Why Sammy Screamed, and What I Told Him

Sam screamed again. It was late, and he was exhausted, and through that thin veil of tiredness his anger broke through. He sat in his bed, and he wailed. Sometimes his cries took the form of a long, drawn-out “Nooooooooooo” to no one in particular – at other times they came out in short, staccato bursts.

I heard him from the kitchen and flew into the room, prepared to drop the hammer. I couldn’t imagine any situation in which this kind of screaming was necessary or acceptable. Then I turned the corner.

His little face was red, his jaw clenched. Hot tears filled his eyes. I scooped him from his bed and stared at him, prepared to say, once again, “No! This is not cool!” But I found myself saying something entirely different.

First I hugged him. His legs stuck straight down like tiny two-by-fours, and his arms stayed stiff at his side. I held him as close as I could, and I whispered into his ear.

“Sam, it’s okay, you can be angry. I’m just going to hold you.”

* * * * *

I’m learning this: it’s okay to be angry.

I grew up in a charismatic, evangelical church in an Anabaptist community – anger has always been totally unacceptable. Displays of anger were considered a complete loss of control. We tried to pretend to accept anger by saying, “Anger’s okay as long as you don’t act on it,” but that’s just another way of saying that anger isn’t okay, because anger nearly always drives us to some sort of action.

For years I’ve denied my anger toward other people, whether it be the guy who took my parking space or the person who disagreed with my way of thinking. Don’t get angry. Anger isn’t the right way to respond. I’ve denied my anger towards those I love. I’ve denied my anger towards God.

But all this denying has only fostered a form of passive-aggressive behavior – anger can’t be held inside. It always emerges, usually later, usually misdirected.

I’m learning this: it’s okay to be angry.

* * * * *

“Sammy, it’s okay if you’re angry. I’m just going to hold you.”

And each time I said that, I felt his little muscles loosen. His enraged screams turned to heartfelt whimpers and then those trembling sobs. I know it’s a worn out cliche, but he literally melted in my arms.

Then I slid into the bed with him on my chest. Every so often, his little body would seize up as the anger resurfaced, then he would shudder, take a deep breath, and sigh again. Relax.

“It’s okay,” I whispered again and again. “You can be angry if you want to. I’m just going to hold you.”

* * * * *

You can approach God honestly. You can scream at him and tell him how unfair your life is and how it doesn’t seem like he’s there. You can question him and demand answers. You can weep and blame him for your tears.

You can get angry at God.

He can handle it.

24 Replies to “Why Sammy Screamed, and What I Told Him”

  1. So appreciate this, Shawn. When we deny that we are angry, we deny ourselves, as you said, and we also deny that there are any things worth being angry about . . . but there are, so many things that deserve our anger. So many things that should make us so angry that we get all stiff like Sammy with it.

    Thank you.

  2. Precisely what I needed this morning–particularly living in Brethren/Anabaptist culture for many years. Thank you. I need to be angry for a while.

  3. Your words touched me. Makess me feel better to know that “you can be angry with God, He can handle it”. Maybe we are all like little Sammy. Maybe we should have heard those words in our childhood and perhaps would not grown up to join the ranks of the “passive aggressive”

  4. I don’t know that I’m angry at God, but I’m certainly pouting at minimum. Why did He give me so many gifts and then stack the deck in such a way that it is hard to use them? Why did He trip me at the starting blocks and then urge me to run faster ever after? Why won’t He speak up? Aaaaargh!

  5. I don’t think I’d still be a Christian if I didn’t believe God could handle anger. I still need to work on how I express anger here on earth but I’m grateful God wants to hear it all and can handle it.

  6. So much wisdom, here. So many children do not have their feelings validated on a daily basis, and so they begin to mistrust them, or worse, to pretend they aren’t there. But they are there, and sometimes they hurt and dammit, sometimes we are just straight up pissed. You are a good dad, and you have a wise Father. He can handle your anger. You know that.

    1. Thanks, Jen. I know it’s probably pretty hard for you to imagine that a child who runs around yelling “Red Rockham!” might have a tantrum now and again.

  7. Whew, I can sure relate to this, first because our little guys are the same age and we have lots of moments like this. I don’t always respond as loving as you did. And second because I do this plenty in my own life. Thanks for sharing this precious story.

  8. The third time I read this I realized something. The last time I was mad to tears over a horrible thing that happened- what i really longed for was to be hugged and told it was ok to be angry.

  9. This is the first time I’ve heard the ridiculousness of “anger is ok as long as you don’t act on it.” You point out a great truth in that it’s the same as invalidating anger. Perhaps “venting” sounds too, um, pop culturish, but I really think there’s a place for that. There’ve been times the only reason I’m ok with God on the throne is because I tried to knock Him off of it first.

    Thanks for sharing.

  10. This really resonated with me Shawn – thanks for sharing – as a young person, I too was taught that anger is not OK – and expressing it was even worse – it has taken me almost a lifetime to shed that ingrained reaction when I get angry – and I do get angry – I am not sure why the Anabaptists seem ignore the part where Jesus gets angry at the moneychangers in the Temple – angry enough to express himself by overturning tables! – I’ve been trying to shed Anabaptist “rules on how to get to Heaven” for most of my life, but the teachings are so ingrained that it is difficult – thanks again for the wonderful post

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