The next time you feel like writing a nasty letter to someone, go for it. Hold nothing back. Boldly express your feelings. Pour out every ounce of vitriol and animosity in your heart. Then read the following story.
Abraham Lincoln’s secretary of war, Edwin Stanton, was angered by an army officer who accused him of favoritism. Stanton complained to Lincoln, who suggested that Stanton write the officer a sharp letter. Stanton did, and showed the strongly worded missive to the president.
“What are you going to do with it?” Lincoln inquired.
Surprised, Stanton replied, “Send it.”
Lincoln shook his head. “You don’t want to send that letter,” he said. “Put it in the stove. That’s what I do when I have written a letter while I am angry. It’s a good letter and you had a good time writing it, and [you] feel better. Now burn it, and write another.”
While venting our anger in a letter may help us feel better, God has given us an even better way to resolve anger: the direct approach. That is, we need to take our grievances lovingly but directly to those who offend us (not to a friend or a friend of a friend). If the person we address refuses to listen, then the biblical protocol is to bring other Christians as witnesses, to bring the matter before the entire church, and ultimately to put the disorderly person out of the church. If we dealt with our anger God’s way, we would have fewer outbursts and more relational healing.
Have you written your letter yet? Take it and destroy it. Go directly, humbly, and prayerfully to the person who has offended you, and gently explain their offense. Tell them how you would like to see the matter handled the next time. Don’t hold in your feelings so that the anger becomes bitterness. Don’t find someone who agrees with you and get them to take your side. Don’t poison the minds of others by spreading discord. Deal with the situation directly — then forgive and move on.
Devotional by Pastor Jim Scudder, Jr.