Jake and I were driving to preschool / church earlier this week and he said the funniest thing.
He's almost 3 years old, so he says lots of funny things — but this one made me stop with wonder.
"Mommy..." he said, almost sheepishly, taking a deep breath. “Don't let the sun go down on your anger."
Even for a pastor's kid, this was a new one. Where in the world did he get it? I originally thought he was quoting Proverbs. Maybe he'd been watching too many episodes of Veggie Tales. Maybe when he sat in church watching cartoons on daddy's iPhone, he was actually listening...
Wherever it came from, it was astute. I'd been angry with him that week. He was such a great kid, so smart, but he had a knack for potty accidents at exactly the worst times. And on Monday afternoon I got the call from the preschool: "Jacob pooped his pants."
He's supposed to be fully potty trained in order to be enrolled, so this was bad news.
I had about 5 minutes to get down there, help him change, and make it to my 32-week OB appointment for baby boy number two.
"Mommy, are you not happy?"
Not the right question to ask at the moment. The accident alone wasn't a big deal. It was also the ever-present laundry, the car who cut me off, the empty toilet paper roll, adjusting to a cross-country move, the aches and pains of third trimester pregnancy, the way my once-huge maternity jeans now nearly cut off circulation to my legs...
Tears started to come to his eyes: "I want you to be happy. You have to be happy."
It was a beautiful, innocent wish — and ultimately unattainable, perhaps especially during the third trimester of pregnancy. No one is happy all the time. Sometimes, we are angry. And there are things over which to be righteously angry. Maybe it's unjust murders and civil wars. Maybe it's racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, bullying. The way the female body, pregnant or not, is always fair game for comments of desire or derision. The way women can be relegated to one role or another — the saintly mother, the beautiful wife, the promiscuous harlot, the bossy career woman — defining us so narrowly that to occupy multiple roles seems to consist of walking a daily tightrope.
As a mom of two boys I recognize I will bear much of the responsibility for defining womanhood to them. I have the opportunity and the prerogative to teach them about anger — so that they might give permission to the women in their lives to feel it fully, and not let it consume them.
This is, I think, the deeper meaning to Jake's hilariously wise words spoken the other morning in the car. He had changed his tune.
No longer, "Mommy, you have to be happy." Now it was, "Mommy, don't let the sun go down on your anger."
This is a biblical phrase. It comes not from the Old Testament but from the New Testament letter to the Ephesians; Chapter 4, verse 26: Be angry, but do not sin. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.
God seems to have spoken through my 3-year-old, who spoke through the Apostle and letter-writer to the Ephesians: Be angry.
Have you ever met a kind, charitable, church-going woman who always seems right on the verge of anger? She volunteers for all the potlucks. She cleans the church, puts away the folding chairs, leads the choir, helps with Sunday School. She can always be counted on to do what needs to be done, and she loves Jesus.
She is Jesus' disciple, but perhaps all her life she's been told, "Don't be angry. Be happy." She's never been given the permission of Ephesians 4 — to experience anger and frustration and even express it.
We think it's wrong for a woman, much less a mother, to be angry. And so when anger inevitably, righteously, hits us — with its cousin fatigue and its brother frustration — we don't know what to do except to bury it beneath a smile that gets thinner and weaker as the day winds on.
All women cope with our anger differently. Some take kickboxing or Zumba, some mow down a surreptitious box of Dunkin Donuts after drop-off at school. Some drink glasses of wine or pour vodka in water bottles. Some spread nasty, secretive rumors. Some take it out on those whom we love most.
We all get angry, though. It is a function of being human, and I daresay without anger we would never have won women the right to vote, school desegregation, or any other host of advances that came about when people got righteously angry and unleashed the power of justice and the Holy Spirit.
So be angry when you are angry. The Bible says so. Do not be ashamed to say, in the moment, "This is not right. I'm angry."
Then the Bible says this: “Do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
When it's out, when it's expressed, when you've allowed yourself to feel this most natural of human emotions, anger loses its power. You feel it draining from you. God — and those around you — have heard it and felt it, and it no longer weighs only on you but is now shared.
Anger is powerful, but only as a tool. I believe what the letter writer wanted the people of Ephesus to know was that we damage ourselves, and those around us, when we allow a relationship — or a day — to end on our anger. Don't let the anger consume you. Anger must be walked through. It's a means to an end — the end being in reconciliation, in forgiveness, in resurrection.
Feel your anger. Accept it. Don't apologize for it. Let anger's energy empower you for justice and righteousness.
And then when you've expressed it and felt your anger, let it melt away. Allow yourself to smile.