* remember this week i’m just archiving guest posts from other places over the past few months. you might have read them before. this one is from the amazing rachel held evans’ series on faith & parenting. i just realized that i somehow never responded to any of the comments over there (in my mind i did, ha ha). now it feels a little late to do that over there but if you want to add anything here, would love to hear your thoughts.
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“In your anger, do not sin”
– Ephesians 4:26
When I was a kid, I was taught that anger was bad. It had nothing to do with Christianity because I was not raised in a family of faith; rather, in a home with an alcoholic, there was an underground but extremely strong message that negative emotions should be avoided at all costs.
Happy, thankful, quiet, and easy-going were highly valued but mad, frustrated, hurt, or sad, not so much. That was reserved for the grownups.
When I became a Christian and started learning more about Jesus in “church”, I discovered that some of the same rules applied. Messy feelings were ones to avoid. They were equated with a lack of faith or an inability to turn it over to God properly in the moment. For me, honestly, it didn’t work half bad because I was already a master at stuffing negative feelings and pretending like nothing was wrong.
20 years ago, my husband Jose and I had our first son. Two years after that, a daughter. And two years after that, another son. In a wild twist of events known as “almost the immaculate conception” we had twin sons three and a half years later. My claim to fame was having five children under the age of seven.
And yeah, there was a lot of emotion in the house.
During the early years, however, Jose and I practiced a parenting style consistent with what we were learning in church—negative emotions were “bad” and somehow needed to be avoided or at least taken care of quick. For our kids, this looked like being mad at them for being mad (yes, I get the irony). Things like “Go to your room if you are angry and come out when you’re happy again!” “Stop crying now!” and “You need to change your attitude right this minute!” flowed freely from our lips.
We had good intentions. We weren’t abusive. We were just following the books that temper tantrums were a sign of faulty parenting and kids needed to learn emotion control.
I know there are all kinds of ways children need their parents to guide, teach, and set limits on what is appropriate and what’s not. But looking back, I have learned something very painful about our early parenting years—we sent our children a strong message that we didn’t tolerate negative emotions, only positive ones.
Oh how I regret this!
The church is really good at this, too. As a body of believers, it does seem like anger, sadness, and hurt are not tolerated very well. We want people to go to their room when they’re angry and come out when they’re happy again, to change their attitudes quick, to get on with the business of feeling good as quickly as possible.
Even though we say it’s not true, it sends a message to all of us that God loves us more when we’re happy and is disappointed with us when we’re sad. This message gets all tangled up with our faith.
We forget that Jesus, God in the flesh, embodied a full range of emotions. He cried. He yelled. He lamented. His blood boiled.
He was human.
Part of my shift in faith and parenting has been about embracing the full range of my humanness. Much of how I was operating in our faith was about rejecting parts of me to somehow “please God more.”
The scripture reminds us that in our anger, we shouldn’t sin. Not that anger is bad.
And what I have learned, and keep learning, is that God wants all of us, all of the time. He doesn’t send us away when we are pissed off or turn away from us until we are happy again. Even though I am human and not God, part of my responsibility as a parent is to reflect to my babies my full, deep, wide, and as-unconditional-as-possible love in the midst of their real lives, their real emotions, so that they can feel more secure and free.
But that shift had to happen in me first.
Part of my responsibility as a woman of faith was to begin to accept that God wants all of me—the angry, sad, hurt, frustrated parts of me along with the happy ones, too.
As Jose and I shifted, how we parented our children did, too. We have made many an amends to our older kids, who received the brunt of thinking that any negative emotion was a sin. Thankfully, they have offered their grace (and told us that they had been pretty mad about it, ha!).
We keep learning. We keep stumbling and bumbling and making all kinds of mistakes along the way. But I’m more sure of this than ever for myself and my kids, too—anger’s not a sin.