Growing up conservative Christian there were a lot of protocols. Christian culture can be very formulaic. There were the prayers you had to pray a certain way, the testimonies of prescribed narratives that you told, and cookie cutter advice you gave to people in crisis.
One particular policy procedure was how to proceed when you have conflict with others in your community. First, you must recognize that any ill will you have for others is sin and therefore you must privately repent to God in prayer. Then, you must seek ways to reconcile with this person, usually by apologizing for your sin and seeking forgiveness, or work out any miscommunication you have. The end goal is to hug it all out and everyone walks away with a tidy story of the power of grace and a lovely addition to the treasure trove of “testimonies” you now have to give at the next youth group meeting.
Now, I don’t deny that this is sometimes how things work. But human relationships are far more complex than can be prescribed by a protocol, so oftentimes this is in fact not the trajectory of reconciliation. We must make room for other stories of relationship dynamics. As I leave behind my fears of straying from protocol, I am exploring alternatives, often to discover those fears were indeed unfounded.
A few years ago I encountered a woman in my life whom I absolutely despised. She was everything I could not stand in a human being—inauthentic, arrogant, and she bullied people with less power than she. My interactions with her were filled with terribly negative energy and I was constantly angry and drained.
An internal battle raged within me during that time. Everything I was raised to believe was that I was sinning against her because of my anger and hatred. The protocol was for me to repent and change my attitude to one of lovingkindness.
But I couldn’t even if I wanted to, and I didn’t want to. In my late 30s, I’m finally experiencing the adolescent rebellion I never had when I was a teen on fire for God. Instead, I wrote blog posts about being an Angry Christian, and I wrote another one after that. I gave myself big, gigantic permission slips to feel exactly the way I did, which was bitter, angry, and resentful. All of which are extremely taboo in Christian circles.
I wasn’t quiet about it either, I expressed my frustrations to my family and friends, anyone who knew and loved me well enough to want to know how I truly am doing. This was another taboo, as it would be considered slander. But I pushed onward, through all the prohibited activities from my childhood: I railed and raged and let my big feelings rise to the surface. I dared to know what would happen if I simply gave myself free rein to feel what spontaneously emerged from within. I wanted to know if it was true that I was giving my heart to the devil, that I was marring my virtue, or whether my anger would result in devastating consequences.
I did not repent of my sin, as I was starting to become convinced that having normal human feelings isn’t sin. I did not attempt to reconcile this relationship as I really had no interest in having a relationship with toxic characters. I confronted this person’s behavior only in so far as the way she affected me even though it bothered me the way she treated other people as well. I stood my ground and ask she would not treat me poorly and demanded dignity for myself. Then I tried to the best of my ability and circumstances to reduce my contact with this person.
After this, I continued to be triggered if I had to have contact with her, and each time I felt annoyed or angry or upset again, I pushed through, letting myself feel those negative feelings without guilt or shame. I cherished my anger and allowed it to take space in my heart.
Because I let my emotions flow freely, the simultaneous benefit is unleashing all my other feelings as well. I was liberated to feel joy and delight and curiosity, and before long, I was far too busy enjoying the wild surprises this world had to offer. It wasn’t until recently, I came to a sudden realization that I no longer resented this person. I amiably commented on a photo she posted on Facebook and proudly wrote my friend who I had ranted heavily to several years ago with all the drama, to announce, “hey look who I like now!”
I am not repressing any dislike, I genuinely no longer feel anymore animosity.
I am as surprised as the next person. I took a risk that the anger may take root in my soul and spiral into a cycle of hate, turning me into a machine that damages and hurts others. But instead, it just rose to the surface of my psyche and then…dissipated.
As far as I know, the world hasn’t ended, nobody has been hurt, and I learned a valuable lesson. Permission to feel is a wonderful gift.
Might I offer it to you today?