Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Anger

I am angry today, and words do not always come easily when I'm angry. But I want to write, because if there is one thing I know about anger, it is that it kills grace. It stifles it in my own life when the anger overwhelms me to the point that I feel nothing else. It is hard to dance free and unbound when you are holding on to something that weighs you down. But I also want to understand how, in the midst of anger, do I extend grace to the one who has created the situation that angers me?

Life is messy and people aren't perfect. We are always going to be running up against people who either intentionally or not cause those emotional reactions to rise up within us. They rain on our parade, they make mistakes and blow them off, they treat us as if we are not worthy of love or respect. They are human. We are human.

In Psalm 37:8 we are told to refrain from anger and turn from wrath. Furthermore, we are told, do not fret because it leads only to evil. I looked at the definition of the word fret, and the most common definition is to feel or express worry, discontent, annoyance, etc. But the remainder of the definitions go a little deeper. They talk about eroding, eating away, and the sense of something that eats at you. The word fret comes from the Old English word fretan meaning ‘to devour' and was often used when speaking of monsters. The original Hebrew word used in the passage is charah, which carries overtones of burning, kindling, heating oneself to vexation.

To expect ourselves never to get angry at all is to deny our human condition. But what do we do with our anger when it comes? How many of us fret over it, allowing the incident to consume us, to devour us from the inside out? Monster indeed; I can think of many times that my anger has eaten at me to the point at which I feel almost physically devoured. And how often do we allow our anger to heat to the point that it burns those around us?

So how do we tame this devouring beast, this raging fire? How do we reach that place of calm again?

  1. We acknowledge that it is ok to be angry. Earlier this week J's school made a mistake that caused me several minutes of panic, thinking that something had happened to my child. It was a mistake that shouldn't have happened. But mistakes happen and that is not what I was angry about. I was angry that they refused to acknowledge their part in the mistake and in fact attempted to shift the blame off their shoulders and onto mine. It was ok to be angered by that because it was their attempt to devalue my response and keep the upper hand.

  2. We give voice to our emotions; we declare ourselves worthy of having our voice be heard. If you cannot do it in the heat of the moment without losing your temper, try writing it down in a moment when you are feeling calmer. I have learned that one of the most effective ways for me to keep from yelling at my children at this point in my life is simply to tell them "I am angry right now. I am going to go into the other room for a minute until I calm down." Sometimes I will tell them why I am angry, but I am careful never to blame them for my anger. Blame can be a flame that burns the person it is directed at.

  3. We move on. Once we have voiced our feelings and our opinions the ball is in the other person's court. They may or may not acknowledge it. They may acknowledge it in ways we don't want to hear. It is no longer in our control. I sent a letter to the school detailing why I was upset. They may respond; they may ignore it. I cannot change what they will do, so my choice is to either continue to let my anger devour me (it won't make any difference to them) or I can let it go. Letting go frees me. It takes the weight off my shoulders and lets me concentrate on grace, on the things that make me happy, on loving my children. Oh, there are some instances in which we may not want to let it go; anger over injustice, prejudice and the like is not something to give up on, even if the other party doesn't respond favorably. In those cases we can still move on; we can move on to other actions that solve the problem in other ways. But staying stuck in our anger immobilizes us; it keeps us from finding the better solution.


I'm not angry anymore. I've said what I need to, and I refuse to be devoured any longer. I had enough grace for myself to allow myself a voice, and enough grace for others to allow them to choose their final response. I will not let grace be bound by anger.

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