The Seven Deadly Sins: Anger

So my sweet friend Melissa was the sole commenter on my last blog–further evidence of the widespread denial of sin! Actually, I’m kidding. I know this is a really tough subject and one people are reluctant to talk about. You might have noticed that I didn’t specify or even hint at how I envy. I’d be embarrassed to reveal just how shallow I can be.

But I will give you a personal example for our next deadly sin: anger. On Saturday we took the boys to their first college football game. It was thirty-five degrees, but other than Sam’s refusal to wear his mittens, we all had a blast. Sam danced to every ditty of the marching band, and the older boys screamed and cheered for every first down. It was just a very, very fun day. We bought the boys foam cavaliers and hats and t-shirts. We ate stadium food and sipped hot chocolate. I mean it was an all-out good time. But later when I was putting the boys to bed, our oldest son, Will, was unhappy. Really unhappy. He complained that he wasn’t tired. He complained that it wasn’t fair. I was sort of taken aback my his ingratitude but reminded myself that despite his stature, he is only seven years old. But then as he was brushing his teeth, and I was sitting on the floor, putting Sammy in his pajamas, Will called over to me with a deadly serious look on his face, utilizing a condescending and emphatic tone.
“Let me be clear!” he said.
I was instantaneously livid, and I imagine many of you can sympathize. Since “it is not the impulse of anger but the way we handle it that turns into sin,” you might want to know how I handled it? (Dunnam and Reisman).
“Get over here,” I snapped, using an even angrier voice than Will had used. Then I cupped his little face in my hand and said, “Don’t you EVER, EVER talk to me that way again. Do you understand?”
So whatever it was that he wanted to be clear about is yet a mystery! But here are some of the problems with how I handled this situation: (1) I raised my voice; and (2) I was acting more out of personal hurt and wounded pride than I was acting to teach my son an important lesson about respect and gratitude. And that’s really one of the major problems with anger. As much as we may think our anger is justified, our motives are never pure–our own self-interest is always there to mar the righteousness of our indignation.
But consider Jesus and how He cleared the moneygrubbers out of the temple. He didn’t use his disciples as a swat team and He didn’t use his power as Creator of the Universe. Isn’t it kind of amazing that He was able to send them running with a whip of cords? Dunnam and Reisman observed that, “It was not his physical strength, but his moral power. The moral force of Jesus’ anger against their wrongdoing sent them scrambling from the temple.” But that doesn’t work for us mere mortals because we cannot attain the moral authority. Nearly all of our anger is tainted by our own self-interest. Jesus was angry because his Father’s house was being defiled. If we want to emulate Jesus we will be angry about things which violate God’s law, but aren’t harmful to us personally. We can be righteously indignant about the mistreatment of others: about human trafficking, slavery and child prostitution, and I hope you are. (One great organization to give to on this is The International Justice Mission www.ijm.org). And certainly there are examples closer to home as well, but my main point is that we try to justify our own outbursts as righteous anger, but really we are kidding ourselves.
Instead the Bible issues many warnings about anger. A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control. (Proverbs 29:11). An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins. (Proverbs 29:22). Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. (Proverbs 22: 24-25) [Love] is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:5) My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. (James 1:19-20)
So even though I’m not usually much of a hothead, I now realize I’ve been misconstruing the real issue. If we look at ourselves honestly and with the right standard — provided by Jesus himself — I think we all have some tendency toward anger. So what’s the cure? C.S. Lewis said, “The surest means of disarming an anger…[is to] start examining the passion itself,” and Dunnam and Reisman suggest exploring what your feelings of anger really tell you about yourself. These are good starting points. You can also meditate on the verses above, and like everything else in life, you can pray about it.
In closing, here is a great thought to consider: “The size of a man can be measured by the size of the thing that makes him angry.” (author unknown).
I hope that you are spurred, as I am, to make sure that thing is not small.

4 thoughts on “The Seven Deadly Sins: Anger

  1. Hmmm. Makes me wonder about a comment I frequently make to my children….”Don’t make me get angry with you…” as if I don’t have any control over my anger once “they” get it going. I think I need to reassess! Thanks (I think!)

  2. Ahhhhhh, anger. The sweet release with bitter results. Although I seriously had to laugh at the disciples as a SWAT team… πŸ™‚ I am reminded of the many times I have lost MY temper or MY control of MY anger and MY frustration and failed to choose MY words wisely to express MYself…or perhaps what I should say is I EXACTLY chose what words I was going to say so MY point was heard and MY verbal lashing was felt. Instinctually we are taught fight or flight responses and in the face of danger (how ever we define this) we will strike first and strike hard to avoid potential retaliation. A study done to measure the affects of venting one’s anger, Ann Landers (noted advice columnist) suggested children are given opportunities to vent their anger when they are throwing tempter tantrums. The results reflect that when we teach to vent rather than process, all we really do is promote more venting. Viewing anger promotes more anger. If a child is taught to hit a punching bag…then the lesson is when you are angry, vent by hitting. Her advice was wrong.Emotional maturity is what we all long to achieve. There are many psychological tests used to measure one’s emotional maturity. What we strive for is a sound sense of emotional intelligence. (Here’s a EI test you can take for free if you want…10 easy questions: http://www.lifescript.com/Quizzes/Personality/How_Emotionally_Intelligent_Are_You.aspx ) Most people who are successful in high paying, high ranked positions are there because of their ability to control emotional reactions. The ultimate goal here is to be someone who has a good sense of their own reactivity. It’s beyond words…no matter what anyone says or how anyone approaches, if your reaction is calm, cool, and collect then typically the other person is neutralized. That’s what draws people in. Only in math do two negatives make a positive! Think of it like this…when one person acts like a fool, then you react (even if justified), well, you simply have two fools. I use the word fool to avoid using other colorful terms πŸ™‚When we react (and I have) all we teach is that “when all else fails, reacting based on emotion is acceptable.”Mother Teresa once said “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.” This statement is profound to me. As a therapist, I used to be extremely uncomfortable with silence. If a client stopped talking, I started. When I discovered my discomfort, I taught myself to casually look at the clock and allow time to simply pass. I had one client who would always start to cry within the first 15 minutes and would never talk after that. Fearing I wasn’t helping him after about 6 sessions, I asked for guidance and a meeting was called with his mother. After explaining my concern she said “he tells me your the best therapist he’s ever had…he said, mom, she listens and just lets me cry.”We learn more when we are quiet, we teach more when we are calm, and we as any good Charlie Brown kid would tell you, sometimes when we talk to our kids all they hear is “whah whah whah whaaaaaa.”On a daily basis, I struggle with intermittent episodes of reactiveness. I am human. The real lesson is to recognize it and actively rewrite your reactions.When my daughter is upset, if I tell her “that’s enough, you can tell me, but you should collect your thoughts first” and then I get on my knees to see her eye to eye or sit in a chair, she will see that I’m inviting her opinion…and God bless her, she’s loaded with them! My lesson comes when she tells me what she’s feeling and I have to consciously choose my reaction. If I want her to talk to me tomorrow, I HAVE to teach her that I will listen today.I don’t always succeed…matter of fact, my reactions are about 70/30…30% of the time I lose the battle with myself…but at least I know it’s my battle.Say what you mean, mean what you say, and DON’T be mean when you say it. Anger…I don’t believe you ever lose it…you simply learn how to tame it’s strength and control. I am but a work in progress and my daughter supplies me with routine contract jobs πŸ™‚

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