So what do we do? We go to anger management groups, or we try to meditate in order to keep ourselves more peaceful and balanced. We might take a two mile jog or go to a gym to punch our frustrations into a punching bag. We might even take to our beds hoping that sleep will give us a fresh perspective, a new picture of things.
In truth, there is much in this world to be angry about. And, there are interesting alliances that can make it hard to isolate the true cause of our anger. For example, compassion can be allied with anger. We can care so deeply for a ‘cause’ or a group of people in need, that we feel angry when others don’t seem to care at all or do anything meaningful to help the ones we care so much about.
Self-centeredness is another emotion that is quite closely allied with anger. We can explode because we did not get what we wanted, when we wanted it, in the way that we wanted it. We think we deserve it and are angry that it has been denied us.
Finally, even simple annoyance can be allied to anger. We may be mildly irritated over something, and somehow the irritation gets out of hand and before we know it, we have launched into a full-fledged rage. It might start with something as small as someone pulling out in front of us, or pushing in front of us in the line at the grocery store. Because we are already ‘wound up’ from the events and stress of our day, we easily escalate into an angry posture with words that match our body language. But, when the angry moments have passed, and our day comes to an end, and we crawl into our sleeping place, we can feel completely mortified by our behavior, and be filled with regret that we were so out of control.
The verse from the Psalms above may give us three clues about how we might quench our overly explosive fuse, so that we are kinder to others and to ourselves.
First, ‘refrain from anger.’ While that may seem an impossible task, it is made easier when we look at the noun form of the word ‘refrain.’ As a verb, ‘refrain’ means ‘to bridle or hold oneself in check.’ But, as a noun, refrain means a chorus, a repeating phrase that causes a song to break off and then continue again. We can refrain from anger if we interrupt it, if we break it off and return to a prior place. For example, I may be at the store picking up some items for a special meal, and as I go to check out, someone slides their cart right in front of me. I have a choice. I can refrain from anger by interrupting myself and returning to how I was feeling when I entered the store, or I can choose to seethe inside. I can look at the beautiful things in my cart, or choose to say some snide remark to the person. I can return to thinking about the meal I want to prepare with the ingredients I’m purchasing or I can choose to let annoyance, anxiety, and anger to get the upper hand.
Second, ‘leave rage alone’ – The word ‘rage’ is related to the word ‘rabies.’ Imagine a dog with rabies and the frenzy, ferociousness, and fear that is engendered by that dog, not to mention the painful treatment it requires once someone has been bit by the dog. If we look at our own reactions to things, and we analyze our anger, we might very easily be able to identify times when our anger has been rage – frenzied, ferocious, fearsome anger that has left both us, and those who were the recipients of our rage, feeling as though we had been bit by a diseased dog. The healing process after such a raving rant is painful and long. When we ‘bite’ others with rage, we leave marks hard to erase. Better to leave rage alone!
Third, ‘do not fret yourself’ – The word ‘fret’ is another interesting word. It means to eat, devour, or consume. Even when anger is not the culprit, we can often find ourselves devouring ourselves by unhealthy thoughts and behaviors. We can find ourselves actually consuming ourselves and wondering why we lack energy and joy. We fret about all kinds of things, but when our fretting is connected to our anger, we are allowing the wrongful deeds done to us, the misspoken or hurtful words said to us, to take over our soul and consume us from the inside out. We play the hurts over and over again in our minds, as the feeding fever wages on. We play it out until we are either worn out, or wound up tighter. Evil snaps at the heels of fretting and we are left edgy and unsettled.
The truth is that we will be hurt by others throughout our lives. We will be the victims of thoughtlessness, betrayal, or others’ self-centered-ness. And, we will get angry. But if we can refrain – that is, return to the place we were before we got angry, we will be able to interrupt our anger. If we leave rage alone, we will not be biting people until we hurt them as they’ve hurt us. If we stop our story lines; stop devouring ourselves from the inside out by constantly re-playing the hurts that have been done, there’s a chance that our anger will quietly run its course. Evil will be held at bay, and forgiveness and peace may bloom with brilliance.