Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away form you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4: 31-32
We’ll resume our reflections on the Psalms tomorrow after our one-week journey through “summer reset 2020.” But today I want to focus on two verses of the Bible I read last week that really gave me pause to reflect.
I remember years ago, I went to a youth retreat where a guest speaker said that the number one emotion in our youth is rage. That’s probably true for adults as well. Rage leads the way in the music we listen to (well, the music that most young people listen to) and in the television shows and movies we watch. This is why it is not a surprise that under crisis, we have become enraged in America.
It is amazing to me that two very important crises—a health care crisis with the covid-19 pandemic, and a crisis in civil rights for African-Americans—have both degenerated into a boxing match where every side is angry and enraged.
There is nothing wrong with being frustrated, even a little angry. Because frustration provides motivation. For instance, a student may be frustrated with a teacher, or even with himself or herself for not getting a good grade on a test. This might serve as motivation to study harder and perform better on the next test. We can be frustrated in a relationship and that can motivate us to work harder at building trust and rapport.
The problem with anger unchecked, when anger becomes rage, is that rage clouds reason. When we are going around breathing heavily, ready to swear or swing a fist, we can’t possibly problem solve, which is obviously the way out of most problems. Most problems aren’t fixed with fighting, but with talking, reasoning and solving them.
Anger can become motivation. Uncontrolled anger leads to rage, which creates a downward spiral mentally which usually results in irrational and ineffective behavior.
When I get really worked up about something, and I feel my heart beating faster, my blood pressure going up, my face becoming flush and hot and my temper going up, I know that I am not at my 100% best. In fact, I actually feel “toxic.” Feeling toxic is no good, because when I feel this way, I’m likely to harm myself (in terms of saying something stupid or hurtful that will harm me down the line) or someone else (in terms of saying something stupid or hurtful that will injure them and weaken a relationship). I’ve learned as I get older that when I feel this way, the best thing to do is withdraw and be quiet, not to speak with a mind that is clouded with anger and incapable of reason. I’ve learned there is great value in sleeping, or being distracted with another activity to get my mind off of something. (And I’m not only talking about how to handle covid-19 or social unrest, I’m talking about how to deal with the daily conflicts that afflict us all the time, not just in 2020). I’ve also learned there is great value in waiting to give an answer or a reaction until I am more calm. I’ve also learned that there are many things I get mad about that won’t matter in a day or a week or a month, but doing something foolish when I’m mad might affect me years later. There are certain things that after waiting and withdrawing, I’m still mad about. But having rested and not reacted immediately, I’m able to tackle them with more reason and logic and forethought.
I’m sharing this reflection because it saddens me to see the world so angry. I can’t change the world. However, what I can change is the role I play in the world. I can be an angry person, or I can try to be a calm problem solver. Political and social causes have now become like spectator sports, where teams line up against each other with their respective legions of fans, cheering for one side to win and the other to lose. The problem with this is that whichever side wins in solving the problem “their way” has enraged the other side. Problems are best solved with talking to everyone, and building consensus, finding first the points where we agree before tackling the ones we don’t agree on.
Rather than lead with anger which clouds reason, let us try to lead with patience. Rather than speaking first, lets us try leading with listening. And after we’ve patiently listened, let us ask others to patiently listen to us. Everything does not need to become a political issue. And every issue isn’t life and death, though at present, we do have two issues that are a matter of life and death. It is not a matter of life and death if I have to wear a mask, so I’ll wear one. It IS a matter of life and death whether I can freely worship, so there I will fight. If it is a matter of not worshipping for a short time, as we did recently, in order to understand the pandemic, then I can patiently wait. Fighting with words that are articulated with logic accomplishes a lot more than fighting with fists.
Going back to our own little corners of the world, the encouragement for today is to be calm and not enraged with those who are closest to you—your spouses, your children, your parents, your co-workers—the people whose world you have the most effect on. If you bring peace into your little world, that can have an effect on peace in the whole world.
In the Orthodox Church, we begin our services by praying for peace, after we’ve gathered to pray in peace. I encourage you, in your little corner of the world, to put away bitterness, wrath and anger, as St. Paul encourages us in Ephesians 4:31-32, and instead be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving. And when we must speak up to right a wrong, let’s do it with patience, with respect and with thought. When you feel your mind being clouded over with anger, that is a time to withdraw temporarily, rest, refocus, pray and then attack a problem with logic, so that we can actually solve problems rather than exacerbate them or even create new ones.
Lord and Master of my life, grant me not the spirit of sloth, meddling, lust for power and idle talk.
Instead, grant to me Your servant a spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Yes, Lord and King, grant me the power to see my own faults, and not to judge my brother.
For You are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
Work on controlling your own anger today!