Posts Tagged ‘anger’

Gods handWhether I like it or don’t like it, whether it’s fair or not fair, whether it’s convenient or not, I am a child of the Living God and this is my journey. When calamities happen to people (losses, illness, or trauma) and we did nothing to set the stage for those things to occur (we didn’t drink ourselves into stupors or ride the edges of cliffs), then peace comes only from knowing that God is God. And like many others, I too have been given a set of circumstances to navigate and learn and grow and maybe, just maybe, help someone else.

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
    or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,
    or let the fish in the sea inform you.
Which of all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
In his hand is the life of every creature
    and the breath of all mankind. . . . [Job 12:7-10, NIV]

Throughout these months of grieving over Mike’s death, eight months ago now, people have asked me if I was angry yet. I suppose the implication is that I would become angry at Mike for dying or God for allowing it. But in neither case do I find these to be good material for anger. That’s not to say I haven’t had an array of other emotions like disappointment, sorrow, loneliness, and even misery, but anger, not so much.

Well, that’s not totally true. I did cut loose on my son one day for being so self-absorbed and insensitive to my chaos and insecurities and bafflement. But really, what twenty-two year old would do much better? He’s already boxed up his feelings about his father and he’s uncomfortable with any further displays of anguish. (He can save these up for the therapist down the road.) And perhaps, if I had to analyze that horrible episode, my ravings and tears and emotional collapse into a heap on the floor could have been anger as well, pent up and explosive.

I scared myself that day. I fasted soon after. For a week. Looking for the center of God in me. Again.

In the end, there was only the same certainty, God’s hand is on my situation and with me. My years are not over yet and time will reveal what is still intended for me to know, to live, to walk, to understand. Job figured it out. I guess I can too.

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God listensI have been told, eventually, I would grow angry over the loss of my husband, who died so unexpectedly. It’s only been a couple of months and people may be right, but today, I can’t really generate emotional wrath. With whom should I be angry? Should I blaze at Mike who experienced the widow maker, when a specific artery to the apex of the heart was blocked and caused nearly “sudden death” (or certainly within minutes). Should shake my fists at adult children who didn’t even know their father was home? Should I chastise myself for being out of town . . . again? Or, the most common fury, at God, who allowed or orchestrated this moment. But if Job couldn’t get away with it, why should I? “I know you can do anything; no plan of yours can be opposed successfully. . . . I have indeed spoken about things I didn’t understand, wonders beyond my comprehension.” [Job 42:1, 3, CEB]

Instead, I see God’s hand manifesting in my daily life now in a way that I never did before. Into my confusion, God still is. Into my sorrow, God speaks. Into my fear, God breathes.

Come close and listen, all you who honor God;
I will tell you what God has done for me:
My mouth cried out to him with praise on my tongue.
If I had cherished evil in my heart, my Lord would not have listened.
But God definitely listened.
He heard the sound of my prayer. Bless God!
He didn’t reject my prayer; he didn’t withhold his faithful love from me.
[Psalm 66:16-20, CEB]

Back in the day when I used to speak to women’s groups and conferences as well as perform my one-woman show, I would share my testimony. And at the end of the story, I would always remind them that I was the “woman at the well,” “the woman who washed Jesus’s feet with her hair,” the woman caught in the sin of adultery.” And now, in my widowhood, I am her again, for I am thrown into His mercy.

Today, I am able to stand against the bitterness that stole Naomi’s heart [Ruth 1:20] and instead, I take the refrain of Ruth, ““I am your servant Ruth,” she said. “Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a guardian-redeemer of our family.” [Ruth 3:9b, NIV] It’s enough for today.

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cross with notesYesterday at our Ash Wednesday services, the people were invited to write on a post-it note and stick it to the cross on their way up to communion and ashes. They could put whatever they wanted, but in general, the idea was to write something that might be hindering the way to the cross: a sin, a habit, an attitude.

At the end of the evening, we hadn’t really discussed how to handle the slips, but I felt they were important and so I gathered them up as gently as I could and carried them home. I wanted to pray over them, yes, but I confess, my analytical self was curious. What had people written to Christ. What had they asked about. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be drawing from these confessions for many mirrored my own: there is nothing new under the sun.

yokeIs not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke? [Isaiah 58:6]

We are all hoping to be set free from the yokes that bind us, the repetitive scripts in our heads, the damaging attitudes that habitually frame our responses.

Naturally, there were notes that rendered their sins of the flesh as getting in the way of their journey to the cross and there were individuals named specifically or by relationship: mother, father, mother-in-law, son, daughter, and so forth. But most of the words that were placed on that cross, that symbolic torture chamber, came from within.

Anger was repeated over and over and over again. Unforgiveness came next.

I can almost hear the cry of the heart saying, how do I find you Jesus when my mind and heart are filled with such rage, when I can only playback the injustice or the betrayal or the damage done to me.

anger-blocks-a-miracleLast week, I was in a workshop in which the facilitator reminded us that there are four primary emotions: Fear, Joy, Sadness and, of course, Anger. And really, I’m guessing that unforgiveness is rooted in anger.

The good news is that no anger is greater than God’s love. That sounds cliche and yet it’s true. People seem to think that their emotions are stronger than anything anyone else can handle. I remember being in a counseling session and telling the therapist that felt as though I would explode, literally. Of course, I didn’t and couldn’t. How often has a person said, “If I start crying, I’ll never stop.” Again, not true. And so it is with anger. It will not win. Love wins.

Lent begins in earnest today. Was I angry today? I was. Did I harbor a grudge or two or pull up an old exasperation about some behavior or another by this or that family member? I did. I see that. Now what?

