The young pastor drove his car to work on Tuesday morning. He was angry. He had recently been told that his car would need expensive repairs. He had a small congregation, a slim budget and a modest salary. In driving to work he had encountered a rude driver who roared past him at high speed. This was near a school zone. This too made him angry.
He arrived at his church office to discover there was a leak in the basement. Valuable furniture, carpeting and other church property was ruined.
Three people were waiting to talk to him. One person did not have an appointment, and was acting very anxious. Another did have an appointment, which the pastor remembered making but had not recorded in his appointment book. A third appointment had been made for him by the church secretary who had neglected to tell him about it. All these things contributed to his feeling of stress. He suspected all three of these people had issues that were genuinely challenging. There would almost certainly be the element of anger intertwined in the illness, the relationship or the self.
The pastor asked for a few minutes before he met with anyone. Alone in his office, he could not seem to calm down. He knew he was angry. He also knew people have high expectations of pastors. It does not look good for pastors to be exhibiting signs of anger, impatience, stress and disappointment. If a pastor, a man who believes in God and the power of prayer cannot hold it together, who can? The pastor was angry about the fact that he was angry.
His secretary was an insightful person and knew that he was angry, and indeed that he was angry about being angry. She felt a little angry herself because of his anger—who was he, someone special that was never allowed to get angry?
The pastor glanced at the front page of the newspaper. There was a story about people protesting and demonstrating downtown. They were obviously angry about something. Others were angry at the protesters. In international news... well, the pastor thought he had better stop there. The world’s anger was like a contagion. One person rapidly infected another. Anger multiplied exponentially, like a bacteria or a virus. The consequences were always unpleasant and sometimes lethal.
The pastor clasped his hands together. Where were the words, what were the words to say at a time like this? None came. The pastor sat immobile. He felt helpless.
After a little while, the pastor came out of his study. He did the best he could, counseling his friends and praying for them. In time, the other issues would also find resolution. What might have happened while the pastor was alone in his study?
One of the great challenges of the life of faith is learning how to deal with anger. Books have been written on the topic. One of them is by Charles F. Stanley, entitled Surviving in an Angry World: Finding Your Way to Personal Peace. Stanley tells the story of a woman who was a wife and mother who was angry at her husband and children. This anger was a deep-rooted kind that became extremely bitter over the years. Finally, the woman took her own life leaving behind detailed notes explaining her anger towards her family. Stanley writes:
The effects of her desperate decision echoed in that family for decades—even affecting her children’s marriages, as well as her grandchildren’s. What a waste of emotional energy! And what a vivid example of how resentment works to undermine and ultimately destroy a person’s life. (p.26).
There are many different kinds of anger, of course, and we must be careful not to oversimplify. It is a universal emotion and there is such a thing as righteous indignation—the kind of anger that results in positive action to affect change (p.29).
The Bible has many references to anger. In Ephesians 4:26-27, for example we read: “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” (ESV). “Be angry”—this acknowledges the inevitability and universality of the emotion; “do not sin”—this tells us anger is no excuse for the myriad of potential sins that might result from anger; “do not let the sun go down on your anger”—means obviously that we have to find ways to cool off, fast; and “give no opportunity to the devil” means just what it says: do not let the darkest forms of evil enter into the picture.
We know what to do, but can we do it? Accepting help wherever we find it, we might review a secular study of the phenomenon of anger. In Anger: The Misunderstood Emotion Carol Tavris explores the psychological complexity of this troublesome emotion. There is no simplistic remedy, but Tavris recommends a multi-faceted approach:
Successful anger therapies, therefore, attack the mind (teaching the person to identify the perceptions and interpretations that generate anger), the body (teaching relaxation and cooling-off techniques to help the person calm down), and behavior (teaching new habits and skills) (p.288).
Meditation is listed by Tavris as one of many possible cooling-off techniques (p.288).
We know that this word, meditation, has many meanings and different contexts. It links us, however, in the present discussion, to yet another helpful authority: Dr. John White, a Christian psychiatrist. He writes:
But what is meditation? Meditation is the deliberate, disciplined practice of focusing our attention on a truth or an aspect of reality—ideally on the truth of the loving presence of Christ in and with us. Meditation consists of dwelling on reality, and God in me is reality.
Thinking logically about our emotions is useful when it brings us back to the awesome power of God; the living and eternal presence of God; and finally our relationship with God forged through the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross for our sins.
Is it possible, therefore, that our hypothetical young pastor might have found solace in contemplating the central mystery of our faith? Is this what finally enables him to engage in the countless challenges of daily life? Is this what reminds him of the love of God which trumps everything else and guides him to a life of purpose and hope? We’ll never know unless we try it for ourselves.
“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10).
In faith and fellowship,
 (New York: Howard Books, Simon and Schuster), 2010.
 (New York: Touchstone, Simon and Schuster, 1982).
 Changing on the Inside (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, Vine Books) 1991, pp.137-138.
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