Anger: name it and tame it?

My pastor read a ghost story to us, an excerpt from The Great Divorce by CS Lewis. There was a red lizard on the ghost’s shoulder that kept whispering things in his ear. He was embarrassed by it. An angel offered to make the lizard be quiet by killing it. The ghost was reluctant to let the angel kill the lizard even though it tormented him; he was afraid that he would be killed too. When the ghost finally accepted the angel’s help, he and the lizard were transformed.

My pastor shared the lizard story because we are studying the book of Ephesians. In Ephesians 4, Paul told the believers that they must no longer live as the Gentiles. “Put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths.” “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.” Get rid of that thing that is controlling you. Ask God to help you resist whatever temptations you are facing.

Years ago, I read a book called Signature Sins: Taming our Wayward Hearts, by Michael Mangis. Anger is one of my signature sins – the red lizard on my shoulder. Fortunately, it doesn’t whisper in my ear everyday but I struggle to tame it when it raises its ugly head.

In Got Anger? Try Naming It To Tame It, Michaeleen Doucleff explains that if you are able to distinguish specific kinds of anger, it will help you regulate your emotions. This is known as “emotional granularity” or emotion differentiation. If you differentiate between the many variations of anger, you will better understand what is causing the emotion and how to handle it in a more constructive way.

Doucleff named three variations of anger that she struggles with: hurry-up anger (directed a people who are too slow), illogical anger (directed at people who are illogical), and disonophous anger (a made-up word for anger caused by noise). I can relate to Doucleff’s hurry-up anger but I sometimes think of it as “get out of my way” anger.

I have a few names for the kinds of anger I struggle with:

Overwhelmed Anger. This is one of my most challenging kinds of anger because it is stress-induced. If I am being pulled in too many directions, I feel overwhelmed. If there are too many things on my plate, I can’t even think straight. My anger stems from feeling stressed and out of control. And if I am feeling overwhelmed, I am less patient with other people. To get rid of this kind of anger, I know that I need to ask for help or to say no more often.

Interference Anger: This anger is directed at people who interfere with my ability to get something done or to accomplish my goals. For example, I get angry with my manager when he waits until the last minute to review my reports. He keeps me from completing my work early so I end up being stressed out as deadlines approach. I realize that my priorities are not my manager’s priorities. I have learned that he doesn’t have great time management skills so I have to manage upward.

Interruption Anger: This is another form of work-related anger. When I am really concentrating and focusing on the task at hand and someone interrupts me, I can get annoyed because the interruption messes up my train of thought. I have to anticipate that there will be interruptions and that unexpected things will happen.

Righteous Indignation: This anger is directed at people who are dishonest, immoral, greedy, selfish, unjust, unmerciful, etc. While I don’t want to be and should not be indifferent to immorality and injustice, my anger at evil does not always produce the kind of righteousness God wants. In Falling Upward, Richard Rohr wrote, “most frontal attacks on evil just produce another kind of evil in yourself, along with a very inflated self-image…”

Michael Mangis says that “we are justified at being angry only at the evil that also angers God.” It’s very easy for righteous indignation to turn into self-righteous indignation. Our reasons for being angry are rarely pure and unselfish. Getting rid of righteous indignation requires humility. I have to admit my own sinfulness and accept the fact that I can’t fix people and I can’t eradicate evil.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

James 1:19 (NIV)

In writing about anger, Mangis said that it cannot be safely tamed. He quoted St. John Cassian who described anger as a deadly poison that must be completely rooted out of your inmost being. Anger can be extremely destructive. As long as anger remains in our hearts, it prevents us from seeing clearly. It impairs our judgment.

I don’t know that you can really tame your anger by naming it but I think it is beneficial to understand the causes and the underlying emotions. In a blog post on Psychology Today, Leon Seltzer, Ph.D., says that “anger is, unquestionably, the most moralistic of emotions.” We think our anger is justified if someone wronged us. A variety of other emotions underlie anger such as feeling disrespected, powerless, humiliated, etc.

Anger is most accurately understood as a potent psychological defense against a variety of more distressing emotions that underlie it.

Leon Seltzer, Ph.D.

There are all sorts of corrective actions you can take when you feel yourself getting angry. If you know your emotional triggers, you can anticipate the behaviors that provoke you to anger and become less reactive. You can try to see things from the other person’s point of view. You can become more assertive. You can try to see the humor in the situation.

