When I was 18 years old, I was going through massive culture shock and was extremely scared I’d lose my faith.
It was a phase I would have had to go through sooner or later, considering my temperament. If I hadn’t been homeschooled before arriving at a triumphantly progressive, secular East Coast university, I might’ve had to go through it sooner–say, in middle school or highschool. And if I’d gone to a small liberal arts christian college instead (like I wanted to at the time), I would have had to eventually deal with it, though later rather than sooner.
Anyway, I processed it eventually. It’s a long story, which I’ve blogged about before. The point of this blog is about incidental to it. By the end of freshman year, I was struggling with moments of doubt, i had a couple panic attacks. But I was also very angry — my siblings would flee the room as I started on one of my rants that, as my kid sister put it ” your speech about how the world is falling apart and there will be no right or wrong and people are just going to become pedophiles and go to hell.” That was just one of the rants. Most of them I was silent about.
Now, most of them stemmed from pain, and incidents that did cause pain. And looking back, I did have a right to be in pain over much of it. But the anger was less connected to the pain as it was to the fear.
I thought by being angry, I could keep myself separate from what would swallow me, the overwhelming mindset I saw around me– a grey cloud of ash, in which everything became flippant and meaningless, and it was filling my lungs with every breath, and it would choke me and take me and undo me, into one of those empty person-shaped holes in the excavation of Pompeii, that the archeologists filled with plaster to see.
It became like a bitterness inside me, I would see things that would make me so angry I’d get dizzy and nauseous. But it didn’t do any good.
Anger doesn’t fuel conviction. You think it will, but it doesn’t. It does the opposite.
It took me the next few years of undergrad to realize that. Even righteous anger soon turns to a kind of bitterness that corrodes. Not just bitterness over personal injuries & slights –but anger over world injustices, destructive ideologies, sexual exploitation, human rights violations, ethical misconduct.
It is something I have to keep learning, again and again, in different areas of my life. Religion, politics, child abuse, human trafficking, treatment of women….
Somehow, I keep thinking — this anger is a holy anger — I must bottle it up and hold onto it, and forge it into a well-meaning hatred, a rage that will make me wise and strengthen my convictions, hold onto Truth & Righteousness… but it doesn’t.
I don’t think it does for anyone. People keep thinking it will. They think that righteous indignation, a cultivated rage against [XYZ]. It seems particularly tempting to idealistic activist types in their twenties and thirties, in movements from the pro-life movement to the anti-poverty social justice movements.
We have to forgive not just those who personally hurt us, but people who hurt people we love, and God for letting it happen, and the universe, and all the people that contribute to the systematic problem that partially caused it. Only love for the good — for God, for people’s well-being, for children, for human persons, for women, can give us the strength to go on, and not lose head nor heart.
For some reason, I keep forgetting this as I apply the unforgiveness-for-supposed-good to different areas of my life. Or maybe I’m just realizing how many different aspects of my life have to be cleansed of it. As a saintly older woman I know said, “Sometimes God only shows us the partial truth about ourselves, a little at a time, because we would just despair if we saw it all at once.”