Monday, January 11, 2016

Anger Is Not Your Friend

Are you mad about something? Have feelings of anger been churning inside of you for some reason – or for no reason at all?

From time to time I write about anger, mainly because it’s something we all can relate to based on experience. Anger might be a problem we wrestle with personally. It might be an issue we’ve had to confront in relationships. It might be something we’ve regretfully encountered in the workplace, at school, or even at church. It might be prompted by what we see happening in society. Maybe all of the above.

We live in an increasingly angry world. Disagreements over politics, ideologies, beliefs, even sports teams can propel us into fits of anger. The escalation of gun violence in some ways might be a reflection of the anger that pervades our society. As can be any form of physical, emotional or psychological abuse.

Politicians indulge in angry tirades, and find it garners lots of media attention. Their ardent followers applaud – often snarling with anger of their own. Most popular TV shows and hit movies feature one or more characters that display anger as their constant, controlling companion.

I’ve wrestled with anger myself. At times it still gets the best of me, but be assured, you should have seen me before I met Jesus Christ. I once used anger as a mental 2-by-4 and was more than willing to bludgeon anyone who dared cross me. Now I realize that while anger can tempt me, I don’t have to yield to it.

At times I’ve been the target of anger in the workplace, as well as others I have worked with. Overbearing, self-centered bosses determined there was only one way – and it happened to be their way – were quick to verbally assault those who disagreed. How else would people know who’s the boss, right?

Sadly, we’re all acquainted with anger in many of its unexpected, sometimes volcanic forms. But one thing is certain: It’s not our friend, nor our ally. I was reminded of this while reading a Bible passage that said, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control” (Proverbs 29:11).

Years ago I was working on the editorial desk of a suburban newspaper. One of the editors was known for his outbursts of anger. One morning while reading an article a reporter had written, for whatever cause, the editor took a ruler he was holding – the wooden kind with a hard metal edge imbedded in it – and flung it across the room. Staring in amazement at the ruler’s flight, I saw it whiz past one of the reporters, narrowly missing her ear.

Wow! I have no idea what in the article made the editor so irate, but it’s unlikely flinging a ruler and threatening the well-being of everyone in its path would have improved the content.

Another passage I’ve often reflected on states, “A fool shows his annoyance at once, but a prudent man overlooks an insult” (Proverbs 12:16). These days when we’re offended, society says we’re to let the offending party know about it immediately. “You hurt my feelings!” “You’re intolerant!” “You’re judgmental!” “You’re a jerk!” But this proverb declares that foolishness prompts us to be quick in communicating annoyance.

Patience and anger are uneasy bedfellows at best. Because to be patient means being capable of restraining emotions, including an angry response, whether it be verbal, physical or both. “A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly” (Proverbs 14:29). Again, the Bible asserts that it’s foolish to display uncontrolled anger.

Then there’s my all-time favorite, one I’ve had to revisit – and apply – more times than I could ever remember: “When there are many words, transgression is not avoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Proverbs 10:19). Often in the heat of anger we’re tempted to blurt out whatever we’re thinking and feeling. Minutes or even moments later we realize how unwise our spontaneous statements were. Unfortunately, by that time the damage has been done. While we might be feeling good for having gotten something off our chest, the targets of our wrath remain reeling, with aftershocks still being felt long afterward.

So the trick is simple, although we might agree it’s easier said than done: “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). In other words, give yourself a chance to simmer down, and don’t lash out impulsively when damage control is impossible. Then find a time to talk through differences calmly and reasonably. In a word, whenever necessary, WAIT. I’ll have to make a note of that myself!

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