I have always considered myself a pretty calm, laid back, easygoing person. As a matter of fact, I can only remember two times when I have “snapped” due to anger (striking fear into those around me…just kidding…probably). However, during the course of my self-assessment, I have come to the realization that in spite of my usual passive, doormat-like meekness I am easily irritated and often short tempered especially in response to actions taken (or not taken) by other people. What made me realize this was my car. Well, not my car but my behavior while driving my car. After a grueling, three-hour commute to DC during rush hour during which I berated the drivers around me from the safety of my enclosed vehicle, I was exhausted. My jaws hurt from clenching my teeth the whole time (gave myself a headache) and my knuckles and wrists ached from gripping the steering wheel so hard. I get so tired of people cutting me off, not using signals, ignoring solid lines, tailgating and driving faster than reason should allow. Really though, no matter how much I fuss about other drivers and call them pig headed buttmonkeys, they probably do not realize they are doing anything wrong or just do not care. Allowing myself to be worked into a tizzy is just a waste of energy and emotion on my part.
That situation got me thinking about anger in general. When I think of the word “anger”, my first thought is “negative emotion”. Anger can breed or be associated with other negative emotions and ideas like hate, rage, distrust, retaliation, animosity, resentment, malice or enmity (remember that one? See Genesis 3:15). Anger can also cause one to act out of character and react in a violent or otherwise unseemly manner. I checked out what the Bible said about anger and I can say that anger is normal, even God got angry. I mean, how many times was God provoked to anger or wrath? How many times was his anger kindled against Israel alone? (a whole lot). How is it that God’s anger is displayed so often yet Psalm 103:8 and Psalm 145:8 tout how gracious, merciful, compassionate and slow to anger he is? Simple, that is where the provocation comes in. Many verses mention how longsuffering God is, like Exodus 34:6 and Numbers 14:28. Longsuffering is almost self-explanatory; one suffers for a long time (at their own expense). According to Dictionary.com, longsuffering is “enduring injury, trouble, or provocation long and patiently”. Yes God is longsuffering but that does not mean he is a pushover and that I will not be corrected (in instruction in righteousness; see II Timothy 3:16) nor does a perceived lack of action on his part mean whatever I did is acceptable.
I believe that there is a difference between my anger and God’s anger. My anger is selfish; I am angry because this happened to me, I am angry because that person did not get what I think they deserved etc. My anger is indeed negative. However, God’s anger is out of love. Just as our earthly parents discipline us (in theory) as a means to teach us about right and wrong, our Heavenly Father does the same. But what about all that smiting like in Numbers 11:1? Well in that case, to make a long story short, God rescued the Israelites from slavery but at every hardship they complained without consideration of the miracles they had witnessed repeatedly and even had the nerve to turn to idolatry provoking God to afflict them with fire. If I believe God is who he says he is (and I do) then I must also believe that he knows what he is doing. While smiting people may seem harsh and incomprehensible at times, there are two ways that I interpret it. First, God knew that those people would not have changed and had already made their decisions regarding their relationship with God. Second, God knew that if those people had been allowed to live that they would have caused others to be lost so he destroyed them out of love for those who remained. That is all just conjecture though.
Thankfully, I am not angry all of the time. Those that are chronically angry can suffer from high stress levels, high blood pressure and other health effects. The Bible also links anger with foolishness (Ecclesiastes 7:9) and suggest that being slow to anger aids in conflict resolution (Proverbs 15:18). [side note: I just opened a “proverb cookie” (let’s face it they haven’t been “fortunes” for a long time) and it says “an angry man opens his mouth and shuts up his eyes”…mind blown]. I have done a few foolish things out of anger (and regretted it) but a time when I especially do not want to do foolish things out of anger is when I am driving. My mom prays over me before I make those tedious trips to DC (and other times too) in regards to my safety but it took me a while to realize “hey, I should pray for a calm spirit”. From the first time I prayed, it made a difference. I did get a little peeved a few times but I did not have steam blowing out of my ears like I did before.
One of the prayers that I have always liked was the Serenity Prayer (yes, the one adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous):
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Recently I found out that portion is only about a third of the whole prayer, which is just as beautiful and compelling as the shortened one. This prayer is a remedy for many spiritual ailments; restlessness, impatience, inactivity, uncertainty, sadness, control, disobedience and of course, anger. So in order to maintain my calm I will continue to pray and keep this particular prayer in mind so I can face whatever comes at me with a patient, peaceful spirit.