“Anger lodges in us. It comes home, kicks off its shoes, plants itself in front of the TV, and expects to stay. It doesn’t even look at you when you tell it to leave. But it can be moved. It just takes more than a day” (p. 35).
You wouldn’t think I was an angry person if you observed me much. I don’t generally yell or scream. I might occasionally throw something if I am alone. I tend to seethe rather than explode. Part of that is my upbringing; my father was the only one allowed to express anger. But quiet anger is still anger and still destructive. I experience it enough that when I saw A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace by Edward T. Welch, I got it as soon as possible. Ed’s book, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, was a big help to me with anxiety, so I trusted this book would be just as helpful concerning anger. And it was.
It is indeed a small book. It’s only about four by six inches and 185 pages. It’s divided into 50 chapters, but they average about three pages each. Ed advises reading just one chapter a day and meditating on its main point rather than rushing through the book without absorbing it. And that’s a wise strategy. I confess I did sometimes read two at a time, if one was short or a expressed a truth that was already a part of my thinking. But I tried to move slowly. I went back through the book after finishing it and made a list of main points and quotes from each chapter. That overview over about three days helped bring out some of the recurring themes and connections.
The first need is to acknowledge that anger is a problem.
“To be angry is to destroy…In its commonness we can overlook our anger’s volatile and destructive disposition” (p. 1).
“Anger is known to take a toll on our bodies. It is not healthy” (p. 2).
“Jesus…enlarged the boundary of murder so that it includes all kinds of anger. In order to do this, He links them at the level of the heart, where they share the same lineage of selfish desire. We want something–peace, money, respect–and we aren’t getting it. The only difference is in our choice of weapons” (p. 18).
Sometimes we’re “deaf to [our] anger” because it sounds like what we grew up with; it seems normal (p. 117). Prov. 22:24-25: “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”
Wisdom–learning what God says about anger–and humility are our best aids to diffuse anger.
“Humility might sound like your worst nightmare because it seems to destine you for mistreatment. People can now treat you any way they like, or so you think. In response, you can only meekly turn the other cheek. Humility, however, is not necessarily silent, and it is certainly not passive. Instead, it is the foundation for all wisdom. It has the flexibility to rebuke, overlook offenses, invite, or get help” (pp. 25-26).
“One of your desires is “I WANT AN EASY LIFE. When this is thwarted, you will likely pounce on the offender” (p. 157).
It’s not the incident that made us angry: anger was lurking in the form of desires (James 4:1). Some desires are legitimate, but we elevate them from a desire to a need, and then get angry when they are thwarted.
Anger may not seem to relate to God, but when we don’t get a desire we have deemed important, that “says something very significant about our relationship with God” (p. 43). James 4:4. “We are not thinking about God. We simply want something or someone else, at least temporarily. Our selfishness blinds us to the betrayal. We want what we want, and we don’t want Him” (p. 44).
James 4:13-16 talks about taking the Lord’s will into account in our planning. This is hardest for me in the “little” areas of life, like traffic jams keeping me from getting somewhere on time. But “If we learn this, we no longer live as if we are slaves to the circumstances of life” (p. 108).
The passage in James reminds us our life is but a mist. “We are mere mortals who will die. What makes us so important that life must go according to our plans?” (p. 108) (emphasis mine).
Anger can seem powerful, gives an illusion of control, gets results. But “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25). “Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.” (Proverbs 16:32). “Real strength and real power, however, never lash out. Those who are truly strong are composed, while others are not. Real strength is used to rule our spirit rather than rule others” (p. 92).
Other chapters discuss covert forms of anger (grumbling, which reveals our displeasure that God isn’t doing things our way, sarcasm, coldness, and even indifference), the need for forgiveness, taking care of the “log” in our eye before dealing with the “speck” in someone else’s (Matthew 7:1-5). Anger can feel like fear, threat, being misunderstood, fatigue, injustice, depression, guilt, shame. Some even use anger as a shield for their own pain and vulnerability, like a hurt animal. We need to recognize these in ourselves but show mercy and patience when we recognize them in others.
The author looks at anger as shown by God the Father and Jesus and how their anger differs from ours.
“When other people’s welfare was at stake, Jesus was angry. Here is how He is unlike us: He was never angry when He was personally violated” (p. 53). 1 Peter 2:23 – when He was reviled, reviled not again.
“Does this leave you deaf, bind, and mute in the face of personal injustices? No, it leaves you so that you are not mastered by the injustices of others. Anger might feel powerful, but it is not. It renders you a servant of the one who hurt you. The way of Jesus is the way of Spirit-given power. In this power you have a clear mind to consider how and when to act” (p. 54).
“Jesus was confident that His Father was in control; there would be justice in the end” (p. 54).
“Jesus served by blessing His enemies (Luke 6:27-31), which is a good thing, because we ourselves have been His enemies” (p. 54-55).
“When the only one who has a right to be angry chooses love and service, when He considers the interests of others more important than His own and chooses humility–He changes everything” (p. 55).
And he encourages us that God loves us and wants to forgive us and help us change.
“When we see our anger clearly, we would expect God to forget about us. Instead, He pursues us with even more zeal, and He gives us even more power to stay faithful to Him” (p. 70).
“He doesn’t forgive us because of our resolve to never be angry again. He forgives us because of His resolve to forgive those who come to Him” (p. 47).
Hebrews 4:15-16 – our high priest (Jesus) sympathizes with our weakness, has been tempted like we are. Draw near to throne of grace for grace to help in time of need.
One chapter that brought me to tears was “Day 22: You Have Been Anger’s Victim.” And later, for those of us who grew up with anger:
“Retrain your ears as you listen” for anger. “Decide that the culture of anger will stop with your generation” (p. 118).
“As a protest against the anger around us, who will you bless with your words today?” (p. 119).
Our example of how to respond when wrong, is of course, Jesus, who “when He was reviled, reviled not again” (1 Peter 2:23). And when we remember how much we have been forgiven, we realize we have no right to withhold forgiveness from others (Matthew 18:27-35). Remember the love and cost to our forgiveness, freely offered (Eph. 1:7-8; 2:4-5). But even beyond forgiveness, God wants us to love and bless those who wrong us.
Forgive me for such a long, quote-heavy post. But there is so much that was so helpful in this book, and I have only shared maybe half of it. Needless to say, I highly recommend it.
(Sharing with Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books, Literary Musing Monday, Colletta’s Book Club, and Carole’s Books You Loved)