Most great accomplishments, they say, happen because somebody, somewhere along the line, became angry enough to do something about what made them indignant. But like other explosives, anger requires careful handling and expert managing.
Sometimes that means simply shutting up.
“I always knew when you were mad,” my daughter Amanda told me the other day, as we reminisced about her growing up years at home. “You just got extreeeeeemely quiet.”
I don’t anger easily, but I remember well my days as a young mother. Anger sat closer to the surface then – right alongside certain female hormones. “It runs in the family,” I told her. “When your grandmother was angry, she zipped her lips.” So tightly, I recall, that it puckered Mom’s sweet face. Maintaining a household of her own children and numerous foster children provided regular reasons for anger. But Mom took seriously St. Paul’s caution to “Be angry, but don’t sin,” (Ephesians 4: 26) Rather than allow anger to control her, she prayed. Lots.
I’ve always taken great comfort from those words of Paul’s. They remind us that anger isn’t necessarily wrong, unless it injures more than it helps. Contemporary author and theologian, Frederick Beuchner supplies a vivid and somewhat comical word picture of anger gone wrong:
“Of the Seven Deadly Sins,” he writes, “anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past … to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
It shames me to remember occasions when the dam of angry silence my daughter referred to burst; when the harsh words I’d held back came tumbling out, pummelling the person at their receiving end (almost always the Preacher).
When my angst reached a certain level, my mouth opened and his closed. He sat patiently, listening as I spewed. He never responded in like manner at those times; preferring to handle my overflow of words by withdrawing his own – likely a good thing, considering the possibilities.
Things have changed. “Know what, hon?” I told the Preacher the other day. “I don’t think we’ve had a major disagreement in years!” (Translate: I don’t think I’ve blasted you in a coon’s age. Aren’t I behaving well?”) He chuckled. “No, I don’t think we have.”
Thankfully, age and experience have matured me. (It also helps that the nasty-making hormones have retired!) I’m also more prone to look at things from a higher perspective. Like my mother, I’ve learned to take my anger, regardless of its cause, to God; to spill it in his ears and listen for further instructions.
God understands your anger better than you do. Let him handle it for you – he may even use it to accomplish something good.