Confess, accept, move on. Wash me Jesus in the water of grace.

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Photo by Bjorn Andron

I had a new thought about these two. It’s nothing earth shattering and my guess is as good as another’s when it comes down to the story of Cain and Abel and how the younger brother died. I have been greatly influenced by all the bad Sunday School art and for some reason, we have been led to believe that Cain came upon Abel from behind and whacked him over the head. The end of Abel.

“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out to the field.” While they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.” [Genesis 4:8, NIV]

But I have a new thought. Wouldn’t it be far more interesting if they actually had an argument in that field? Isn’t it possible that Cain decided to confront Abel about the differences between them? And isn’t it possible that instead, they fought to the death? In the scheme of human frailty, it makes more sense. It was a fight that could have ended differently, but instead, ended in Abel’s death. There is no reason to believe that Cain hid the body or buried it either. Things moved quickly after that and Cain, not killed by God (as he would have been in later years under the law), but simply banished. There was something of value in Cain that God decided to preserve. And so he went off and built another life.

I’m not sure what that really means for me today. Perhaps it’s just a reminder again that everyone has something inside them worth nurturing and that second chances are possible if we give just a little.

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Master Your Anger

Sin is crouching at the door . . . and that door is anger. I know this to be true. I have seen the destructive power of angry explosions. I have seen them both against me and through me. Anger is a storm with no boundaries. Anger is unproductive. Anger is an invitation to mistakes; mistakes than cannot be easily corrected. Anger writes in indelible ink.

Genesis 4:6-7
 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”

Anger is a reaction to circumstances and shows the lenses through which a person experiences that moment. Anger usually indicates that there were different expectations. We choose whether we hold on to this anger, this beast, or allow it to be tamed.

My bi-polar mother could not control her anger nor could she it as out of proportion to the actions. It made life very difficult and quite honestly, I found myself lying a great deal to avoid the explosions. I tuned in to the body language of a simmering storm. I became an adept.

But why then, when it was me that exploded toward my children, could I not see it as clearly. How did I recreate that monster?

Some say that anger can be good, that it clears the emotional storage bin. But I don’t have that kind of confidence in anger’s potential for good. It has brought no such cleansing.

My cleaner is tears. They wash my soul. And I am grateful for a God who collects them (Psalm 56:8).

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Painting by Titian, 16 Cent.

I’m pretty sure everything started out fairly normal for the brothers, Cain and Abel. Raised by the same parents, they got the same instruction, the same opportunities, the same attention; much like most siblings of today. So, what went wrong? And why is it a warning for me?

Jude 1:10-11a
Yet these people slander whatever they do not understand, and the very things they do understand by instinct—as irrational animals do—will destroy them. Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain . . .

Things must have started going downhill long before the big moment in Genesis 4:3-5, when both boys brought an offering to God, Cain (the eldest) from his farm produce and Abel from his herds. The produce offering was rejected while the animal offering was accepted. Cain thought his offering was fine, the way to go. Maybe it didn’t occur to him to find out what would be better, or that something “could” be better. Maybe Abel just lucked out when he brought a blood sacrifice. We’ll never know.

But what we do know is that the Cain/Abel dynamic was already in place and Cain, instead of changing up to another offering or trying another way, resented his brother’s good fortune. I doubt he took any time at all to analyze his situation or consider some alternatives. He “went with his gut” and confronted his brother. Sometimes, I think people assume that Abel was Mr. Goody-2-Shoes and had the inside track on offering styles of the day. But, what if Abel was doing a little victory dance in the end zone? I’m just sayin.’

But here’s the point. I must be more cautionary in my actions, more circumspect. I may “think” I know what is going on, but then again, I may not. How easy it is to over-react. The “Way of Cain” is thoughtless, emotional, and brash. Cain’s way burns bridges and changes lives forever. Even if there is forgiveness for Cain, the damage is done.

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Photo by Victoria Potter

Anger is not a disease, it’s a choice that eventually builds into a habit. I should know, I’m really good at it. I’m getting better at the outside version of anger but it’s a cover up for what’s happening inside.

James 1:19b-20
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s [and woman’s] anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

I think of anger as a bus because it’s always taking me somewhere, and rarely if ever, does it take me where I want to go or where I should be. It’s not always a bus; I also ride the anger subway, the anger jet and the anger canoe. Each one goes a different speed, but the results are the same.

And most of those trips leave a wake or trail of damage that takes much longer to repair than it does to destroy.

When I lived in New York, I took the subway a lot. At first, it was confusing and I’d have to watch the map and keep checking the walls for the name of the stop. But pretty soon, I got so accustomed to the subway that I knew where I was just by the look of the station.

Just because anger is familiar doesn’t make it a good thing. I know that intellectually.

I know that “anger management” talks about transforming feelings of anger into healthy expressions, like assertiveness or redirecting it into some kind of constructive behavior, or intentionally and rationally calming oneself down. I’m sure these are all good mechanisms and I should look into them.

But I would like to get better at catching the moment BEFORE I get on the bus. What is it that makes me want to jump. One of my previous pastors said it was “fear” and I can certainly agree with that in many cases: fear of loss, self-esteem, worth, value, control, etc. I think there are other moments too that are driven by something else than fear. Maybe it’s disappointment.

I have written and talked about the power of disappointment before, particularly in women. It’s wrapped up in expectations and hopes and dreams and when that disappointment comes, particularly repetitive disappointment, I think it mutates into anger: displaced, misplaced, and often illogical in appearance.

No easy solution, but certainly, the advice from James is sound: be slow to speak. Maybe, just maybe, if I could slow the process down, just a little, I could recognize my triggers.

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