act and not to be acted upon. You are not a prisoner to reaction. It might be hard. But, God’s grace is sufficient (Ether 12:27).
My angry monster, I’m proud to say, is quite anemic these days. I go long stretches where I think it is gone forever. Sometimes, I’m not proud to say, it shows up in my house and it takes a serious amount of willpower to pick it up, drag it kicking and screaming to my door, and push it out through the narrow opening. But, I am glad to say that when it does make unplanned visits I am getting better at recognizing it, taking a deep breath, and slamming the door in its face. I’m getting better and better at apologizing when I’ve had a close call. I’m getting better.
I’m not perfect.
Thank goodness for grace.
*A Quick Note About Justifiable Feelings*
So, I’ve written this whole blog about how there is no such thing as righteous anger—as an action. But, there is such thing as righteous anger—as a feeling. Feelings are justifiable. You will get hurt by people. You will get offended. You will be horrified and angry at people who do horrible things. You will be overwhelmed by the effects of sin on yourself and others. The feeling—justifiable. Angry actions based on this justifiable feeling—not justifiable.
It’s okay to feel angry. It’s not ok to act angry. It’s okay to feel hurt and to respectively let others know they have injured us. It is not okay to take out our hurt and anger on others even if they have hurt us.
It’s okay to feel tired and past your limit. It’s not okay to then pat yourself on the back and justify unkind or impatient words and actions toward others because you felt angry or tired. We certainly can claim that we have acted because of our feelings. But just because we have justifiable feelings doesn’t mean that reactions are justifiable. They are not.
God is Justice. Vengeance and mercy are His to deal out and repay. Not ours. Why? Because He has claimed them for Himself. And that is because only He can do it right. Only He can do it justly. Only He can do it mercifully. Only He can do it with perfect love. Righteous anger and condemnation are His to own. Not ours. Our job is to learn to manage our justifiable feelings in a Christ-like way.
Forgiveness and Apologies
Apologies are the best place to douse the anger monster. They are the best place for us to acknowledge and own our actions and commit to being better. The better we become at understanding our triggers and owning them, the better we will get at apologies, and the better we will get at destroying our monsters. The more we take the time to realize what is triggering our actions the more power we gain to control them.
For example: “I know that I was a bit short and unkind earlier. I shouldn’t have accused you of not caring. I just had a rough day and have secretly felt hurt by something you said yesterday that I should have talked to you about, rather than harboring. But neither of those things made it okay to treat you that way. I’m sorry. I will try to be better.”
Also, forgiveness will injure and destroy nearly every anger monster alive. Even those who purposefully hurt us truly, to some extent, do not understand the full weight of what they do. Christ set the example with this statement prior to being crucified, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). At some point we have to choose to not let others have power over us because of their actions. We must learn to act in the way that we desire independent of others actions. We must capitalize on the Power to Become.
Learn to Admit and Own Your Faults
For some people, it makes them angry to admit fault. It hurts them internally to realize they are wrong. So, they use blame on, and anger at, other things to protect themselves from the hurt of learning the truth about themselves. The sad thing is that they suffer the consequences of acting in anger. Which, are far more damaging and hurtful things than if they would simply learn to admit fault.
If you can’t admit fault, you will be angry all the time. If nothing is ever your fault you have rendered yourself powerless to change. You are, in effect, damned (stopped in progress). If you always have a nice way of pinning all of your shortcomings and sins on others (claiming compulsion and that you “had no choice”), then you are of all people most pitiful. Learn the serenity prayer.
Make a Plan
The most important thing to do, once you have caught and captured your anger monster, is to make a plan on how to keep it caged, and if possible, to destroy it. Anger monsters are not buddies. They exist only to destroy you. Part with them willingly and happily. “And if thy [anger monster] offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that [thy anger monster] should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:29).
If you have used anger as a coping mechanism, then in order to “pluck it out and cast it from thee” you are going to have to make a plan to replace it with something else. Only you can determine, with God’s aid and sincere prayer, how you are going to replace it and with what. You also will need to make a plan on how you will apologize and repent should your anger monster bang down the cage door and go running loose. Make a plan.
I could have listed prayer as a way to eliminate anger, but I guess I felt it was a given. I do know that without going to God in prayer and asking Him where my monster came from and what was triggering it that I may not be where I am today. That prayer I remember vividly and I hope I never forget it. It was immediate and direct personal revelation—which is often rare. Thankfully, I think God was waiting for me to ask and I was more than ready to do whatever it took to destroy the beast.
May you also get to the point where you are ready to destroy your anger monster. That it’s preservation is less important to you than becoming the person you want to become.