How should we deal with anger?
When I was in my late 30s I attended my Primary School Reunion. We were all assembled in the school hall, milling and nibbling on buffet items, when a loud, clear voice boomed out across the crowd, “GAVIN TYTE! YOU WERE A VERY NAUGHTY BOY!” Everyone stopped and stared at the one who had shouted — a woman in her late sixties. They looked at her, then at me, then the crowd parted like the Red Sea leaving a channel between us. I had no idea who this woman was or why she was shouting my name. She stormed towards me through the gap and stood before me. I stopped eating and limply held my egg mayonnaise sandwich by my side. She continued, with everyone watching, demanding, “And WHAT are YOU doing with your life now?” I still had no idea who she was but managed to squeeze out a reply, “I’m… a… church minister.” The woman stared at me for a moment, then began to laugh; and did she laugh! She bellowed with laughter, tears running down her cheeks. When she had composed herself she gave me a massive hug. It turned out she was my Year 3 Primary School teacher, Mrs Dobson! I must have made quite an impact on her when I was 8 years old that she would remember me 30 years later! We had a lovely long chat in that school hall and she told me how I used to drive her round the bend and how she would get so cross with me she would have to leave the classroom to calm down!
Do you ever get angry? If so, when you do get angry, how do you express it? Anger is an emotion that is often seen as a bad thing, however, there is nothing wrong with anger. Anger is an emotion that tells us that something is wrong somewhere — usually an injustice that is taking place with regard to ourselves, others, the world around us, or God — and it is perfectly normal and right to experience anger. When you see humans literally trashing creation through disregard of the environment, it is right to feel anger. When you see someone being persecuted by an employer or their rights violated, it is right to feel anger. When you see someone exploiting someone else for their own gain, it is right to feel anger, however, it is how we handle the anger that matters.
Once you feel anger it needs to be dealt with. Anger is like a pan of water standing over a burning hob where one of three things happens. Firstly, the water in the pan may boil over, secondly, if a lid is kept on the pan, the pressure will build until something gives, or thirdly, the heat will be allowed to dissipate and the pan will be allowed to cool. It is the same with our lives. When we experience anger we do one of three things: we let the anger out in an uncontrolled way, bottle it up, or deal with it appropriately.
When our anger is uncontrolled we boil over and the anger explodes out of us. If we are a child we throw a tantrum, and if we are an adult, well, we throw a tantrum! We might not, as with a toddler, lie screaming on the floor of the supermarket whilst wagging our arms and legs, but we can let out our anger in equally embarrassing and inappropriate ways. We sulk, get stroppy, swear, shout at people, put others down, seek to get even, or even worse, get violent. Uncontrolled expressions of anger get the anger out of us but at the detriment of those around us, often with dire consequences.
The opposite to uncontrolled anger is to bottle it up. This can have equally serious consequences, usually for ourselves. Those that bottle anger up can keep bottling it and the pressure builds. Because they have not expressed the anger, but instead kept a lid on it, they might not even feel angry. Unfortunately, bottled up anger will always come out. Always. Self harm, bullying, low self-esteem, passive aggression, dysfunctional or inappropriate behaviours, and mental health issues such as depression, can all be the result of bottled up anger.
However, it is possible to deal with anger appropriately. It is important to remember that feeling angry is a good thing. It reminds us that there is some kind of injustice taking place. It is okay to feel angry. So how do we deal with the emotion we feel swelling inside us? There are many ways we can try to control our anger; everything from deep breathing and counting to ten, to anger management classes, however, ultimately, to control anger we need God living and working in us. One of the hallmarks of the presence of God’s Holy Spirit is self-control, therefore if God lives in us we become more self-controlled. God living in us will not stop us feeling angry, but it does mean we will be able to recognise the anger and express ourselves coherently, calmly, clearly, with patience, love, gentleness, and forgiveness.
This week is called ‘Holy Week’. It is when we remember the way in which Jesus, at the hands of oppressive and corrupt authorities, was arrested and convicted of crimes he did not commit, and I find it almost impossible to read the accounts in the Bible without a sense of anger rising within me at the injustice of it all. Yet, as I read about Jesus, I am amazed at his reaction to all that was happening to him. He had every right not only to feel, but to express his anger, yet he did not explode or bottle it up but instead allowed himself to exhibit self-control through being filled with the Spirit of God. As he stood before Pontius Pilate he remained silent, and I remember a preacher telling a congregation that as Jesus remained silent, so must we in the face of injustice. This is not the case! The trial and persecution of Jesus was a unique and special scenario, not a case-study in behaviour that should be emulated. We must never, ever remain silent in the face of injustice — self controlled, yes — but never silent. We must raise the alarm and seek help.
Therefore, my prayer for us this week is that if we are feeling angry, that we will stop and recognise why we feel this way; that we will not suffer in silence but speak out; that we will be able to talk to others and to God about the injustice taking place; and ultimately, that we will invite God into our lives by his Spirit to shape and transform our character. Oh, and if you happen to be a teacher and have a very naughty child in your classroom, that you might have patience and stay calm — you never know, he or she might turn out to be a church minister!