In my previous blog, Taming the Wild Horse I wrote about the subject of anger. In that article, I shared four truths about anger. That fourth point is something worth elaborating on.
That truth is often hard to believe; “anger is something we can learn to control.” I also asked you to trust me on this concept if you find it hard or impossible to believe. It seems especially unrealistic when one is in the midst of some excruciating and maddening situations and circumstances. There are many contributing factors to what makes us mad.
Let’s break this down briefly. There are two types of factors, very generally speaking.
- External factors: These are things that come at us from outside of ourselves and out of our control. These things include but certainly are not limited to: Our world in turmoil, being cooped up at home with family during the pandemic, an unexpected death, loss of a job, kids talking back, things breaking or not working, and many other calamities out of our control, external causes.
- Internal factors: These are things that affect our anger more from inside ourselves. These can include things like when we don’t get done what we wanted to for the day, or when we repeat negative messages to ourselves (which aren’t usually true) like “I’m such a loser” or “failure” or “underachiever” or “ugly”, etc. We repeat strong, negative messages to ourselves long enough they can make us angry or even outraged.
There are thousands of examples of external and internal factors that make us mad, but I still wish to assert that what we do in response to these factors is the part that we can learn to control.
Let me illustrate this further by sharing a historical event that occurred in the Bible. You may know the story in the gospel of John (chapter 2:13 – 25) where Jesus goes to the temple and sees it being used as a marketplace instead of a temple. It seems safe to say by Jesus’ actions that he was angry. He knocked over merchant’s tables, chased people away with a whip, and passionately told them this was supposed to be a “house of prayer!” (verse 16). It seems like an outraged expression of anger, a tantrum even. Is this what really happened? If so, does this make a fit like this ok? Or is this an example of Jesus sinning in his fury? Does this justify my own anger response when I scream at my kids or punch a wall, etc.?
I’d like us to land in verse 15. What did Jesus do first when he saw the egregious use of the temple? Do you know? His first action wasn’t to shout or act outwardly. He first “made a whip out of some ropes.” Let me repeat this to emphasize the significance; he made a whip. Why is this so important? To make a whip he had to change his reactive thinking into pro-active thinking. This is paramount to the story and to how we can choose to handle our anger. By Jesus making a whip, he had to first think about finding enough rope. Then he probably sat down across the courtyard from the temple to braid his device. He could probably watch and strategize from his vantage point. He carefully put together his plan for using his anger righteously, productively, and thoughtfully. It took him time between the event and his reply. This is our take-away. What Jesus did was controlled and took time. Time which separated the external event from his reactive desire to do something about this injustice. Do we take time to process the events and plan a response (not a reaction) that will be righteous, productive, and thoughtful? This is essential in anger actually being a beneficial and effecting change in a healthy way.
I can use my anger to make my children or wife or students scared of me to the point they comply with all of my wishes. But will they respect or love me in the process? Or I can use my anger is righteous, productive, and thoughtful ways where I am respected on the other side.
All of this said it’s not easy! Trust me, I know. In my 50’s now, I still struggle with giving controlled responses to people or situations which are maddening and outrageous. It takes work and time, maybe even years to master. It takes intentional choices and prayer. Except by God’s miraculous grace, we won’t wake up one morning and our struggles with reactive anger will be completely better. But there is hope. Don’t ever give up and when you slip, be good to yourself and anyone else you might have hurt on the journey. Use Jesus as your model. And when you need to, take time to fashion your whip. It’s ok to get angry, but it’s best to master it, not let it master us.