The truth is, I have struggled with anger for years even though I know what triggers it, even though I can take my anger temperature, even though I’ve got emotional granularity. I would love to get rid of it once and for all. So maybe the next time the little red lizard of anger whispers in my ear, instead of trying to fix myself, I will just say, God, please kill it.

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Photo by Pierre Bamin on Unsplash

Truth: Philosophy and Ethics

I am studying Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project” this year. The topic of the second lesson is Philosophy and Ethics. The lesson guide states that “there is a formal and vital connection between our ideas about the nature of the world (philosophy) and our understanding of right and wrong behavior (ethics).” What happens to this connection when you exclude God from your search for knowledge and wisdom? How can you really understand God’s truth if you conform yourself to the ways of the world?

Dr. Del Tackett says that philosophy is the love of wisdom. Dr. R.C. Sproul defines philosophy as “a scientific quest to discover ultimate reality.” The website, The Basics of Philosophy, lists many other definitions of philosophy including “the study of knowledge” and “thinking about thinking.” Philosophy is a broad subject that includes thinking about the nature of existence and reality and the search for knowledge and truth.

Because truth is based on reality, the quest to discover ultimate reality should be aligned with the quest to discover ultimate truth. Dr. Tackett notes that contemporary culture has excluded God from the search for ultimate reality. Many people only believe in what can be perceived with the senses. As an example, Tackett quotes Carl Sagan:

The Cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be. Our feeblest contemplations of the Cosmos stir us — there is a tingling in the spine, a catch in the voice, a faint sensation of a distant memory, as if we were falling from a great height. We know we are approaching the greatest of mysteries.

Carl Sagan

Tackett calls Sagan’s philosophy the “cosmic cube.” It’s the belief that the material world is all that there is, that nothing exists outside the box. And yet human beings long for something beyond the material. We long for a higher meaning and purpose. We sense that we are not just physical beings.

Tackett points out that many people accept the words of people like Sagan because they use powerful and deceptive “assumptive language.” If you don’t critically examine the assumptions, they may sound plausible. He makes a good point. I have long noticed that when explaining human conduct, people claim, without proof, that evolution explains our behavior. For example, they would explain my husband’s inability to find something in the kitchen cabinet and his concurrent ability to spot a deer far away with evolutionary psychology. 

Tackett reminds us that there are scriptural warnings about being taken captive or sucked in by hollow and deceptive philosophy.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces[a of this world rather than on Christ.

Colossians 2:8 (NIV)

Dr. Tackett didn’t say much about ethics but he explained the difference between morality (the rightness or wrongness of conduct; that which is) and ethics (principles of conduct; that which ought to be).

I have taken ethics courses but I have never formally studied philosophy. So how do I connect philosophy and ethics? How are my ideas about ultimate reality connected to my beliefs about right and wrong and how humans ought to behave? Why do I believe God exists? How do I defend my faith in an age of profound skepticism?

Those of us who believe in God believe that he is inside the box and outside the box. He’s everywhere. We can’t see him with our limited human senses but we see physical evidence of him in the wonders of creation.

C.S. Lewis said that if there is a controlling power outside our universe, it could show itself as one of the observable facts, as an influence to behave a certain way. He said that if this power behind moral law is interested in morally right behavior, then it follows that it would not approve of wrong behavior. I think it also follows that this higher power would want us to know what it means to be upright and moral and he would want us to live together in peace. And what better way could he show us the way the world ought to be than to come down to us like a Son of Man?

We have a sense that the world is not the way it ought to be. We have a sense that we are very flawed and yet very great. We have a longing for love and beauty that nothing in this world can fulfill.  We have a deep need to know meaning and purpose. Which worldview best accounts for these things?

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God.

Deep and Wide

When I was a kid, we used to sing a song called “Deep and Wide.” Deep and wide, deep and wide, there’s a fountain flowing, deep and wide. We used our hands to illustrate the deep and wide part as children love to do. But as a child, even though I believed that Jesus loved me, I had no comprehension of how deep and vast that love is.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:17-19 (NIV)

Before his life-changing conversion, Saul fought the spread of the gospel. He threatened to arrest and take the Lord’s disciples as prisoners. But on the road to Damascus, the Lord confronted him asking: “Saul, why do you persecute me?” After his encounter with Jesus, Saul became Paul, one of the greatest proponents of the gospel. It was his mission to preach the gospel to the Gentiles – to the very people he had once condemned.

