Saturday, September 22, 2012

Meditation on Anger

I've always had some anger issues. By which I mean, I've always had issues expressing anger.  I try, really hard, not to overreact.  I don't scream or yell or call people names.  As a rule.  (Hey, family, any reaction to this?  Is that true?  Was it true when I was a kid?) 

The truth is, I probably didn't think it was ok to be angry.  I didn't like to be yelled at, and I was drilled to be polite and respectful.  More to the point, I wanted to be liked.  I wanted to be seen as easygoing, kind, nice.  So I tried, not quite consciously, to suppress that anger. In fact, much of the time I didn't realize I was angry.  I'd hide it even from myself, so that I could be...nice. 

Over a lot of time and reflection, especially in my chaplaincy training, I learned that suppressing anger is a really, really bad idea.  Any behavior that drives you to deny who you are, instead of dealing with it, is destructive. 

When Jesus got angry, he didn't suppress it.  He overturned tables in the temple, shouted at the money-changers, he braided a whip and drove them out of the building.  (This is awesome, by the way.) 

Anger can tempt us to sin, but anger can be a gift of God, too.  It can be empowering.  It can give you the strength and energy needed to address a difficult situation.  Circumstances that might be embarrassing, difficult, or daunting sometimes need the strength of rage to push us into action.  Anger and compassion are the two sides of justice. 

In a relationship, anger is a sign of caring.  Someone who makes you angry is someone who matters.

Anger can give you the courage to confront injustice, and to seek truth and healing in relationships. 

So it's important to act on anger.  Not to be controlled by it, but not to suppress it.  All that energy and rage seeking a solution, if suppressed, becomes a problem.  That energy has to go somewhere in the system of our lives. In my life, in my past, I wasn't confident (or mean) enough to express it outwardly (despite the occasional anti-fundamentalist rant in seminary).  I wasn't brave enough to express it openly in a healthy way, by honestly stating my grievances. So I turned it inward.

If you want a good handy shorthand for anger turned inward, "depression" covers it.  Isolating, overeating, retreating into morose despair. That's what I did in seminary.  I was depressed and almost paralyzed for close to two years.  Even now, ten years later, those ingrained habits - suppress, turn inward, isolate, retreat, overeat - those impulses are still instinctive responses that I have to monitor, sometimes more successfully than others. 

In recent months, I've had a lot of reason to be angry.  And I have been.  Sometimes it's taken me a day or two or three to realize just how angry I've been about...well, about things.  Long story.  Another time, maybe. 

But I've been angry.  I've been filled with energy and rage seeking a solution.  I've been faced with the challenge of acknowledging my anger and channeling it in healthy ways - a difficult task requiring a lot of energy, in a profession where I'm not supposed to get mad at the people I'm with, during a time when I've been incredibly busy and incredibly tired, and not a little sad.  A task not
helped by the fact that anger and sleep don't mix well. 

Ten years ago, I wasn't up for that kind of challenge.  It was only by grace that I made it through. 

Have I learned anything since? Have time, reflection, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), and another ten years of life as a child of God taught me anything?


I'm pleased. 

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