Friday, September 23, 2022

healing the disease of anger

Yesterday, I got to spend the morning with a friend. When we have the chance, we get together to pray, read Scripture and talk about it. I find these times to be refreshing because of their simplicity. We have no agenda beyond the practice of open and free dialogue.

My friend likes to read from the King James version of the Bible because he savors its lyricism. Yesterday, one of the portions we read was from the book of Proverbs. After reading the chapter, I asked my friend to share which proverb felt most important to him today. Because he is a father to three children, he selected the verses in the chapter that talked about parenting.

Then, I shared the proverb that felt important to me. It was this:

“Make no friendship with an angry man;
and with a furious man thou shalt not go:
lest thou learn his ways,
and get a snare to thy soul.” -Pr. 22:24-25

As we reflected on those verses, we talked about how it seems that our entire society has become tainted by incessant hostility and anger. The latter half of the proverb explains how anger has become so rampant: anger is contagious and, before you know it, you are held captive to it.

As we discussed this, I shared with my friend about a study that found that posts on social media that adopt a tone of outrage, anger and disdain tend to get more interactions than other posts. In a podcast I listened to recently called “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” host Mike Cosper notes that this is one reason the celebrity pastor Mark Driscoll so regularly unleashed angry rhetoric in his hour-long sermons. The team that managed his online presence discovered that when Driscoll used a hot-tempered style of preaching it garnered more hits on their website. So, it didn’t take long for Driscoll to adopt the "shock and awe" approach as his trademark style.

Rage is highly effective at getting attention, even though it is not very constructive. Though there is a place for righteous anger, when anger only begets more anger, it is an exercise in futility and increasing degradation.

I suppose that most people who are constantly angry feel that their anger is righteous…even when it isn’t. When our emotions are constantly whipped up in a spirit of fury, it is hard to be objective about the true state of our own heart. When confronted with our own anger, we are more prone to defend ourselves than take time to reflect, seek forgiveness for the hurt our anger has caused, and (most importantly) change course.

I do believe it is important to let yourself feel anger, but it is more important to listen to what your anger is trying to tell you. This is why I love the practice of spiritual direction so much. It provides a space for someone to safely listen to their own emotions. And what I have observed as I have sat with various folks in spiritual direction over the past two years is that underneath the anger there is a deep, deep sadness that longs to be acknowledged. Thus, addressing the sadness proves key to healing our woundedness that prompted the anger in the first place. Unless we can heal the wounds, we will never be able to satisfy our anger.

It comes as no surprise, then, that the remedy for anger is gentleness. We need quiet, gentle spaces to be present to our sadness. We need understanding and compassion. We need companionship.

The catch is: it feels counter-cultural to practice gentleness in a world beset by so much anger. It takes faith and courage to be gentle. It requires hope—a belief that the quiet spirit will ultimately be heard underneath the noise of all the shouting—a trust that gentleness will outlast all the outbursts.

This is an appeal to slow down. Take the time to listen. Have enough courage to be gentle. May we trust and hope in a different way. May we reflect on our own anger, asking what it wants to tell us…lest we keep spreading it around carelessly.


healing the disease of anger
reflections by troy cady
*Photo by Valeriia Miller via Unsplash. Creative Commons License.

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