There is no respite when we are in a relationship with an angry person. Whether they are a relative we live with or a spouse, it is exhausting trying to tiptoe around all the hidden emotional landmines never knowing what is going to set them off. Yet, Scripture calls us to love even the angry ones. But how do you love an angry person?
WHY ARE SOME PEOPLE SO ANGRY?
Before we have the necessary resources within us to be able to love someone who is angry, we first must understand what causes someone to be angry. If we do not understand this, we will have no patience, no compassion, and no ministry to this person. We will simply be offended by their disproportionate anger. To love an angry person, we must take time to understand why they are so angry.
BEFORE THEY WERE ANGRY, THEY WERE WOUNDED
We must understand that anger is a secondary emotion. Before we are angry, we are wounded. No one is born angry. No one has a natural disposition that is angry. Human beings by design do not want to be angry. We want to be happy. We spend all our lives searching for happiness. But we are also selfish causing all of us at some point to hurt another.
People subconsciously use anger to protect past wounds. They do not necessarily get angry with someone because that person has done something that has wounded them. Anger is to protect anyone from touching an open, unhealed wound. It does not matter who inflicted the initial wound. Now that there is a place vulnerable to pain, anger is one way that our mind attempts to protect our heart from anyone touching that wound. Think of someone who has hurt their hand, they will carry their hand differently and contort their body to keep anything from touching that hand and stirring up that pain.
With most people, we will see that their anger revolves around a specific subject or emotional space within them. Someone might be especially sensitive to anything that makes them feel inferior. Another may be sensitive to anything that makes them feel unloved or unaccepted. For some, they have been wounded so often by so many people, their entire outlook on life has disintegrated into a hopeless disposition and this too can create anger that seems to be always present. The wounds dictate the space where anger lies in waiting. We do not have to know the source of the original wound to see the pattern of what causes someone to become angry.
PATIENCE REQUIRES UNDERSTANDING
To be able to love someone who gets angry seemingly at the drop of a hat is impossible unless we have compassion. If anger is a protective instrument for someone’s pain, we must see through the anger into their pain. They are hurting and do not want to be hurt again. When they lose their temper with us, we take an egocentric perspective only thinking about how their anger is affecting us and not taking the time to remember they have been hurt. Like anyone who has been hurt, we want to respond with compassion. This is an act of the will because it is hard to not focus on their angry behavior.
Imagine if someone you love deeply were to be in a car wreck for no fault of their own. And suddenly they were paralyzed from the neck down. Supposed you now had to care for them. You would need to lift them from their bed to their chair, to the couch, to the kitchen, to the car. You would have to feed them, dress them, bathe them. But if you genuinely loved them, you would not be angry with them for needing your help. You may get tired, frustrated, but you would not blame them. And though it may fatigue you, you would consider it a labor of love.
Well, everyone has been through at least one major emotional wreck leaving some part of who we are immobilized. Emotional paralysis can keep us from loving, from smiling, from hoping, from giving. It makes us selfish, paranoid, stressed, insecure, and bitter. But most of us did not choose to be in these wrecks. At least, we are not responsible for the early wrecks. The wounds from the initial wrecks may not have healed causing us to hurt others by guarding those unhealed wounds. We guard them with anger, selfishness, pretending, and dishonesty. Then we begin to create wrecks. The initial wrecks usually occurred in the innocence of our childhood. We never choose them, but they changed us and caused us to create more wrecks than anyone would ever have to face.
A person’s anger hides their wounds and we need to know this so that we can find compassion for them and not get offended at their offense.
UNDERSTANDING LEADS TO COMPASSION
The word ‘passion’ means suffering. We speak of the passion of Christ as the crucifixion event where Christ suffered to the point of death. But why did He allow Himself to suffer like this? The Bible says ‘for the joy set before Him,’ Christ endured the cross. He allowed suffering in His body because He knew without His suffering, we could not have been rescued from this body of sin.
As Christians, we have been given the ministry of reconciliation. God wants to use us to reconcile others back to Him. There, they find healing for their wounds erasing their anger forever. This ministry is a hard road. Inevitably we will suffer at the hands of an angry person. They will eventually yell, scream, grab, hit us. We know this, but to honor the Lord, we need to allow ourselves to be His instrument to reach this person that we struggle to love. But this we may have to suffer by not retaliating and responding in kind to their anger. We can’t get offended and still minister to them. We must be patient which requires discipline to suffer in patience to keep the relationship from breaking down. This is compassion. Passion is to suffer, compassion is to suffer along with someone. They are suffering so we endure in suffering the effect of their suffering remaining patient to give God a chance to use us to reconcile them back to us.
