Last Friday night, I took my wife out to a nice restaurant for her birthday. The kids were at a Parent’s Night Out event, so we were finally on our own again. This doesn’t happen often enough for us, now in our 50s and still raising two little girls.
After a great dinner, we took a stroll out toward the bay overlooking the water here in Naples. It had been a long, tough week of facing some major decisions. I’d experienced some things that greatly angered me. However, everything was at peace now, and all seemed right with the world.
“I love where we live,” I said, looking over the sparkling lights around us in the night.
My wife looked at me strangely and said, “Well, that has to be God.” Because when I left this place almost four years ago, I hated every square inch of it.
It was almost the same thing an older lady we knew before said to me only last week.
“When you left, you said you hated Naples. What changed?”
That’s simple. I did.
We moved back to Naples after a 3-year absence last March, literally one week before COVID-19 shut everything down. During our first 11 years living here, we’d been through a lot. I’d gone from one frustrating job to another one, exchanging one set of frustrations for another. The one constant we’d known the whole time was struggle.
Additionally, we got involved in fostering children during those years. A great blessing that led to our 5 and 6-year-old daughters we have now. But apart from them, we found more heartache in the foster system than we could bear.
After raising a 3-year-old girl for almost two of those years, criminals who were the biological parents had her removed from our home. They were afraid we were going to try and adopt her. And they were absolutely right. We would have done anything to save her from the life she’d be sentenced to live with them.
But in the end, biology prevailed, the courts turned a blind eye, and our hearts were devastated. We’d never see that child again.
Years of frustration, stress, and grief now overwhelmed us. If we could just go somewhere and not be reminded of it, I thought, maybe we would finally heal. So when I finally drove out of this town, I prayed I’d never see it again.
So we moved on and tried to forget. We let new scenery distract us. We fought new battles and tried to make a difference like we had before. But there was just one problem.
Anger doesn’t let you go because you’ve walked away. That’s because it never resided in a town, a house, or the people around you. It was always in you, like those demons trapped in a herd of swine.
Only this time, you are the herd.
When you let anger consume you, that’s just what it does. It burns up the best part of you, leaving nothing but charred remains.
Finally, I found a key in a Scripture passage I’ve rarely heard preached effectively:
“When an evil spirit leaves a person, it goes into the desert, seeking rest but finding none. Then it says, ‘I will return to the person I came from.’ So it returns and finds its former home empty, swept, and in order. Then the spirit finds seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they all enter the person and live there. And so that person is worse off than before. That will be the experience of this evil generation.” – Matthew 12:43-45
Jesus is warning us that even if we get away from what’s dogging us, that’s not enough. The evil spirit leaving initially doesn’t mean he’s given up. He will come back with friends in tow unless you do one important thing.
It is not enough just to sweep your soul clean. You must fill the empty spaces in your heart with worship and thankfulness to God.
In other words, your heart must be too full for evil to enter.
I believe this is part of the trouble my friends struggling with addictions experience. “Getting clean” isn’t enough. “Getting filled with God again” is the key. So you must go through two steps. You must rid yourself of the anger. Then you must replace it with something better.
A vacuum is always dying to be filled. If you don’t fill it, someone or something will.
Now that we’ve been back in Naples for about 9 months, I see new hurts starting to arise. Disappointments and betrayals begin to pile up again. I’ve felt anger rising up in me again recently, and it’s really quite an amazing thing.
I’ve discovered you can get quite a bit done fueled by anger. After struggling to diet for months, I’ve found myself not needing to eat that often. My anger can be useful in stressful situations. God made us that way because self-preservation is an important instinct. But at some point, you have to get past it, or it will destroy you.
Anger is like a booster shot of energy. It will sometimes give you the power to do hard things. But you can’t live on it long-term. Anger will ultimately destroy you if you don’t let it go and restock your heart with better things.
We just do what the Bible says: “Be angry, and sin not.” It’s not a sin to be angry. But it will lead to great sin if allowed to stay too long.
I’m so glad we are back in the place that truly is home. We have many great friends here, but many hurts as well. And we’ll have many more of both in the future.
When the hurts come, here’s my advice. Before anger consumes you, just make like a Disney princess, and “let it go.” Confrontation, dealing directly with it, is the only way out. Running away won’t help you. Let God fill you with forgiveness before it’s too late.
Dave Gipson is a husband, father of 4 adopted children and one biological child, former foster parent, and pastor at Naples Family Church of Naples, FL. An author, Dave's new highly acclaimed book, "The Seven Surprises: Everyday Epiphanies on Being a Better Human Being," is now available. He also contributes regular commentaries to the Naples Daily News as well as other international publications. He has served churches for the last 25+ years, from Florida to the inner-city of Chicago. Rev. Gipson holds his ordination in the Southern Baptist denomination, and has two earned Masters degrees in Religion and Divinity. Read more at http://davegipson.net.Follow him on Twitter at @realdavegipson.