Tiffini, The Volcano
I don’t remember how old I was. I do remember how black the sky was, and how bright the stars. It was one of those summer nights that feel as though the very air is attacking you, suffocating. <I>Muggy</I> is a perfect definition for this particular night. I don’t remember the city, I don’t remember the state. But I remember laying awake, staring out the window in my room, feeling small, and alone. Lots of people thought I should be angry. My mom wasn’t only hurt, but angry, too. My sister was angry. It used to amaze me how she’d stand up to my dad, deliberately disobey him. A few days before this night that I remember, my dad took us to the movie theaters and never came back to get us. We were left without a car and without much money, and no clue as to his whereabouts. Silence ruled. We’d all anxiously jerk every time the phone rang, both hopeful and fearful that it was he, calling as usual before showing back up. Inevitably, the phone would ring days, or maybe weeks, later and then, poof, he’s back in our lives, pretending that nothing had ever happened. Only my mom couldn’t pretend. And my sister couldn’t pretend. They were both angry. Everyone was.
I tried. I genuinely tried to make things peaceful and calm, and better than tolerable. During the day, I might not have played with Daddy — that was beyond my ability — but I obeyed him and I stayed quiet, trying hard not to rock the boat anymore than it rocked already, trying hard to do as the occasional Sunday School teacher told me I should in honoring my father (as an aside, we go to church now every Sunday morning and Wednesday nights. If they had services on Tuesday morning, we’d probably be there. But, growing up, we went to church when we could [in DRESSES], when we were in Nashville. It’s funny. I used to dread going to church because I did not know anyone. But the saying, ‘Raise your children in the way you want them to go and, when they are old, they will return to it’ rings true. My mother valued and respected church. As a result, when my daughters were born, it became imperative that they have a stable church family. It is one of the decisions I’ve made, and upheld, that I am particularly thankful for). Instead of focusing on the very painful things he did, both during the day and at night, to me and to our family at large, I focused on how to cope, on how to make things better.
The other day, via Facebook (naturally), I took a quiz to determine my personality type. We did these things in more than one of my college psychology classes and I already knew what it was probably going to tell me. I was not surprised. “ISFJ — Nurturer” it said. Then it proceeded to describe this personality type as follows:
In general, ISFJs are sympathetic, loyal, considerate, and conscientious. They will go to any amount of trouble, when it makes sense to them, to help those in need. ISFJs operate most comfortably in situations where the rules are well defined and where traditions are to be upheld. They focus on providing practical help and services for others, and for the organizations they serve. They are often self-effacing in getting the job done, and they are willing to make necessary sacrifices, especially for their families. They are at their best quietly providing assistance and making sure things are in proper order.
Naturally, my ego was momentarily boosted, as it mentions none of my flaws (which, of course, abound plentiful and would be much longer than the quiz’s descriptive paragraph). Still, even though I’d heard this all before, this time it made me remember. Suddenly, I was ten again, standing in front of my mom, who was hurting and angry, seeing her tears. I didn’t always understand the sadness and its expressions, but I recognized the emotion. I would sit beside her. I didn’t know what to say, so I’d say nothing. Regardless of the cause, there was pain. And I wanted to soothe it. In my teenage and early college days, this need to soothe pain would become an addiction. I managed to avoid dealing with much of my own pain by comforting others and getting lost in volunteerism. Both as a child sitting with my mother while we pondered the mysterious whereabouts of my father and a college student, losing myself in volunteerism, I honestly never felt anger. I heard from professors, read from experts and was repeatedly told in multiple formats that anger is necessary to heal from trauma. It’s one of the stages. But I was afraid of anger. So I chose to smother it. If, in order to heal, I had to experience anger, I’d almost prefer to stay stuck in Denialville.
One time, my dad built me two bookcases to hang on my walls. He hung them up. I did not like them, even though they were well-built. I didn’t like them because I knew what he was doing. I knew that he was trying to “buy” both my affection and my silence. He thought he could make me a new bookcase and buy my love. Despite the horrible things that were happening in the middle of the night, despite knowing that I felt as though those horrible things were my fault (I left a window of the car opened and it rained, thus, I must have deserved it or I failed another stinking math test so, I deserved it, etc), despite never apologizing for any of those things, he could just build me a bookcase, and I’d be okay. He could go out and mysteriously bring home unexplained cash with which to buy necessary things, and, in so doing, his other traumatizing behaviors would, simply, vanish. Things would be okay. Things would be forgotten. He told me that. That I was so young, I’d never remember it. And besides, if I was a REALLY good girl, it wouldn’t happen at all.
So. I did not like those bookshelves and I did not want them on my wall. So I took them off.
At the time, I told myself that it was my room and it was okay if I didn’t want them hung up. I told myself they weren’t the right color. I told myself they weren’t big enough to even hold all my books. I told myself lots of excuses, because I did not want to admit the truth.
