WHAT GETS TO YOU?
Everyone has a pet peeve. One of mine is telemarketers. Telemarketers are both resolute and resilient sales professionals. Their job is to get on the phone to make cold calls and try to sell a product or a service. They do not give up easily. If you do not pick up the phone they will call you again. If they encounter your answering machine, they may leave a recorded message but you can be assured they will call again.
Perhaps you are like me. You don’t like professional sales callers and just as quickly let me add, “I don’t want another candidate for office or their surrogate calling and trying to solicit my vote, as the saying goes, “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
So what gets to you? It is your neighbor's son or daughter playing music too loud or someone at the family gathering who insists on being the center of attention? Do you struggle having patience with people who are always late, who don’t dress appropriately for the occasion or can’t speak without using foul language?
Sometimes we find ourselves angry over these kinds of situations or worse. All of us have something which gets to us. The question is, “What are we going to do with that anger?” Anger is one of the hardest emotions for Christians to deal with.
There is confusion even among the faithful about anger. Some do not acknowledge it assuming that any anger is sinful. Paul helps us at this point with a magnificent verse in his writing to the Ephesian Christians, "Be angry but do not sin, do not let the sun go down on your anger and do not make room for the devil." (Ephesians 4:26-7)
The dictionary tells us anger is simply “an emotional response to a perceived threat.” Anger is neither good or bad, but rather, depends on what we do with that rather raw emotion which creeps up within us.
I remember the rather humorous story of a little five year old boy who was put in the closet as a punishment for being naughty. After he quit screaming and crying it got quiet. His mother became concerned and spoke to the young boy through the door. “What are you doing?” she asked. His reply was “I spit on your coat. I spit on your shoes. I spit on your dresses and I’m sitting here in the floor waiting for more spit.”
Of course we smile at the story. Yet within us is the awareness of the destructive dynamics of anger at work not only in the story, but within us sometimes.
There are some good things we can say about anger, but we need to be honest and own our unhealthy anger. Mishandled anger must be viewed as the major contributor to family and society breakdowns. Psychology has taught us that repressed anger is the leading cause of depression.
Let me call attention to three situations in which anger must be addressed. One is prolonged anger. Anger left alone rarely heals itself. “Psychologists disagree about almost everything, but on one point they display surprising unanimity. There is no such person who never gets angry, there either those who resolve it or suppress it. And sending anger underground can produce an untold number of emotional and physical problems as well as serious relational issues.”
A second situation to be concerned about is explosive anger. Anger out of control results in destructive behavior. We see this night after night on the news in various shootings and other disturbances. Many people are behind bars today because of the inability to control temper. Physical abuse statistics are alarming and getting worse in a society with less tolerance and less training in self-discipline in the home. The writer of Proverbs spoke to this very issue when he wrote, “An angry man stirs up strife, and a furious man abounds in transgression.” (Proverbs 29:23)
A third concern is misplaced anger. Haven’t we heard the phrase, “delivering the mail to the wrong address?” That communicates doesn’t it? We sometimes see it in the home when one member jumps on another over a minor matter.
Psychologists remind us that many chronically angry people are not angry about the situation at the moment, but rather, have not resolved anger somewhere else.
These situations call on us to evaluate our anger. Each event becomes sinful if not addressed. If you find yourself or someone in your family with ongoing anger issues, you may need to seek out a professional to speak to. Further, a Christian needs to seek the Holy Spirit’s help in resolving anger. If I could add any word to someone struggling with anger right now, it would be this: identify it, accept it and address it.
Just as quickly I would say that anger can have a good side in our lives. Remember what Paul said, “Be angry but do not sin…” Find something which disturbs you and make a decision to turn wrong into right. Florence Nightingale was known for her anger against inadequate hospital care. William Carey was angered by the inhumane slave trade in Africa.
Not everyone can become a crusader of historic proportions. Yet, each of us can work at correcting the wrongs we see in our society. Anger can be a powerful redemptive energy. We can speak to issues, vote our convictions, volunteer in organizations which help others, tutor underprivileged children or donate to worthwhile causes just to name a few opportunities. We aren’t likely to do much with any of those until we develop emotional convictions. And those emotions are the same ones which provoke anger and get turned in the opposite direction.
Finally, I would remind you we don’t accomplish this alone. It is God who is able to take that which is destructive and transform it into positive energy. I think God gave us anger for a redemptive purpose. We, in our humanity alone, have transformed it into something harmful.
So what gets to you? How are you handling your anger? Perhaps the first question to ask in finding the answer is this, “How is your anger handling you? Are you willing to go through the pain of learning to handle your anger appropriately? What we do after that emotional response we call anger determines whether we sin or not.