LOVING AN ANGRY PERSON REQUIRES PREPARATION
If we wait until they lose it then expect ourselves to have what it takes to remain patient with understanding and compassion, we will not have enough in our own emotional bank to return their anger with love. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is not natural. No one is patient except by the power of the Holy Spirit. Even unbelievers who do not have the Spirit in the same way believers do have received prevenient grace. This is the grace of God that gives to every human being a portion of His presence within them. His purpose is so that they can one day understand His loving thoughts for them because only the Spirit can discern the thoughts of God. But this preceding presence of God in unbelievers also gives each of them some ability to operate in the fruits of the Spirit. But in difficult times, if we haven’t been flooded by His Spirit, we will not have enough to consistently love those who are angry.
We need time in the presence of God where His Spirit moves us as the water moves the Earth cutting deep and changing the terrain.
I live near the Frio River in Texas. There is a campground where we have prayer retreats. The main gathering place is right next to the river. There is a cliff on one side of the river and a flatland on the other. Standing on the flat side of the river, the power of the rushing wind can be seen at the bottom of the cliff where the river has run for thousands of years cutting deep into this mountain.
Jesus said to the woman at the well that He could quench her thirst with rivers of living water. The Holy Spirit is this River of Living Water and the longer we remain in His presence, the movement against our stony soul will change the terrain of our heart. Where we had no patience, we will have an abundance. But this requires time in the Spirit on our own daily because the change is gradual. This time alone with God will prepare us to have patience and love for an angry person. The Spirit flows into us changing us over time and He flows out of us into others.
The more you have to be near an angry person, the more time you need in the Presence of God. Get up early. Pray to the Lord. Remember His patience with you and your faults. Remember how He has loved you even at your worst and you will be filled with patience and love for the angry person in your life. Love is patient and love is the fruit of the Holy Spirit.
CAN AN ANGRY PERSON CHANGE?
All things are possible with God. This question deserves a quick and emphatic ‘yes’ and ‘amen.’ The bigger question is how can you help. A powerful Biblical principle is found in 1 John 4:19.
“We love because He first loved us.”
We did not fall in love with Christ because He got mad at us when we weren’t living out love to Him. The Lord responded to our worst behavior with love.
“Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man,
Though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.
But God proves His love for us in this:
While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” – Romans 5:7-8
This is the power of love. When we love someone in response to their anger, we are sending a strong message to their core. That message is that we still love them even at their worst. This is real love. And love is the power to heal and restore. The Bible says that love covers a multitude of sins. Loving others with patience when they don’t deserve it, as God did for us, has the power to melt their hearts. That is the effect that God’s love had on us. Lover covers over their sins against us, but also the sins against them in their past. Love exists outside of time and has the power to go back in time to heal the wounds inflicted on them that created the anger. When we receive from God what we need to love an angry person, the power of love can move a person to change. God is love and when we love as He loves, power from Heaven is released into us and into them. And once that river begins to flow in them…who knows what may happen.
LOVING AN ANGRY PERSON REQUIRES BOUNDARIES
Someone who is angry will hate boundaries, but loving someone means not enabling bad behavior. To let someone rant and rave against you over and over again is not love. Love is doing what is best for that person even if they don’t like it. They want to be able to vent their emotions, but that behavior is not good for them. The Bible says that harshness can stir up anger. Though they may be blaming you for their anger, the reality is that only they can reign it in and if they don’t, they will stir up anger in all those around them. Their anger toward you can hurt their relationship with their own children, other family members, and close friends.
You can set a boundary simply by politely and kindly ending a conversation when they start to behave in an unhealthy way. You don’t have to stay on the phone. You don’t have to continue the argument. You don’t have to stay in the house. If they won’t let you get away to your room when they are yelling at you, then grab your keys and get in your car and drive. You can say to them, “I love you, but regardless of why you are angry, this behavior is destructive to you. I don’t want people to see you like this. I don’t want anyone to hear how you are acting. It will hurt your reputation and relationship. It is not good for you spiritually and your relationship with God. And if I let it keep going, I am only enabling you. So, because I love you and want what is best for you, I am not going to continue the conversation as long as you are acting like this.”
THERE IS A TIME TO END THE RELATIONSHIP
Unfortunately, even if you love perfectly, set up perfect boundaries, stay patient all the time, it is not guaranteed that anything will change. The Bible says do not cast your pearls before swine. In other words, don’t give the best part of yourself to someone who is going to stomp on your heart repeatedly without remorse. Sometimes, the best way we can love someone is to deprive them of our company until they humble themselves and gain control of their temper. This is not an easy decision and it should not be made quickly. It is a last resort.
I was counseling a person recently who was being verbally attacked by their spouse repeatedly and they said, “But God forgives.” This is true. God does forgive, but God also holds us accountable. He does not allow bad behavior to continue and when we disrespect and dishonor Him, He allows consequences. These consequences to sinful behavior are God’s boundaries. Boundaries are godly and loving when they are set in kindness and love.