Anger Revisited

Paul writes in the epistle of Philippians: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7). Often, we expect dualities in our emotions that prove to be false. When we are young, we think that the antithesis of Love is Hate, but as we grow older I think we find that is untrue. I learned long ago that the opposite of love is not hate, but is instead apathy. In much the same way, where a child might think that the opposite of anger might be happiness or joy, I now know that it is actually peace.

I’ve written before about anger, but yesterday was a struggle for me, so I want to revisit the subject in the hope that I might come to understand it and conquer its power over me.

I think anger and frustration are the greatest source of darkness in my heart. They are demons that I battle every day. On a long walk last night, I found myself actively thinking about those feelings, and what they mean to me, and why they rule my consciousness from time to time.

The frustration is easy to explain, I think: it comes from expectations. I expect things to go a certain way, or fit a certain way, or happen in a certain order. I expect things from people, and from my job. When things don’t shake out the way I expect, frustration can rear its head.

The question, then, is where do the expectations come from? Do I feel entitled to those things? That the world owes me this simply by virtue of my own existence? Not consciously, I don’t think. Is it an issue of control? Perhaps that’s part of it. When happenstance and chance collude to subvert my expectations, I am often guilty of being frustrated that I couldn’t control the circumstances. I feel as though things are happening to me, and I am simply a subject to the whims of the world; I am without agency, and that can be frustrating.

What I really think it might come down to, though, is Pride (yet again). On some level, I think that because I behave with temperance and justice, or think in terms of kindness and gentleness and gratitude and charity, that those things make me worthy. I think that on a subconscious level, I believe that I deserve to have things go my way. I’ve thought (and worried) before that I am incapable of a relationship that does not function on a transactional level. Said differently, I have wondered if I am capable of giving without expectation of a return on investment. I’m not talking about altruism in this case–that’s different to a degree. What I’m thinking about now is something more akin to the concept of Karma. I don’t consciously expect the world to treat me in kind, but I think part of my unconscious mind might.

But then where does my anger come from? It is partly an extension of that frustration. When that festers and swells in my heart, I give it more power than it ought to have. Like an infected wound, the problem is thereby exacerbated if I leave it untended and untreated.

But I think there is another allure to anger for me. It is easy. It is fast. It is powerful. In a world where I often feel as though I have little agency, it can make me feel as though I have control over my own vulnerabilities. In this way, it is a shield. When I allow myself to feel a deep-seated anger, it can override all the other emotions I’m feeling. Pain and betrayal and insecurity and sadness are easily cast aside in its tremendous wake. But, the hangover is heartbreaking, because I know that anger is not what I want to feel. I also know that it doesn’t actually solve any of those problems it displaced. It just helped me procrastinate for a few moments or hours or days.

The book of James, which I’ve quoted several times before, says “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19). Originally, I thought that the context of that verse was only in relation to our fellows on this earth. I should pay special attention when I listen to them and put myself in their shoes, and that act of listening and empathy will connect me to them in a way that anger could not. That is certainly true, but now I wonder if I missed something even more important.

Perhaps part of being quick to listen also means to be quick to listen to Him. To allow Christ into my heart, and listen to what his teachings tell me about myself. To allow his path to fill my soul, and quell my anger. I need to allow myself to feel that vulnerability, and allow Him to heal my heart. Procrastination will only prolong that suffering.

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