Last week’s post about, “How to Have It Out Without Making It Worse,” generated a lot of good interaction. One person asked about the challenge not to go to bed angry. While most people would agree with the principle, the struggle is what to do when an issue can’t be solved in one day. If I’m angry with my spouse, does that mean I can’t ever go to bed?
Science Confirms It
Before we dive into the question itself, it may be helpful to mention a scientific study that warns of the danger of going to bed angry. A joint team from China and the United States tested the impact of sleep on memory. The participants were shown images that they were trained to associate with negative memories and then afterwards they were asked to fight against the negative associations. Half the group was tested soon after the training. The other half was tested after a night’s sleep. Brain scans showed that the people who had ‘slept on it,’ had a much harder time suppressing the negative memories. Sleep tended to lock in the negative thoughts and made them harder to shake.
Let’s look again, now, at what the Bible actually says about going to bed angry.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
The appeal is to confront your anger – to deal with it in a way that doesn’t result in sin and to do so quickly. Going to bed angry allows the anger to harden into bitterness and gives Satan an opportunity to stir up new opportunities to sin. One way not to go to bed angry is to resolve the problem that caused our anger. If possible, that’s ideal. But the verse doesn’t specifically say to do that. Resolving the problem that caused the anger is just one good option. Let’s consider some of the other ways you can avoid going to bed angry.
1. Call a truce and set a time to deal with it. If you’re exhausted and tensions are high, it may be difficult to make progress in dealing with an issue. Make it clear to your spouse that this is something that’s important to you and you want to try and resolve it. Set a time when you’re both in a healthy frame of mind. And having done that, get rid of your anger. Remind yourself that you’re both committed to dealing with the issue and trust that you’ll be able to resolve it.
2. Accept that there are some issues you’ll never resolve. There’s a reason that 1 Corinthians 13 is read at weddings, with its reminders that “Love is patient” (v. 4), “love bears all things” (v.7) and “endures all things” (v. 7). There’s a reason that marriage vows involve commitments “for better or for worse.” Healthy marriages are built on the recognition that the relationship will be tough at times – because it won’t always go the way we’d like. You won’t always agree. You won’t always see things the same way. And so you commit, in advance, to love each other anyway. Next time, you’re tempted to anger on your pillow, take out your Bible and read and re-read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, confessing ways that you fall short of its calling.
3. Let God be the Judge, so you don’t have to be. Trying to sort out where our anger comes from is important. Frustration and hurt often evolve into feelings of revenge. We feel hurt by our spouse and we’re going to make them feel our pain! Some people express that through shouting, others through the silent treatment. But revenge isn’t healthy for anyone and it isn’t an option for a Christian. The Bible instead gives a surprising alternative: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). When we let God be the Judge, we don’t have to be. When we realize that God will right every wrong and repay every sin, we can lay aside our feelings of revenge and our anger with it.
I pray that God will help you to go to bed free of anger tonight, and that prayer and constructive dialogue will replace the hostility and brooding that Satan would love to use in our lives.
In awe of Him,