Tuesday, October 31, 2006

what anger teaches me

Anger is a strange and unruly emotion. Sometimes it hits us right away; something happens and bam! we're fuming. Sometimes it sneaks up on you, like it did for me today; you've made it for months after an incident without really feeling much anger, and suddenly, in the middle of your ordinary Tuesday afternoon, you are ready to give the tongue lashing of the century. And of course we all deal with it different ways--some by stuffing it, others by lashing out, others by offering an icy cold shoulder. However it comes and however we deal with it, none of us escapes it. Anger, it seems, it just part of life.

Some Christians have responded to the threat of such a disorderly emotion by declaring that no godly person should ever be angry. That ridiculous proposal doesn't even deserve another sentence here. Others have found the more balanced approach of saying that anger itself isn't so bad, it's what you do with it that makes the difference. A much better starting place, for sure, but the message is left woefully incomplete. We offer the wise advice to handle anger well, and then fail to mention what exactly it is we should do with it. Success in being angry is left defined (as are many things in faith) by what we manage not to do.

That isn't enough. I managed not to drive over and offer a vicious tongue lashing today. Excellent. But what should I do with the anger that threatened to ruin my afternoon? If God created us with a beautiful array of emotions, what are we to do with anger? How do we open our eyes to the places where God may have looked at that emotion and called it good?

Carter and Minirth define anger as "an intent to preserve 1) personal worth, 2) essential needs, and 3) basic convictions." It's a protective measure, a tool for guarding the saftey of the things most important to us. If that's true, then anger has a lot to teach us. Ever since I read that definition of anger a couple years ago, I have tried to ask myself in the midst of my anger, "What am I angry about? What do I feel like is being violated?" Doing so has taught me volumes about my own values and convictions. On the flip side of my rage, you can usually find the things I am most passionate about. If it weren't true, why would I care at all if anyone violated them?

I want to see anger continually redeemed in my life. I don't want to define my success with it in terms of the things I managed to grit my teeth and avoid doing. I want to use it to bring life, to let God use it to help me see truths about who I am and about who he is. In the long run, facing anger head on and actively using it for growth is the only thing that will ever really make it disappear. Everything else is just saving it for a rainy day.


Carrie said...

Insightful and challenging. I've never thought of anger explained this way before. I admire your courage to learn from this unruly emotion.

Kjersten said...

Such good thoughts on anger...you're right-it's such a touchy subject in Christian circles. I like the connection you described b/w anger and your passions... makes total sense!

...perhaps a round of tennis might do us both some good in the arena of anger management...let's hit the courts sometime soon!