I once equated anger with weakness. I wondered, “What good is anger?” and “Do good Mormons even get angry?” This idea influenced me so heavily that I believed I could skip over the second stage of grief when my father died. I had the gospel and eternity, so wouldn’t anger betray this knowledge?
As a young teenager, I tried to skip anger because facing it hurt too much. I wanted the gospel to instantly fix my gaping wound of grief, but it couldn’t. I desperately clung to public professions of hope, while privately plunging into a deep well of depression. The testimony comes in the bearing, right? Except grief can hold space with belief; I just didn’t know this yet. I thought I avoided anger, but ignoring it only led to a numbing, seemingly bottomless, hopelessness and grief.
I didn’t know at 14 that I’d experience different kinds of grief; that the five stages would apply not only to losing someone I loved, but to grief over love, friendship, youth, naivete, innocence, ignorance, and faith. I didn’t know that I could hold room for hope, anger, love, and grief simultaneously or how often adulthood would mean juggling all four.
Therapy taught me to make room for my anger; to sit with it, wrestle it, let it go, and even live with it. Anger wasn’t my enemy, but more of a companion. Okay, let’s be honest: more of an uninvited guest. I could ignore anger, but I’d eventually have to acknowledge it. In fact, I could even learn to use it.
My anger comes in stages too. I’ve certainly been consumed by an anger that fueled nothing but furious words, rejection, and refusal to see anything else. That anger alienated others, including God, and consumed my energy with fruitless raging. But I didn’t care. Anger is intimate with depression, guilt, fear, and betrayal. It’s often necessary to welcome in and court anger to move through and beyond these feelings; to transform anger into a new kind of fuel.
Thankfully, moving through anger also fuels renewal, acceptance, passion, and action. When we allow ourselves to process anger, it does not paralyze us. Listening to anger is essential if we want to be more than angry. People who have a healthy relationship with anger do something about problems. They fight for equality. They stand up to and for others. They act with conviction and purpose.
Walking with anger and then using it, rather than succumbing to it, allows me to find peace and hope within my faith journey. Not everyone will agree with where I’ve walked with anger: joining Ordain Women, writing for the Exponent, speaking up about harmful, patriarchal processes, and defining “faithful” for myself. And that’s okay. I know I can’t simply ignore anger. I don’t want to allow it to consume me. So, I use it instead to fuel actions that I believe are worthwhile, meaningful, and important.
And sometimes this means that I save my angry energy for change outside of Mormonism because I don’t want to waste it on fruitless efforts. And there’s grief in that too.