The apostle Paul understood the “boundless riches of Christ.” With great enthusiasm, he wrote to the Ephesian believers about the great mystery that had been revealed to him (Ephesians 3:6): that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. Because of Jesus, those who were once shut out of God’s promises were able to approach God with freedom and confidence.

As a child, I would not have understood the mystery that Paul was so excited to reveal. The word “gentile” was not in my vocabulary. There was no need for it; everyone in my small hometown was gentile. I was never excluded from the promises of God because of my heritage.

As a child, my knowledge of the love of Jesus was quite simple. He loved me because he loved all the children of the world. He loved me because he is good. He loved me because he is merciful. I was shy and self-conscious and felt like I didn’t fit in but God loved me just as I am. Even as a child, I knew that I could approach God with confidence because he knew me.

As an adult, I have seen the ugly side of humanity – the ways we fight with and hurt each other and treat others as less than ourselves. I see how we delight in building walls instead of bridges. I see how superficial we are in the ways we judge one another – on the basis of skin color or beauty or social status.

Now I see how radical the love of Jesus truly is. I see it in the way he told us to love our enemies and to bless those who curse us. I see it in the way he chose the despised Samaritan as the exemplar good neighbor – not the priest or the holy Levite. I see it in the way he responded to the teachers of the law and the Pharisees when they brought the adulterous woman before him hoping to trick him:

Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?

Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

The love of Jesus is a love that is so wide and long and high and deep that it extends to everyone. There is nothing about us that he does not already know. He sees right through to the mess inside of us and loves us anyway.

As an adult, I am rooted and established in the love of Jesus and yet I don’t fully grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is. It’s hard to find the words to describe the love of Jesus. Amazing. Unchanging. Unfailing. Ridiculous. Scandalous. Just call it what it is. Call it Grace (Unspoken).

It’s the light that pierces through you
To the darkest hidden place
It knows your deepest secrets
But it never looks away
It’s the gentle hand that pulls you
From the judgment of the crowd
When you stand before them guilty
And you’ve got no way out

Some may call it foolish and impossible
But for every heart it rescues it’s a miracle
It’s nothing less than scandalous
This love that took our place
Just call it what it is
Call it grace

Breaking down the wall of hostility

Before church on Sunday, my pastor placed a long piece of blue tape down the middle of the sanctuary. When he began his sermon on Ephesians 2:11-22, he pointed out the tape in case we hadn’t noticed it. Those of us on one side of the tape were to imagine that we were God’s chosen people of Israel; the others half were Gentiles, excluded from the Jewish community. The blue tape represented the wall of hostility that once separated Jews and Gentiles.

The apostle Paul reminded the believers in Ephesus that as Gentiles, they were excluded from the covenants of the promise, without hope and godless. Jesus reconciled Jews and Gentiles. Because of Jesus, Gentiles are not considered foreigners or strangers to God’s promises. Now all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, may come to God the Father with the Holy Spirit’s help because of what Christ has done for us. We are not lost. We are not without hope.

God made a new covenant with the people of Israel; Jesus made the old one obsolete. Jesus annulled the old system of Jewish laws. Jesus broke down the wall of contempt.

Paul wrote that Christ’s purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two. He made peace between us.

My pastor said that many Christians still think in terms of us versus them, black versus white, liberal versus conservative, Christian versus Muslim. This is not the way of Jesus. This is not the model of the kingdom of God.

Given how divided the United States is and how divided the Church is, I was pleasantly surprised that my pastor specifically mentioned a few of the walls of hostility that exist today, though much more could be said. I was very happy that he said this is not the way of Jesus. God-and-Country Believers need to hear this. Too many Christians forget that people of all nations are children of God. Too many Christians forget that we are all temporary residents of God’s world.

How incredibly timely was this sermon, coming in the midst of a huge, costly debate about building a wall to keep people south of the border from entering the United States. Today the president demands that we spend billions of dollars to build a physical wall to protect Americans from murderers and rapists. But the truth is, he is building a wall of hostility to shut out the brown people he has always despised. This is not the way of Jesus. This is not the model of the kingdom of God.

