Have you ever been so angry that you couldn’t think clearly? Just a few weeks ago week we, Cass and Willis, sat across from each other as we addressed an active conflict between us. Hearts pounded, palms sweated, and body language changed as the sense of control evaporated. We were both acutely aware that our friendship and shared mission didn’t exempt us from the realities of conflict.
For many of us, we learn how to respond healthily to our own anger - not by ignoring it, but by appropriately expressing our disappointment or frustration. By God’s grace, we learn this by trial and error, the modeling of others, and growing in the likeness of Jesus. This learning and growth is foundational to finding life to the full.
Understandably, children are still learning how to name and express anger in healthy ways. This is especially relevant for our students, who face so many unjust and disappointing events that are no fault of their own, whether it’s under-resourced schools, ongoing community violence, unstable living situations, and the many daily frustrations of poverty. These events take away safety, certainty, and stability from our youth, leaving them in a world that feels completely out of control. For all too many of our students, this loss of control leads to anger and physical aggression that damages relationships and derails their dreams.
Earlier this fall, we were working with Taylor*, a middle school student who had been acting out, getting into fights altercations on the bus and in rec time. One of our staff helped her find alternative ways to deal with frustration and channel her anger, like taking deep breaths, walking away, and expressing her frustrations through words, not fists. We checked in with Taylor’s mom to stay on the same page and work together. And in the weeks since, we’ve seen her behavior change for the better. Because of the Gospel, we all have the opportunity embrace life to the full and to live into a better way of processing and responding to our God-given emotions.
Will this student ever react negatively out of anger? Possibly. Will we (Willis and Cass) ever have to work towards reconciliation again? Of course, we are not exempt from the realities of conflict. Are we working to mature in our emotional lives as we grow in our discipleship, as well as equipping students for the same? Absolutely! What we often need is someone willing and able to get us out of a jam and then to walk with us as we learn a better way. What we all need is an Emanuel—a God with us—God willing and able to rescue us from our sin and then walk with us as we learn to live life to the full.
Cass Albert & Willis Weber
After School Program
*name and details changed to protect privacy