I was angry, and I’d had enough. Frankly, it is is still hard for me to admit that. I really, really don’t like anger. And I really, really try to avoid it. But the truth is, I’m not oblivious to that emotion. I never have been. Then, I took the bookshelves down. I’d had enough and I erupted just like a volcano. In a silent, subtle way, granted, but still….I erupted. All the hurt, all the emotions, that were boiling under my skin just like hot water will, finally burst through the skin. I was too scared to do much, but I could take the bookshelves off my walls. When Breathe was born, and I realized that there was a real possibility he’d soon be released from prison and potentially hurt my daughter, I decided that was unacceptable. I couldn’t confront him, but I could tell my mom. I couldn’t testify in open court, but I could record my statement to the one in charge. I erupted.
As I started thinking about all the times I’ve gotten angry and passed it off or shoved the experience deep into my subconscious, something rather profound hit me like a ton of bricks: God gets angry. And when He gets angry, He rather explodes too. I mean, just look at Sodom. The Flood. The plagues of Egypt. He’d had enough. He wasn’t playing and He intended to let the people know it. I’ve always known this. I grew up having my mom tell us these stories all the time. But, even though He gets angry, He is still good. Today, in service, my pastor broke out, seemingly spontaneously, into the old song “How Great Thou Art” and my heard exploded with joy. Because, yes, God gets angry. But He doesn’t leave scars on His children. He doesn’t strike out without warning and then disappear. Instead, He gets angry, issues the consequence, and then, as the song Rock of Ages, illustrates, allows me to “hide myself in thee.” He gets angry. But then He consoles. The story of the prodigal son comes to mind. The father actually had the right to be angry. He had the right to punish his son. Instead, his arms opened wide and he cried for joy upon seeing the son. God does the same thing, of course. He may get angry, but He is still the father. He is still exuding love. And He still dispenses joy, too.
I’m frightened of anger. I’m frightened of confrontations. I start shaking when voices raise, or when I feel anger emanating from someone else. I run faster than a deer from violence of any sort. I strongly believe that the resolution to problems is through rational, calm discussion. When I can’t win, then I strongly believe it’s wisest to turn and walk away, before someone gets hurt from the sharp blades of anger. The other day, while trying to find my way to Criminal Minds (one of only about three half-way decent shows currently on the box, if you ask me), I came upon a dating show in which the two people were walking together on a rope 30 floors above a busy LA street. That’s about how scary anger is to me. But then something else occurred to me. They were attached to harnesses. Even if they jumped from the rope, they would not hit the ground. The harness would prevent that. To experience anger is pretty much the same thing for me as if I were on that tightrope 30 floors above a busy LA street. Heart attack waiting to happen. I decided I’d rather suffer in silence than admit to, or certainly express, anger, no matter how justified or overdue it might be. My problem was that I forgot that I’m permanently attached to a harness too, just like that couple on TV. The only difference is my harness isn’t a rope, it’s a being named God. See, I thought the only things that came from anger were violence and emotional pain. Words are much stronger than sticks, and much more dangerous. I knew that. So I ran from anger. Honestly, I still sometimes do.
But the truth is that anger is a God-given emotion. It is supposed to fulfill a purpose. You get angry because you care about something. You get angry because something is important to you, somehow. You get angry because you are hurt and have a right to let that be known. You get angry because you’re human. And God created you. When Moses broke the tablets because he was so mad, God gave him new tablets. When Jesus overthrew the moneychangers in the temple, it taught believers around the globe that the church is different from, as my pastor said, “malls, theaters or the like.” Anger, when properly handled, can serve as a bridge to understanding.
I am better now. I have learned that anger isn’t always something to fear. When Joe gets mad at me for something, I don’t like it, but I don’t believe he’s going to hurt me or disappear. I know he’s not. And our anger will pass, at which time we’ll be able to have an actually intelligent conversation again. Of course, there are still guidelines to handling anger. Stick to the issue, not the person, number one. Listen, number two. State clear reasons for why you’re hurt and angry. Accept the other person’s explanation. Leave it be. But, when followed, these guidelines make anger something not to fear but to experience. If we never got angry, racial separation would probably still exist. Slavery might even still exist. If we never got angry, we wouldn’t be the United States because we’d have been too afraid to fight for independence. If we never got angry, Jesus wouldn’t have died and the whole world would still be without redemption. If we never got angry, the love we feel for our spouses, family and friends would be shallow because we wouldn’t have to accept all parts of them, even their flaws. If we never got angry, some of the greatest, and most important, accomplishments of our history would probably not have happened. Anger, when it’s good, can produce change. And that is nothing to be scared of. It’s not really anger that’s so scary, it’s the manifestation of said anger that frightens us so. We don’t want to be hurt physically. We don’t want to be demeaned emotionally. But the Bible teaches self control (it’s one of the fruits of the Spirit), and if we exercise self control and make sure we treat those we are angry at with respect and grace, then we have nothing to fear.
Especially when we remember that both parties, the offending and the victim, are secured by the love of the Father’s harness.