No matter what happens in the coming days, I take heart in knowing that my brothers and sisters south of the border are loved and welcomed by God. God does not see them as foreigners or illegal aliens. Jesus will break down the walls of hostility and one day a great multitude of people from every nation, tribe, people and language will stand before the Lamb of God (Revelations 7:9-10).

The Age of Acceptance

When I was 51, I wrote that I was Determined to Age Gracefully. To me, aging gracefully means having an inner beauty that shines through the wrinkles. While aging gracefully is a noble goal, getting old is no fun. If you kick and scream like a toddler as Father Time carries you off into old age, there is nothing graceful about it. And there is nothing fun about the aches and pains and physical degeneration that come with aging. It took me a few years to come to terms with losing my youth. Thankfully, I can now say, with no shame: I am old.

Accepting Reality

The process of coming to grips with aging is much like the stages of grieving the loss of a loved one: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Many people deny that they are getting old by lying about their age or pretending to be younger than they are. We bargain to put off aging by buying anti-aging, age-defying products or having cosmetic procedures to cover up the effects of aging.

I never saw the point in lying about my age because if you lie about your age, you have to lie about other facts of your life, like how long you’ve been out of school or how long you’ve been married. In my opinion, pretending to be younger than you are just makes you look silly. Yet I do try to counteract the effects of aging by using anti-aging creams and by taking hormone replacement therapy. I work out harder than I did when I was young to offset my decreasing metabolism.

There is a lot of cultural pressure to deny and defy aging. I often see articles targeted to people my age about hair mistakes that make you look older, makeup mistakes that make you look older, fashion mistakes that make you look older. The underlying message is that there is something wrong with being old or looking old.

Aging is a fact of life. Looking your age is not.  – Howard Mo 

And here’s a quote from SilcSkin, a company that sells anti-aging products:

When you are happy with what you see in the mirror, your self-esteem is directly affected and when you feel great and look great, you are unstoppable.

SilcSkin on Twitter

Isn’t it better to feel good about yourself and to feel unstoppable, regardless of how you look? I think so. Because no matter what you do, if you live long enough, you will eventually look old.

It’s true that your physiological age may be less than your chronological age. Research shows that exercise makes your DNA younger by lengthening the telomeres that shorten as we age. I hope that my biological age is younger than my chronological age because I want to be healthy at any age. But even if it is, I’m still relatively old.

A meme I saw on Facebook said it well: the day you realize that your co-workers are young enough to be your kids is the day you are officially old. It is hard to deny that you are old when you see how old you are relative to other people. I am old enough to be the mother of a couple of my coworkers. My boss is more than a dozen years younger than me. And here’s a link to a fun graphic: at my age, 70% of people are younger than me.

It helps to accept aging if you can laugh at yourself. The first time I experienced the shock of seeing my aging neck skin in the side mirror of the car, I felt bad about my neck, just like Nora Ephron. She wrote,”our faces are lies and our necks are the truth.” If redwood trees had necks, you wouldn’t have to cut them open to see how old they are.

I am now able to laugh at my aging self. My husband tells me I look like an old lady when I bend at my knees to pick something up. You didn’t do that when you were young! I just laugh and say, I am an old lady! I don’t care if I look old; I just want to protect my back.

I have a great-niece who is nine years old. She has always struggled to understand how we are related (her grandma is my older sister). When I visited before Christmas, she said, “wait, are you my great grandma?”

Accepting aging is accepting reality. There is a time and a season for everything. I’ve had my time to be young. Now it’s my time to be old.

Becoming a work of art

Poet Stanlislaw Jerzy Lec wrote, “Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.” I know that not all old people are a work of art. The challenges of life make some people bitter, resentful, and prone to complaining about everything. When they age, they become crotchety and curmudgeonly.

Fortunately, the challenges of life can shape you into a wise, compassionate, and beautiful soul. People who are open to the lessons of life can become a work of art. Age provides perspective on the purpose of life and clarifies what is really important.

The adventure of life is to learn. The purpose of life is to grow. The nature of life is to change. The challenge of life is to overcome. The essence of life is to care. The opportunity of life is to serve. The secret of life is to dare. The spice of life is to befriend. The beauty of life is to give.

William Arthur Ward

I believe that the beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit never fades. As I continue to age, I want my beauty to come not from the outside but from the disposition of my heart.

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Painting of Chronos (Father Time) by Giovanni Francesco Romanelli – pl.pinterest.com, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=54277715