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.