Jul 17, 2015

15 to 15: Anger

So here's the rundown.  Wednesday, April 29, 2015 was exactly 15 weeks until our 15th anniversary.  So in a countdown to the big day, I decided to start a weekly series of anecdotes from our 15 years of marriage.  I am calling it 15 Weeks to 15 Years.  Since everything needs a hashtag, it would be #15to15.  I am utilizing the blog because I have a propensity to yammer a lot when I'm writing and no one would want to read a long status update.  So be looking for these weekly entries.

As confusing as JOY was to me, ANGER seemed like an old friend I didn’t want and couldn’t get rid of.  I thought I recognized ANGER.  It was something that boiled up inside of me frequently.  It was something I had seen too often in my father.  We had been burned by that flame many times.  “A strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility.”  That was the dictionary’s take on it and it seemed pretty dead on to me.  But, as I’ve gotten older, I have realized that I was just as unfamiliar with true ANGER as I was with true JOY.

ANGER is not just unbridled fury.  It is not violence.  It is not rage, abuse, eruption.  Those things may be elements of ANGER, but it is not the true meaning of ANGER.  I felt all of those things in spades.  I have been explosive with people when they hurt me - real or perceived.  I have damaged people and things.  I have a long list of items that I have broken or thrown over the years: a Mickey Mouse keychain that put a hole in my car door, a bookshelf, a cheeseburger, a smoothie.

I knew that feeling all too well.  It would build up - heat and pressure in my stomach and chest.  My teeth would clench.  My eyes would squint.  My whole countenance would darken.  Then the littlest thing would set it off.  Like the chipmunk in Enchanted jumping on a tree limb to drop a dragon, the smallest comment would cause an eruption with yelling and gesturing and sometimes cursing.  It was all too common.  I saw it in my dad and I saw it in me.  It became that I saw myself as an ANGRY man.  People told me that.  When I had to be all vulnerable in Bible Study about my weaknesses, ANGER was what I talked about. 

Three things drastically changed my understanding of ANGER.  The first was a book by Dr. Gary Chapman called Anger: Handling a Powerful Emotion in a Healthy Way.  That didn’t even make sense to me.  But I read it.  Dr. Chapman is the one who came up with Five Love Languages and Five Languages of Apology.  Both of those are great books about how people communicate (or don’t).  The ANGER book did the same thing.  But it also talked about how ANGER can be positive - it is a signal that something is wrong. This was taken further in a sermon series at Summit in Orlando a few years ago.  The pastor talked about how ANGER comes about in response to injustice.  When we see something that is not right, we get ANGRY.  Now, our definition of “not right” may be flawed.  For some people, it may be the way that humans are mistreated in Darfur.  For others, it may be that Burger King again screwed up their cheeseburgers by putting mustard on them.  The goal is to make sure that we are getting ANGRY about the right things. 

When the topic of ANGER comes up in religious circles, invariably someone will bring up Jesus and how he cleared the Temple.  There are a couple of times in the New Testament where Jesus is described as ANGRY: namely at the temple and when he saw how lost and confused the people of Jerusalem were due to the religious leaders.  I never could reconcile Jesus being ANGRY.  He was perfect and never sinned.  ANGER is just condensed vitriolic sin - or at least it appeared that way to me.  How could what happens when I erupt be okay?  There is no way that is okay.

But that sermon and that book began to show me that what I had always perceived as ANGER was a very simplistic and immature view of it.  Most of the time, I saw injustice, but it was that I was not being treated the way I thought I should be.  Sometimes it was a fair assessment and I really was being mistreated.  But sometimes it was just a selfish thing where I wanted things to be different for my own benefit.  That was not what ANGER was intended for. 

The third thing that happened was that I went to counseling. (I know I’ve shared this before.  But bear with me.) In my sessions, I would sometimes say how I was an ANGRY man.  Finally one time the counselor stopped me and questioned that statement.  He said he knew ANGRY men and that I was hardly an ANGRY man.  The pictures of my ANGER on display flashed through my head.  He said that I was usually very quiet and mild mannered.  Even when I was upset in our sessions, I didn’t scream or flare up.  He said he thought I was just a man who lashed out when he felt trapped or like he had lost control.  I had never really thought about things that way. 

As I have spent more time thinking about this concept, I began to understand more.  The ANGER that I knew was a corrupted form of what it should have been.  There is injustice in the world.  People are treated badly on a regular basis.  And that should make us irate.  It should bother us when wrongdoers are succeeding.  It should be offensive when we see inequality, bigotry, poverty.  And we should want to fix those wrongs.  I think people with ANGER problems often have a high moral code.  They hold people to it and they hold themselves to it.  But the problem is, no one can ever reach it. So these people — I’ll just say me, because it is me too.  I would get ANGRY at people for failing.  I would get ANGRY at myself for failing, which made me even more ANGRY at others.  It was a whirlwind inside of me that never seemed to go away. I was upset at wrongs done to me, wrongs done to others, wrongs I did. 

Over the last few years, I have worked hard to change all of that.  I don’t get so worked up over small things … or big things.  It happened.  Getting mad won’t change the reality of things.  The A/C in the car won’t start working because I yell at it.  The idiots in the other lane won’t pay attention because I growl at them.  Now, my kids severely test this newfound approach to life.  They manage to push buttons I didn’t know I had.  And get really upset when I see some of those old habits manifesting themselves in my kiddos.  But now it is even more important than ever to handle it right now, because I have three little ones watching.  I want them to know how to handle ANGER.  Like me, they have a strong sense of justice - even when it is misguided because they want their brother to play Minecraft RIGHT NOW.  They need to know that ANGER can be positive and good, if directed the right way.  It can be a powerful motivator and tool for change.  I want them to understand how to control it and not hurt people.  And I want them to know that decades earlier than I did.

No comments: