Tag Archives: Anger

The Goal

The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
1 Timothy 1:5 (NIV)

I got an earful. The tirade was marked by anger and came from a place of disappointment and hurt. The object of the vehemence was unknowing and undeserving. The accusations were all about an “i” not dotted, a “t” not crossed which had been blown into outrageous proportions. The goal of the rant was, from what I discerned, to project the injured’s own hurt somewhere else.

Along life’s journey I’ve been involved with many different groups of Jesus followers. Among every group I’ve encountered those Paul describes to his young protegé Timothy. There are always those who major on the minors; Those who immerse themselves in things that don’t lead to the goal, which Paul reminds young Timothy, is love.

As I read Paul’s charge to Timothy this morning, I thought about the person who gave me an earful. If the goal had truly been love, how would they have handled themselves differently? They might have started by going directly to the person they were complaining about rather than others. They might have asked this person questions and sought to understand rather than demanding to be understood. They might have considered Jesus’ command to love and forgive others a greater priority than advancing their own rights and needs.

Even as  I write these words I am looking back at a few past tirades of my own. I recognize myself in the person who gave me an earful. I have lounged in those loafers. I, too, have spewed righteous anger out of personal pain. Lord, have mercy on us both.

Today, I’m reminded of how simple and powerful love is, as Jesus exemplified it. Love is a goal to strive for. Love is also a litmus test for my own words and actions; A standard against which I can discern whether I am moving in the right direction. If my goal is truly love then it constantly forces me to choose words and actions that lead, not to places of personal right, justice, or satisfaction, but to places focused on others and marked by forgiveness, selflessness, and peace.

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Humanity in the Toddler Stage

At that time the Lord said to me, “Carve out two tablets of stone like the former ones, and come up to me on the mountain, and make an ark of wood. I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets, which you smashed, and you shall put them in the ark.”
Deuteronomy 10:1-2 (NRSV)

For many years now I’ve been mulling over a concept that the story of God’s relationship with humanity is the story of a parent (God) and child (humanity). When humanity began in Genesis and the early chapters of the story, it reminds me of infancy. There was something innocent and naive; there was very little knowledge or understanding of God. Humanity was undeveloped. Life was messy and base.

With the story of Moses and the giving of the law in the book of Deuteronomy, it feels to me that we’re in the toddler stages of the relationship. God has to do a lot for them. Rules are simple and direct and put in black and white terms. Good behavior is rewarded and bad behavior is swiftly punished. Humanity, meanwhile, is strong willed, stubborn, willful, and…well…childish.

I was reminded of this concept again in today’s chapter. Moses, in his unchecked emotional tantrum, threw the stone tablets God made for him on which the ten commandments were inscribed and smashed them in pieces. God’s response? Like a true parent God tells Moses, “Now you’ve done it. You smashed the tablets I made you. Well, you’re going to have to replace them, young man. I’m not making you another set. You’re going to have to learn to take care of the things I give you. Now, make yourself tablets to replace the ones I gave you and I’ll inscribe them for you.” The replicas would be a word picture, a constant reminder to Moses (and the rest of the family) of his tantrum and its consequences.

In our weekly gatherings of Jesus followers we’re doing a series of messages on how we tend to confuse our relationship with our earthly father and our relationship with our heavenly Father. The former quite regularly distorts the latter. I tend to believe that this is part of the DNA of creation and it requires generous doses of wisdom, discernment and grace to untangle the two. At the same time, it also helps me see events like those in today’s chapter with greater clarity.

The Crossroad of God’s Silence

source: shibanov via Flickr
source: shibanov via Flickr

Then summon me and I will answer,
    or let me speak, and you reply to me.
Job 13:22 (NIV)

This past Saturday night Wendy and I went to see a production of Rabbit Hole at Central College here in town. The play is an intimate look at a married couple struggling with the accidental death of their young son. It is a wonderfully written script, though certainly not an easy one to act or a comfortable one to watch. It is a continuation of the questions with which Job and his friends are grappling.

After the show Wendy and I spent some time unpacking our thoughts and feelings about the play. To be honest, it stirred some of the same deep questions and emotions Wendy and I struggle with in our journey of infertility. Like Job, like Rabbit Hole, our own experiences are simply a different facet of the same stone.

In this morning’s chapter, Job alludes to one thing Wendy and I have found incredibly difficult in our own journey, and which we saw allusion to on stage the other night. When you are walking through senseless suffering, you want an explanation from God.

Please God, simply reply to my questions. Sit down and explain to me ‘why.’ If I’ve done something to deserve this, I want to know what it is. If there is a reason for me to suffer this, then by all means lay it out for me so I can process it and move on.”

But, God remains silent.

I have found this intersection of my questions and God’s silence to be a crossroad. It is a crossroad which beckons me to choose. I can choose out, raise my middle finger to heaven, and walk away from God. I can choose in and press forward being assured of what I hope for based on evidence I do not yet see. It is a crossroad at which most all of us will stand at some point in our life journey. Despite the throng of people who have stood there before, those standing on either side, and those waiting their turn behind us, we each stand at the crossroad oblivious of the crowd. When we stand at this crossroad, we feel utterly alone.

I have equally found that this crossroad is not a one-and-done affair. No matter what I choose in the moment today, I find myself standing there again another day. When I choose out at the crossroad yesterday, then God leads me back to it. I have discovered again and again that God is big on second chances. If I chose in yesterday, then I will go to a play tonight that leads me back to the crossroad mulling over the same questions, feeling the same silence, faced with the same choice once again.

Today, I’m praying for all who find ourselves standing at the crossroad hearing God’s deafening silence. Despite our feelings to the contrary, we are not alone. We’re standing here together.

I’m choosing in.

You’re welcome to join me.

Weathering the Extremities of Emotional Storms

source: 57973238@N03 via Flickr
source: 57973238@N03 via Flickr

Remember, O God, that my life is but a breath;
my eyes will never see happiness again.
Job 7:7 (NIV)

I despise my life; I would not live forever.
    Let me alone; my days have no meaning.
Job 7:16 (NIV)

I have never experienced suffering like Job, and I hope that I never do. I have not met anyone who has suffered the level of tragedy that Job suffered. I have, however, heard many people lament the suffering they are experiencing with Job-esque intensity. I have even been been to wail out the blues on occasion myself.

As I read through Job’s diatribe this morning I noticed a common thread that I often discover in my own wailing and in the wailing of others: extremes. Intense emotions tend to produce extreme thinking. Job proclaims that his eyes will never see happiness again. His days have no meaning whatsoever. I empathize with Job’s plight, and I fully understand the extremity of emotions he’s experiencing and expressing. Nevertheless, neither statement is true.

Job does not, at this point, know the end of his story. He does not see the days that lie ahead for him, and he has no crystal ball do divine whether he will ever be happy or not. Not only does Job’s days and suffering have meaning, they will become the source of meaning, understanding, and inspiration for billions of people across the breadth of time.

“At all.”
“Not once.”

These are words and phrases that I hear in conversation which set off my “extremity” alarm. When the alarm goes off it tells me that whoever is saying it (and, it might very well be me) may be feeling an intensity of emotion that is leading to the experiencing of irrational thought. It’s not necessarily wrong, bad, or sinful. It may very well be part of a healthy progression and expression of feelings that will lead to good things and a healthier place. The pinnacle of the emotional storm might be a very good time to try and empathize with that person, but it may not be the best moment to try and reason with him or her.

Today, I’m thinking about my own penchant for thinking in extremes, and thinking about some extreme proclamations I’ve heard out of people’s mouths in recent days. As I learn to discern these intense conversations in the moment I am able to respond to the extremity alarm with grace, patience, kindness, and empathy rather than anger, frustration, or vengeance. Wisdom is found in knowing when to speak and when to be silent. I’m finding that present, loving silence is often the best response to storms of extreme emotion, and rational words are better left for the calm that eventually comes after the storm.


Wisdom and Peace

Solomon and Hiram
Solomon and Hiram

The Lord gave Solomon wisdom, just as he had promised him. There were peaceful relations between Hiram and Solomon, and the two of them made a treaty.
1 Kings 5:12 (NIV)

When you are in any kind of leadership in family, business, church, or civic organizations you are going to face your share of conflict and controversy. As I progress in my journey I have come to realize how critical it is to handle conflict well. Each conflict I face is a fascinating experience for me to think introspectively about how I both unconsciously react and how I choose to respond in the situation.

I liked the description of relations between Solomon and Hiram. Wisdom led to an agreement which led to peace. While the scribe of this story is only concerned with Solomon, the truth is that it took wisdom from both parties to avoid conflict and pursue peace. Hiram was, by no means, a fool in this situation.

Any one can pursue peace, but it generally takes two to reach it. If I have a conflict with a neighbor then my desire is to reason things out and come to a peaceful conclusion, even if that conclusion is an agreement to respectfully disagree. If my neighbor continues to seek me out with reasonable and courteous appeals to change my position, I am happy to continue to discussing, considering, and seeking a mutually beneficial resolution. If, however, my neighbor goes around the neighborhood in anger stirring up trouble for me, my natural response is to dig my heels in and harden my position. One of the things I’ve learned about myself is that I don’t react well when I feel disrespected or bullied. I’m working on that.

Today I am thinking about wisdom and the path to peace. I cannot control others, their words, or their actions. I can only control my own thoughts, words, and actions. I have many personal examples of reacting to conflict with foolish thoughts, words, and actions. Hopefully, the number of these examples is diminishing with time and wisdom is growing in me.

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Refusing to Feed Emotional Fires

source: judy baxter via Flickr
source: judy baxter via Flickr

If a ruler’s anger rises against you,
    do not leave your post;
    calmness can lay great offenses to rest.
Ecclesiastes 10:4 (NIV)

I am the youngest of four siblings. It is said, primarily by elder siblings, that the younger children always have it easier than their older brother and sisters. I do agree that parents tend to chill out as they get older. I don’t know whether this is because they have more parenting experience or because they are simply worn out. Perhaps a little of both. In that leg of my journey, I found that my path was sometimes made easier by observing and learning from the mistakes of my brothers and sister.

When I was young I watched the arguments between my parents and my siblings. Like all families, we had our fair share of them. My observation led me to perceive and understand that there was a consistent pattern in the way arguments escalated between my parents and my siblings:

  • Child asks for something they want.
  • Parent says, “no.”
  • Indignant, child rolls eyes and asks for reason.
  • Defensive, parent plays the authoritarian trump card. “Because, I said so.”
  • Child plays victim card, makes snide remark (under his breath, but still meant to be audibly heard) about never getting his way.
  • Parent takes offense, reacts, and angrily calls child out for his attitude.
  • Child raises his voice and accuses parent of injustice, recounting a string of similar cases.
  • Parent raises voice, recounts their own rap sheet of the child’s offenses, and threatens further punishment if child doesn’t back down.
  • Child screams and accuses parent of running a concentration camp for children.
  • Parent screams back what an ungrateful child they have and grounds him for life.
  • Doors slam.

Having observed this pattern on a number of occasions, I quickly learned that:

  1. Arguing never changed my parents initial decision, it only entrenched it.
  2. Arguing almost always ended with the child in worse trouble and more punishment.
  3. Arguing led to parental defensiveness and mistrust.

So, I stopped arguing:

  • Child asks for something they want.
  • Parent says, “No.” Instinctively sets defense shields to maximum.
  • Child calmly says, “Okay.” He returns to his room (face it, either way it’s where you always end up).
  • Parent scratches head and wonders what just happened.

To be honest, I wasn’t always happy about my parents decisions. My pragmatism didn’t lessen my adolescent anger. I threw some private tantrums back in my room that I refused to let my parents see. It just seemed to me that all the escalation and arguing was a waste of time and energy, and the ultimate outcome threatened to be worse than just sucking up the disappointment at not getting what I wanted. The result? I think my parents were ultimately easier going and more trusting with me because I was an easier going kid.

Looking back, I believe that learning this lesson proved valuable throughout my life journey. Directing my emotional energies where they can truly make a difference and wisely choosing my emotional battles has served me well. As Solomon alluded in today’s chapter, refusing to react to another person’s emotional outburst and remaining calm usually halts any further escalation. Choosing not to add fuel to the emotional fire, the other person’s rage will usually smolder rather quickly.

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Timing is Everything

david mourns saul and jonathanThen David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them. They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the Lord and for the nation of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 2 Samuel 1:11-12 (NIV)

One afternoon while in high school I sat at the counter in our kitchen/dining room and was having an after school snack. My mom had gotten home from work and was opening the mail. All of a sudden her hand went to her mouth (her signature gesture when she’s going to start crying) and she began to weep. At first I was scared, but then I realized that they were tears of astonishment.

My sister was in college. Times were tight. My folks were struggling financially. I hadn’t known it because I was a clueless teenager, and no one else knew it because my parents had not said anything to anyone. But, God knew. They received an envelope anonymous with cash in it and an anonymous note about God’s provision.

“Timing is everything,” they say.

Along the journey I’ve been both amazed and incredibly frustrated by God’s timing. I have witnessed what I consider to be miraculous events of God’s timing like my parents’ cash gift. I’ve also been through long, difficult stretches of life’s journey when my timing was definitely not calibrated with God’s timing. What I wanted, and felt I/we needed, was perpetually not provided. This has usually led to grief, doubt, silent tantrums, and anger. In most every case, a dose of 20/20 hindsight from a waypoint a bit further down the road made me grateful for God’s wisdom in NOT letting me have what I thought I wanted.

In today’s chapter we pick up the story of David, who had been anointed King of Israel by the prophet Samuel as a boy. But, the timing of his ascension to the position was not immediate. Saul occupied the throne and David refused to usurp the throne or depose Saul, choosing to defer to God’s timing. This led to David being branded an outlaw, having a price put on his head, fleeing to neighboring countries, and living for years on the lam. Now we read of David’s response when he hears of the death of Saul and Saul’s son Jonathon, who happened to be David’s best friend.

I was struck by David’s grief this morning. Believe me, David was also frustrated by God’s timing. We’ve recently journeyed through some of the blues-like psalms David wrote in the wilderness expressing his anger and frustration with the situation. Yet, when his enemy Saul is finally killed and the way is finally opened up for David to walk into his anointed calling, David recognizes that his anointed calling comes with a price. David grieves for the king who had been “God’s anointed” king before him. He grieves for his friend Jonathon who also died and gave David a clear line of accession without political rival.

Today I’m thinking about God’s timing in my life. I’m exploring how I see God working in my journey on the macro level. I’m thinking about paths we desired to take which God blocked, paths that remain closed, and paths that have opened up to us. I want to follow David’s example from this moment of his own journey, when he acknowledged and honored God’s timing.


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