Friday, August 29, 2014

When Anger is Sinful

Anger is an attack. It is a physiological response to a threat -- the "fight" part of the fight-or-flight response. I think this is important to establish because we tend to justify anger that there isn't much justification for.

I first learned this fact about the nature of anger in grad school when I had a baby at home, and it was very revealing to me. Many afternoons, my daughter would wake up early from her afternoon nap, and I would be so mad! I had so much I needed to get done during that nap! I didn't get even half of it done!!  #!%@!!!!

Then I caught myself and stepped back: anger is a response to a threat, so why is this a threat to me? What exactly am I defending myself against? When I sat down and examined the situation, my anger was ridiculous. She's fourteen months old. She sleeps when she's tired . . . she wakes up when she's not. It's not like she's conspiring to selfishly dominate my attention and keep me from ever achieving my other aspirations in life.

I also found this fact about anger enlightening when I looked at my reaction to other people's anger, because although I wouldn't have been able to articulate it, anger terrified me. Frightened me to my core. It didn't even have to be directed at me, and it didn't even have to be coming from people close to me, but when those two things were true, it was even more terrifying. When someone I loved got mad at me, in my gut, I was preparing myself to be destroyed. Destroyed. I have no idea why I reacted so strongly, but it was my reality.

I've learned over the years to control my fear, to trust the love of my loved ones despite their anger, to reason myself into reacting calmly and appropriately instead of with the torrent of helpless tears that my husband once confessed struck him as manipulative. I know in my head that somebody else's anger won't destroy me. But I've realized recently that in my heart, the fear is still there. I wonder if it always will be.

But today, I'm less concerned about my own destruction and more concerned about what I may be destroying in others . . . like my family. I don't know how my husband and kids feel inside when I get mad at them, but if it's anything resembling my own reaction, I NEVER want to be the cause of that kind of fear in them. Especially when, as I said at the beginning, most of my anger is not justified. Oh, I always think it is. Don't I have good reason to be mad when my kids don't do what I ask them to do? When they behave selfishly and irresponsibly?

Not when I realize that my anger is an attack. It is a response to a perceived threat from them, a response which, at its physiological core, is designed to squash them, to dominate them, to put them into submission and establish myself as top dog. We don't think that's what we're doing, but we're deceiving ourselves. Anger is a physical response to a mental perception of a situation. A fight response to a threat.

Anger isn't an appropriate training technique. Anger doesn't teach -- or when it does, it teaches that you are a threat to me, to my comfort, to my agenda, to my sense of self, and I won't allow you to be that. I'm in control. I will stop you. There may be circumstances where such a response is appropriate and necessary, but not in the daily life of your typical family. Anger may often be more selfish that the selfish behavior that provokes it.

But we don't think of it this way because it's just so natural to get mad -- and natural is always right, yes? Trying to subvert our natural impulses just messes us up. Right?

Pfft. Lies from Satan. We are by nature sinners,and we are emphatically instructed to stop sinning.

But let's do it right. We don't want to stuff our anger after it rises; we want to stop getting angry in the first place. We want to "be transformed by the renewing of our minds" so that we stop seeing other people's faults as a personal threat and don't have the instinctual response to attack them to protect ourselves. We can't really stop ourselves from getting mad about something as long as we're perceiving it as a threat; we have to change the way we're thinking about the people and situations in our lives -- then our bodies won't turn on that fight response to squash our "enemies" who threaten us.

So, yes, I believe there are times when my anger is sinful -- or, more accurately, when it is a sign of sin in my life. When it is selfish, when it hurts others, and when it is clearly a sign that I don't trust God like I claim to. We don't need to sit around feeling guilty about being sinners . . . but we don't need to sit around indulging in our sin either. Be transformed by the renewing of our minds. God, teach me to think the way you think.

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