the secret to stop responding in anger & the truth about shame
At her innocent, oblivious words, my mind flashed to twenty different insults directed at me, ten knives shoved in my back, five bullets shot towards me from an angry, seething mouth. She stuck a finger in my open wound and twisted, and she didn't even know the hurt was there.
Of course, being the broken mess that I am, I took the defense. I scrawled a hot red line across our relationship and lit it. Ugly, unloving, unmerciful words flowed from between my teeth, igniting both a bitter taste on my tongue and a satisfaction in my fleshy heart. Blood flowed, words stung, and the thrill of the hunt ushered in a new tension between us, caused by the strength of a lie believed and the severity of a reaction bubbling in its depths.
I hurt her because she hurt me, and she didn't even mean to.
Maybe you've been there. Maybe you've felt the power of past wounds lashing out with a bite, old forgotten memories coming back with a ferocity that makes your heart snap. In the heat of the moment, maybe you've said a few things you wish you hadn't. Maybe those hurtful words they uttered were purposefully laced with poison, or maybe they handed them to you, oblivious to the damage they could cause.
The fact remains: you were hurt, so you hurt.
You were backed into a corner and fought back like the wounded, frightened beast that you are behind the mask you wear, your synagogue. The anger and pain consumed your rational mind, blinding you to reasonable solutions, graceful answers.
We all do it, unfortunately. We've been wounded too many times to count, and the wounds have become infected. It hurts. Oh, how it hurts. And their picking and prodding sure doesn't help, whether they mean to stick a gleaming red poker in your heart or not.
So what is one to do? How is one supposed to stop the endless hurt cycle that is our daily lives? How do you stop a few unknowing words from turning into a fullblown catastrophe?
Why do those words cause such a reaction in us?
The simple truth is that we believe lies, and we allow lies to cage us in our own personal version of hell, one that reminds us of our lack, of our not-enoughness. We block it out, try to forget about it, shut the monster up...but then someone says something, and it all comes flooding back.
The problem, however, is that we keep the beast hidden in the dark for so long that we forget what it looks like, we forget what makes it howl with glory. We become unaware of our darkness and allow it to stay in our lives, as long as others can't see it. Our wounds are hidden in the basement of our hearts, and we are now unable to differentiate between old scar tissue and a fatal injury.
"The purpose in a man's heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out." (Proverbs 20:5 ESV)
The first step to fighting your demons is to see them.
Identify what's causing you to lose your head in a moment of pain. Draw out your monsters, and look at them, really look at them, until you understand their purpose and their effect. Look into your heart, and find out what old, forgotten memories are still lurking in the depths.
Tell me, when you lash out, is it because you are trying to hide yourself? Trying to hide your sin, your brokenness, your weakest pieces? Are you making an attempt to look good, to cover up your flaws, to shield others from your darkness and claws?
I think so, because I do it, too.
Hurt people hurt people to try to cover up their hurt, their heart. (Tweet this!) That's a basic truth of life, and it traces back to the first people who were ever hurt.
When Adam and Eve first sinned and heard God coming to them, their first response was the exact same one we run to.
"And he said, 'I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.'" (Genesis 3:10 ESV)
Hide. When people are getting close to your heart, close to your wound, you hide. You hide, and you lash out to keep them away.
We are ashamed of ourselves, of what we've done, of the things we keep buried away in the darkest crevices of our hearts, and we don't want others to be ashamed of us, too. That's why we hide. That's why we fight.
Shame runs in our veins, an infection transmitted through words, a disease inherited in birth, and we are the catalysts for the tragedy of this practical atheism.
Shame is defiance of God's grace. It is ignorance dressed as wisdom, the disbelief of Truth.
The truth? God took care of it. God took care of our sin and our shame and our ugly brokenness. He sent the demons away. He redeemed those dreadful memories, and made them work for our good. (Romans 8:28)
He raised to life what was once dead in us, so why are we so quick to kill it again? Why are we trying so hard to hide the very things that He means to expose for our good and His glory? Why do we insist on taking hold of our lives as if He doesn't have what it takes to take care of us?
God says that we are not good enough, but more than enough. He says that we can quit striving to be better, quit trying to make something of ourselves, quit trying to win affection and acceptance from both God and those around us. We can stop measuring our worth with the teaspoonful of our good works, and measure it in the overflowing cup of our Father's grace. (Tweet this!)
"God declares us not guilty, because Jesus was declared guilty." (Robert Morris)
Shame is telling Jesus that He is a lie.
Shame is telling Jesus that He wasn't enough.
Shame is looking God in the eye and telling Him that He didn't win.
And the shame has got to end, or we blaspheme His name.
So, then, how do we end the shame game, the hurt cycle?
We have to stop looking at ourselves, and start looking at God.
We have to accept God's grace, and give grace to others.
The hurt cycle ends when the grace cycle begins. (Tweet this!)
When those fiery arrows are darting at your open wound, you have to stop and think. You have to breathe before you utter another word, and wonder. You always have to wonder and leave room for a different perspective.
"Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God." (James 1:19-20 ESV)
When it stings, you have to stop. When it hurts, you have to wonder.
"Does this hurt me because I have a wound from the past that has not completely healed yet? Is what I'm feeling righteous anger or anger birthed from a love of the world? Is what I'm about to say a product of shame and pride? Am I speaking to glorify God or myself? Are they trying to be helpful? Did they mean to hurt me? Am I about to respond out of pain? Are these going to be healing words or detrimental?"
We must always ask ourselves these things before we respond. We must be quick to listen to what they have to say with an open mind, quick to listen to the Holy Spirit's prompting. We must stop, breathe, and think before our shame hurts both ourselves and another.
Buuuuuutttt sometimes breathing and thinking just doesn't fix it, goshdangit. Our teenage broodiness rises up, and we continue to stew in our makeshift altar, but the other person is the sacrifice as we pretend to be god.
No bueno, amigo.
When all else fails, we have to remember that we are speaking to God's beloved child, and we have no right to harm His loved one. We have to remember our shortcomings and His grace, and then we have to see the other person with eyes of grace. We have to be the bigger person.
We have to die to ourselves, stop our sin words in their tracks, and choose God.
Easier said than done, though, which is why I want to share with you a few things that I'm learning to do when the shame game kicks in, because I'm preaching this truth to myself, as well.
Practical ways to kick shame and anger in the teeth:
(because sometimes our Jesus vibe just ain't workin)
Count to ten before you respond.
Take a deep breath.
Pray, and ask for words from the Holy Spirit.
Ask God for eyes to see them as He does.
Ask God to show you why it hurts so much.
Ask the other person for clarification.
Say, "Do you mind if I think about this for a bit?" and then go think, not brood.
Ways to mend the wound:
(because nobody's perfect, and sometimes we bite)
Ask God for forgiveness.
Ask God to show you what you need to do.
Apologize to the other person, sincerely.
Tell them that their words didn't come across right, and ask for clarification.
Walk away, praising God for grace.
It's incredibly important to figure out what causes us to react so vehemently when someone says something hurtful. We have to know where the wound is before we can fix it, and we need to know about it before it gets infected.
I suggest spending time in prayer and asking God to show you what you're chained up in, what scars haven't been healed yet.
For more help, Robert Morris at Gateway Church has a great sermon series that I personally found helpful. You can find it here. Also, you can run over to Ann Voskamp's blog to check out a guest blog post by Susie Larson about shame. It's a freaking fantabulous read.