Walking with Anger

I recently read John Gustav-Wrathall’s blog post about being angry with the church – until he wasn’t. The part that stood out to me was his call to members to walk with those who are angry, something he called heat resistant love. He points out that anger is a natural reaction and knows that forgiveness can’t be forced. “So I plead with my fellow Latter-day Saints, have patience with our white-hot anger. One of the best ways for it to run its course is for it to be heard out. Your love for us has to be heat resistant if you want to walk with us. If you want to minister, if you want to help, you need to hear us and walk with us even in our anger.”

I remember being at a different place in my faith and how hard it was for me to listen to that fire raging. I didn’t like how it made me feel and I remember wanting to fix things and naively thinking I could. Now struggling with my own anger toward the church, I need my friends and family to walk with me. I need my stories to be heard.

Too often in the church the rhetoric is that we should be slow to anger and if we don’t forgive the greater condemnation is on us. This can be especially difficult for victims of abuse to hear and I believe unhelpful for anyone working toward forgiveness and healing.

In The Book of Forgiving by Desmond Tutu and his daughter, Mpho Tutu, they explain a four-step process of forgiveness: Telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness, and renewing or releasing the relationship. While laying out a path, they do not prescribe what this process would look like for each individual, instead allowing time and space for people to go through each stage without shame for what one might be feeling or how long it takes to forgive. The critical first step is to “let the truth be heard in all its rawness, in all its ugliness, and in all its messiness.”

They point to the need for a safe place to share our pain in a way that is validating. “When people are hurting, they cannot be cross-examined out of their pain.” They do not advocate that every hurt be expressed to every person, but that people find a safe person who will not judge or shame them for their feelings.

So what has that looked like for me? A ministering sister who did not defend the church when I voiced my concerns. A family member who did not dismiss abuse by saying it happens in every church. An Exponent community who again and again and again validates and holds space for women to speak up and tell their stories.

My journey in the church has been rocky, but I have been blessed with people who have walked with me through my anger and pain. There are so many people hurting. We can all find ways to listen better so no one has to bear their burden alone.


Tirza lives in New England with her husband and four kids. She spends as much time as possible reading, sleeping, and playing outside.

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5 Responses

  1. Em says:

    This rings a bell with me in a way that I hope won’t seem like I’m infantilizing your experience, because that isn’t my intent. I have been reading parenting articles about two year olds hitting (a big problem at our house) and one that strikes me as true here too is that the hitting isn’t about trying to cause pain, it’s an expression of frustration/fear that has no outlet. It recommended preventing the child from hitting, but encouraging him to express the feeling and to not be alarmed or upset by screaming, falling down, needing a hug, hitting a pillow, running around yelling etc. Feelings need to be let out and as a parent what you should do is be a safe place for your child. Obviously what you’re talking about here is the mature experience of adults, but it feels true to me still — what adults in pain need is not that different from what children in pain need — a stable, trustworthy, loving person to help them sort through the feeling and make them feel safe again. Lecturing, punishing, hitting back — those things don’t help and usually make things much worse.

    Now the difficulty of implementing…

  2. Anna says:

    First of all, thanks for mentioning that hurting people do not need to be pressured into forgiveness. They need love and they need to have someone who is willing to listen to their pain and prove to them that they did not deserve to be hurt because they are worth love. What people who have only had life’s blisters don’t understand is that big hurts like a broken leg do not heal without medical intervention and they take much longer to heal even with medical intervention. We would never tell someone who was paralyzed in an accident by a drunk driver that as soon as they forgive the driver, they will walk again. So, why do we tell the sexual abuse victim that their pain and anger are only because they have not forgiven? Most likely with abuse, they have “forgiven” the offender by blaming themselves. So, more forgiving of the offender is counter productive and what they need is a good dose of anger against the offender.

    Second, I was listening to the Mormon Tab Music and the Spoken Word as I read this and noticed another way the church pressures those who are hurting to stuff their feelings and go out and serve others. He mentioned the oft repeated advice that rather than focusing on your own hurts, to help others. And how this reminds you that your problems are really small. He talked about a woman who had been abused was now helping other women in that situation, and how Vets who suffered PTSD can help others through theirs. Well, that is great if your problems are relatively minor, or already healed and all you have left is to stop feeling sorry for yourself. But when you are bleeding to death isn’t the time to help someone else. It is like that example air lines remind us of you put on your own oxygen mask before helping others. Similarly, one of my psychology professors taught that we should all go to a therapist ourselves even/especially if we didn’t think we had any psychological problems. He said the very WORST psychologists were the ones who had not worked through their own issues. You cannot give from an empty bucket. A woman who is still with her abuser cannot help other women who are in abusive situations, nor can a Vet who is falling apart at any mention of combat situations help another Vet who is falling apart at anything that reminds him of combat situations.

    Sure, when your hurt is a blister you will forget your blister in helping someone who is bleeding to death. But no one should be telling the person who is bleeding to death that they will forget their own problems by helping others.

  3. Ziff says:

    Thanks for this review, Tirza.

    “When people are hurting, they cannot be cross-examined out of their pain.”

    This is such an excellent point! Because this totally hits what is such a common response to people expressing hurt over church-related things.

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