I wonder what goes through a snake’s mind. I’ve seen blacksnakes and garter snakes. I’ve chased water snakes at a lake. I’ve seen many different kinds of snakes in my lifetime, but had never seen a poisonous snake (in the wilds) until I started to ride my bicycle near Ohiopyle – on the Great Allegheny Passage.
I wonder if a poisonous snake knows it’s poisonous. Do poisonous snakes know they can send people to the hospital? Do poisonous snakes intentionally hurt people who don’t want to harm them? I wonder if a snake (like the copperhead that’s pictured above) can be toxic for so long that striking-out at other creatures feels “natural” and “acceptable.”
I’ve always believed that anger is natural. We get angry when others hurt us or take advantage of us. We get angry when people abuse us and physically harm us. We, also, have a right to get angry when others hurt people we love. Anger tells people that they’ve gone too far. Our anger tells people that they’ve crossed-the-line. Anger is quite natural; and, in fact, I get nervous when people tell me that they never get angry.
But, I’ve also seen “toxic anger.” I’ve watched people grow bitter because they can’t forgive. I’ve seen folks drag childhood anger into their adult life. I’ve watched toxic anger ruin friendships and families. Toxic anger alienates people. Toxic anger destroys relationships and leaves a long trail of injured souls behind it. Toxic anger wears-out friends and family members. Toxic anger, ultimately, leaves us alone.
I suspect that the copperhead I saw on the bike trail didn’t intend to intimidate me. I’ve read that copperheads are non-aggressive, and that they usually hope that their enemy will walk away. I’ve read that copperheads “freeze” (so that they blend their surroundings) and that they sometimes don’t inject venom on a first strike. Perhaps, the copperhead that I saw didn’t want to scare me? But it did! I knew that the copperhead could hurt me. I knew that the copperhead could make me sick with its toxic venom. I get scared when I see people with toxic anger, too. I avoid them because they’re harmful. I stay away from them because I don’t want to be hurt. Many people with toxic anger don’t understand that. Perhaps, they’ve been toxic for so long that they no longer realize there’s a problem?
I’m sure we’ve all been hurt. Some of us were physically abused and some of us were betrayed. Some of us have been the victim of a crime, and some of us have been stabbed in the back by someone we trusted. Those things make us angry. Those kinds of things create angry responses that are healthy. But, when we allow our anger to froth and foam for a long period of time, it creates a problem. We can even become somewhat “angry at the world” when anger grows inside us. And that’s when we become toxic. We become “toxic” when we strike-out at people who haven’t done anything wrong. We become “toxic” when we start to hold people accountable for things they didn’t do to us. We become “toxic” when we refuse to release our anger and hold it inside. We can know that our anger has become “toxic” when people withdraw from us because they are tired of being hurt by us and of putting up with our bad behavior.
God helps us to forgive. God helps us to release the hurts we’ve experienced. We can let the past be the past. We can experience freedom from the anger that poisons us when we give-up our “right” to continue punishing those who hurt us. God helps us experience healing in our lives before the anger we hold inside of us destroys us and alienates us from what’s most precious to us.
A copperhead might know that it’s poisonous – and it might not. We sometimes know we have “toxic anger” – and we sometimes don’t. That’s why it’s important to forgive. That’s why it’s important to allow God to work in our lives before our anger gets a life of its own. Is there someone you need to forgive? Have you been hurt in a way that you can’t forgive? Why not allow God to work on that today? Why not allow God to help you release some of the anger in your life before it becomes a “toxin” that destroys what you love the most?