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You Make Me So Mad

January 16, 2020
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I’m pretty sure you’ve said and heard these words. If you haven’t, I’d love to hear from you and discover your secret for never saying them, so I can get a glimpse into a perfect life. If I was a betting man, I’d bet you’ve heard them from your kids, from your spouse, from your parents, from co-workers, team mates, from yourself.

A long time ago I read (in a book whose title and author I can’t remember) that no one and no thing can actually make you mad. The academic term for an idea like this is “counter intuitive,” which means it sounds stupid when you first hear it or read it. It was certainly counter intuitive when I first read it.

I could instantly think of a dozen people and things that routinely made me mad. Car problems, money problems, math problems. Don’t tell me no one can make me mad. My world is populated with lots of people who make me mad all the time. So.

I almost deposited this idea in my mental garbage can. But the more I thought about it, the more sense it began to make.

I can easily be made angry. This is a combination of my character flaws and my habits. I’d like to say it’s because of the people I have to spend time with, but in truth, it’s not. I’d also like to blame my Welsh forebearers. But that’s not really it. As attractive as it is for me to say it’s because I have high blood pressure, or because I don’t sleep soundly, or because I’ve got a headache, none of these things are the reason. I’d say 99% of the time, I choose my anger.

Anger is usually my first reaction to pain. When I hit my thumb instead of the nail with the hammer, I get angry. In my worst moments, I do something stupid with my anger. In my best moments, I try to process the event and turn lose of my anger so it won’t bleed over (more often, spew over) into and onto unrelated issues and people.

I also get angry when I feel I’m under threat. Thankfully, I rarely feel under physical threat. I fairly often feel threatened emotionally or intellectually, though. This often happens when I feel misunderstood or disregarded or marginalized. When I’m criticized or feel accused, I’ll get angry, when I’m not at my mature best.

The operative word here is “feel.” I don’t have to actually be under threat to feel I’m threatened. In this, as in many other areas of life, my feelings aren’t reliable. My goal is live in a more reality-based emotional state. The reality is, though, I’m a good ways from this goal. I often feel more threat that actually exists.

But getting angry isn’t a sin. Why would St. Paul write, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry…” (Ephesians 4:26)? If anger was a sin, Paul would have written, “Don’t sin by being angry.”

His thought goes on in verse 27: and do not give the devil a foothold. 

What I do about my anger is the thing. My anger doesn’t have be sin. But if I do the wrong thing, it will easily (and sometimes quickly) lead to sin. If I don’t respond wisely to my anger, it will give the devil a foothold, and that’s all he needs to dig his claws into me. Bad choices are always next, after that.

In a blog installment I can’t give you all you need to solve the anger problem. So I’ll admit that and give you a couple of tips that I’ve found to be helpful in my own battle with anger.

First tip: NOTICE IT. If you’ve been getting angry most of you life (and most of us have), you may not even notice when you first get angry. Others might notice it, and when they tell you they do, it usually only makes you more angry. But if you’ve got an anger habit, you probably won’t notice your anger very early in the cycle. It feels like there’s just a blink between “OK, I’m getting angry,” and “OK, I’m mad!” In reality, though, there’s more than a blink between the two. You have to train yourself to notice it. That means you have to go with more than your instincts. You have to develop stronger self-awareness. I know, that sounds like psycho-babble. It’s not. If you want to step away from the trouble your uncontrolled anger gets you into, you’ve got to grow an awareness of what’s going on in your heart and mind as it’s happening instead of after you’ve blown your top and there’s a lot of collateral damage to clean up.

You won’t get here quickly or easily. This takes time and work. It starts with reflection. Think about your last anger episode. Don’t start with who or what made you mad. Start with an objective look at the incident or moment you began getting angry. That’s what you want to get good at identifying, because if you can identify this moment as it’s happening, you can take your foot off the anger accelerator and start making good choices about what you’ll do about your anger. If you don’t do this, you’ll move full speed ahead on instinct, and this will almost always give the devil a foothold.

Second thing: ASK THE RIGHT QUESTION. Usually my first question is, “Who’s making me mad?” There’s a better question, but it’s a little harder to answer. The better question is, “What is my anger trying to tell me?” Your anger is virtually always telling you something. Figuring out what its message is can be tricky.

Here are some of the things my anger tells me (or tries to tell me…). You’re anxious and tired. Your blood sugar is low. Have a Snickers; you’re not you when you’re hungry. You feel threatened. You feel someone or something blocking you from your goal. You need to go to bed earlier tonight because you’re tired. You’ve got too much ownership of this issue. You’re not the owner, you’re just the steward. This person isn’t your enemy. She’s your wife. Or your boss. Or your friend.

There’s tons more, but that’s enough to spark your own start on your own list. And besides, if I have to add any more to this list, I’ll start to feel my privacy (which is, unfortunately, a synonym for my fantasy) threatened, and that will make me mad. So.

Make your own list of what your anger tries to tell you. If you’ve got the nerve for it, ask your spouse what they think your anger tries to tell you. WARNING: only do this if you’re mature enough to not get mad at your spouse for telling you.

And then pray for divine help. Actually START HERE! You’ll never be able to pull this off without God’s help and intervention. Ask Him to give you the awareness you need to recognize when you’re getting angry, and the self-control to choose your responses.

After this, as with every skill you’ve ever developed, it’s a matter of practice. Practice and failure and restarts. That’s the dance. Give yourself grace and partner with God’s grace for what it takes to grow in this.

There is literally not a single part of your life that this doesn’t touch. No marriage will ever be finished growing in this. No family, no parent, no child will ever be finished growing in this. No friendship, no work relationship will ever be finished growing in this.

As you grow in this skill, God won’t love you more. He can’t love you more than He already does. But as you grow in this skill, you’ll be more useful and available to Him for what He wants to do in your life. And that will put you more and more in your sweet spot. And you’ll like your sweet spot. The people in your life will like it when you’re there more often, too.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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