Joanna Adams: Anger Management

During one of the heavy downpours of rain last week, I found myself caught for an hour in a traffic jam of historic proportions.

Later, I discovered that lightning had struck a traffic light a mile or so from where I sat imprisoned in my car and worried about arriving late to an important family dinner.

Thirty minutes into it, I became really worked up; so much so, that when the driver in front of me allowed a car that had just pulled up to the stop sign to cross the street into our lane, I found myself smacking the steering wheel with my heel of my hand and muttering to myself a few decidedly non-ministerial words.

Anger and frustration had literally gotten the best of me. Even worse, my anger was directed at someone who had shown kindness to a stranger - certainly the least ministerial aspect of my attitude!

Anger shoulders itself into our all-too-human hearts with great regularity, doesn't it?

Have you been following news of the reclining-seat incidents on airplane flights? At least three times in recent weeks, flights have been diverted from their destinations because passengers got into terrible rows with one another over a few inches of valuable cabin space.

I will confess that I do not think loving thoughts when someone else's head descends upon my tray table, but life is full of maddening matters. Not letting them get the best of us is a spiritual discipline of the highest order.

I do not mean to imply that anger is always unjustified. I think of words attributed to St. Augustine, "Hope has two daughters," he said. "Their names are Anger and Courage;  Anger  at what is and ought not to be and  courage  to make what ought to be come to be."

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

So, if we react with indifference to the unspeakable brutalities currently being perpetrated by ISIS, if we wink at the epidemic of unethical and illegal behaviors on the part of too many public officials, if we are dispassionate about the death of Michael Brown and the ongoing issues surrounding race in American society, then we might be getting close to relinquishing our membership in the human race.

Getting mad about things that ought not to be is the first step toward changing them.

The Christian scriptures contain an especially excellent gem of good advice:  "Be angry, but do not sin," the implication being that it is possible, even necessary, to be "good and mad" at the same time. The key is to be constructive rather than destructive with anger.

If you have been a victim of someone else, turn your justified anger about it into passion for preventing the same thing from happening to someone else. These are moral matters of the highest order.

However, when it comes to responding to the irritations of daily life that take place during the mundane, I offer these practical pieces of advice:

  1. Count to 10 before you react. It sounds trite, but do it anyway. Then, take a deep breath; exhale irritation and inhale calm. You won't be sorry.
  2. Pray for patience.  If you do not naturally have the spiritual gift of patience, you will have to ask for it over and over, maybe even every time you get frustrated.  I am speaking from the voice of experience here.
  3. Repeat to yourself this non-Biblical but beautiful beatitude, "Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape."
  4. If you get jammed up in an Atlanta traffic snarl, be sweet.  Let at least one -if not two - cars from the side street enter your lane. Not only will it be good for your soul, but you will be making your tiny little contribution to God's great strategic plan - the plan of peace on earth and good will among all.


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From the Higher Ground blog.