A few years ago I stood with my arms crossed, my feet squarely planted at the bottom of our stairs. I quietly asked myself — is it okay to be angry at God?
You see, my young daughter stood a few steps up, face red, fists clenched. We were going head to head about something. I don’t remember what. My chest tight and my cheeks hot, I’m sure I had offered the words that I usually offered in moments like this: “It’s okay to be mad, but it’s not okay to hurt people while you’re mad.” She was yelling, spewing her anger all over the place. We exchanged a few more words, and then my daughter slumped onto a step, hung her head, and began to cry, her anger melting to sadness. As she began to talk about her tears, I felt the muscles in my body relax and I sat down next to her to listen.
I recognized the shift in myself while it was happening, and a lightbulb went off: I’m comfortable with sadness, but not so much with anger.
Don’t get me wrong: I get all kinds of angry (my kids will testify to this). But I had subconsciously relegated anger into the “not okay” category of emotions. I would have told you otherwise, but after that moment on the stairs, I realized that my tendency is to try to shut anger down, make it end as quickly as possible.
I’m learning that part of living as the whole person God created me to be, means I need to be honest about my feelings—all of them.
What We Learn About Emotions At Home
I sat at a table with 8 or 9 others in a make-shift classroom, discussing emotions and spirituality. Almost everyone around the table shared that in their families growing up there were unspoken rules about emotions: which ones were okay, which ones were not, how /how long or loudly you could express your feelings, who was permitted to cry and who wasn’t.
Boys don’t cry. Good, nice people don’t get angry. Emotions—happy or otherwise—need to be expressed quietly so that no attention is drawn to us. Crying will make us look weak and silly. Gushing with joy will show we care too much. The rules go on and on, and you can likely name some that you grew up with, if you stop and think for a while.
We internalize these rules, assigning judgment to emotions and to ourselves when we have them.