Raw Reflections from the Journey

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Understanding Anger - Part I

As a counselor I teach that anger is the master emotion; the one we are likely to feel and express before or in place of sadness, fear, embarrassment, etc. Sometimes we experience anger in response to loss as part of the grieving process, and sometimes it fuels a courageous response to injustice (righteous indignation).

Recently I've come across a fresh perspective on anger from Henri Nouwen in The Way of the Heart. It has been helpful to me in understanding some of the angst I sometimes experience; angst that has at times stolen the joy of the Lord, and peace in my heart. It will take a bit of time to go through this, but I think it's worth it. I'll be curious to hear what you think.

Nouwen begins with the role of oughts and musts in our anger.

Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people's fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives [reference to writing of the Desert Fathers who considered society a shipwreck from which each individual man had to swim for his life].

Just look for a moment at our daily routine. In general we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying or doing. We simply go along with the many "musts" and "oughts" that have been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord. People must be motivated to come to church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised, and above all everyone must be happy. Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life. Thus we are busy people, just like all the other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people!

So, what do you think? I think Nouwen is implying that we set ourselves up for anger by attempting to serve the idols of our day; what we ought to have, who we ought to be, what we ought to be accomplishing, etc. And that when we somehow fall short of the oughts and shoulds that we're prone to anger because we don't have what we ought to have.

But what if the having, being and doing isn't the essence of life in the Kingdom of God? What would it be like to be content that we have what the King wants us to have, that we get to do what He wants us to do, accomplish what He wants to be accomplished and experience the regard of others that He wants us to enjoy?

In Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest devotional titled The Bewildering Call of God he says that when we have a purpose our our own it destroys the peaceful tranquility of spirit that should characterize the lives of God's children. Hmm. Is your life characterized by tranquil peace and joy? Is mine? If not, are some oughts, shoulds and musts acting as culprits in the service of the enemy who is always seeking to steal, kill and destroy?

Blessings, Jeff