Chapter 3: How do I let go of Anger and Resentment?
Anger and resentment toward ourselves and others can destroy our health and the peace of those around us. Acknowledging the deep-rooted hurts we have experienced, realizing that we probably cannot right the wrongs that were done, and releasing the bitterness in our lives into the hands of God are essential to our well-being.
The couple mentioned throughout this booklet initially felt that a divorce was really best for them. The Veteran’s behavior was out-of-control, and he felt hopeless at being able to change his aggressive outbursts. The wife was scared not only of her husband’s anger, but also frightened by the angry feelings inside of her. When the Veteran and his wife first sought counseling, they both wanted to run away from the painful things which were causing the angry outbursts. They both learned that it would take great courage to address the hurts behind their anger.
After the Veteran and wife met separately with a marriage therapist and a chaplain over a few months for intense therapy, the following conversation occurred in the chaplain’s office.
The Veteran turned to his wife and said, “Sweetheart, I am so sorry for how I have hurt you. You are so gentle and kind. You have certainly not deserved the angry outbursts which I have thrown at you. Please forgive me.” The Veteran’s tone was contrite and yet he appeared frightened, as if he felt he was taking a very big risk.
His wife immediately looked surprised, with an unreleased glimmer of tears in her eyes. She hesitated, looking down as she responded, “You don’t know how long I have hoped you could say and really mean those words.” There was an extended pause, “But I need you to understand that your anger still scares me.”
“It scares me too. I am sorry. I don’t want to hurt you.”
“I know you don’t want to, that’s what makes it scary. You don’t want to and yet you still do. How can I trust that it will be any different?”
“I am not saying I will be perfect. Thanks to the chaplain and the therapist I now can see I need help to deal with my anger. I need your help too. Would you be willing to consider forgiving me for the hurt I have caused you?”
“That’s hard, because I am still scared. If I forgive you I feel that I would be letting my guard down, and I am just learning that it is OK for me to be angry too, to protect myself. On the other hand I don’t want to have this end in a divorce.”
Since the chaplain had often seen one member of a couple wanting to move toward asking forgiveness before his or her partner felt enough healing or enough safety to be able to forgive, the chaplain stated, “I think I hear you each saying that you care for this relationship. You both seem to want to end some of the patterns of anger and defensiveness that have you have toward each other. In my experience it takes a great deal of courage to ask for forgiveness and a great deal of trust to give forgiveness when one has been hurt. From a chaplain’s perspective, working through the hurt and pain caused by destructive expressions of anger and learning healthy ways to express anger can take some time. Different couples find that forgiveness comes in different places on that journey. I am wondering if each of you would be willing to return to my office in a few weeks to talk about what needs to be done to prepare for a discussion about forgiveness that would feel safe for each of you. If you will be willing to try that, I will give you some questions today to reflect upon until our next visit.
Readings from the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures
God provided safe havens for people who might be harmed by the anger of other people.
Then the LORD told Joshua to say to the people of Israel, “Choose the cities of refuge that I had Moses tell you about. If any of you accidentally kills someone, you can go there and escape the one who is looking for revenge. You can run away to one of these cities, go to the place of judgment at the entrance to the city, and explain to the leaders what happened. Then they will let you into the city and give you a place to live in, so that you can stay there. If the one looking for revenge follows you there, the people of the city must not hand you over to that one. They must protect you because you killed the person accidentally and not out of anger. You may stay in the city until you have received a public trial and until the death of the man who is then the High Priest. Then you may go back home to your own town, from which you had run away.”
Harboring anger is destructive to us.
Can’t people like you ever be quiet?
If you stopped to listen, we could talk to you.
What makes you think we are as stupid as cattle?
You are only hurting yourself with your anger.
Will the earth be deserted because you are angry?
Will God move mountains to satisfy you?
It is true that God gets righteously angry but does not hold on to this anger forever.
Sing praise to the LORD, all his faithful people!
Remember what the Holy One has done, and give him thanks!
His anger lasts only a moment, his goodness for a lifetime.
Tears may flow in the night, but joy comes in the morning.
A gentle and kind spirit can calm an angry and cruel spirit.
Readings from the New Testament
When we have been harmed, it is best to not take revenge.
If someone has done you wrong, do not repay him with a wrong. Try to do what everyone considers to be good. Do everything possible on your part to live in peace with everybody. Never take revenge, my friends, but instead let God’s anger do it. For the scripture says, “I will take revenge, I will pay back, says the Lord.” Instead, as the scripture says: “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them a drink; for by doing this you will make them burn with shame.” Do not let evil defeat you; instead, conquer evil with good.
When we are angered, we must not harbor the anger but seek to forgive.
If you become angry, do not let your anger lead you into sin, and do not stay angry all day. Don’t give the Devil a chance. If you used to rob, you must stop robbing and start working, in order to earn an honest living for yourself and to be able to help the poor. Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. And do not make God’s Holy Spirit sad; for the Spirit is God’s mark of ownership on you, a guarantee that the Day will come when God will set you free. Get rid of all bitterness, passion, and anger. No more shouting or insults, no more hateful feelings of any sort. Instead, be kind and tender-hearted to one another, and forgive one another, as God has forgiven you through Christ.
Thoughts for Reflection
- What emotions of anger and bitter resentments make you feel trapped? Write or share about feeling trapped in a cage of hostility.
- What or who could assist you in turning over hurtful resentments of your life to God? Make a concrete plan to reach out and get the assistance and support that you need.
- What do you believe is the value of releasing the bitterness in your life to God? Write or share how letting go of resentments may improve the quality of your life.
- Consider writing a letter to a person with whom you are angry. Maybe you are angry at God and should write a letter to express your anger. In writing these letters, reflect on how you can work through this anger and then release the bitterness associated with the anger.
Dear God, I recognize that there is anger and resentment in my life which is holding me in bondage. These harbored negative emotions are destroying me and they are also destroying the people that I most love.
Help me see how these feelings of bitterness prevent me from being the person you desire me to be. I believe that you desire to set me free from the deep-rooted hurts that anger me and cause me to lash out at others with mean-spiritedness.
Please help me to release the hurtful memories in my life and allow you to heal my broken spirit. I need your loving-kindness and mercy in my life. Thank you for not giving up on me. How I thank you for encouraging me to believe that your grace can help me to change.
In your precious name. Amen.
A Blessing for You
May the LORD bless you and take care of you;
May the LORD be kind and gracious to you;
May the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.