Anger Revealed

I am an angry person. (Does my admitting this surprise you? It might, even if you know me fairly well.)

But I can guarantee you it doesn’t surprise my kids.

I don’t mean that I am the kind of angry person that runs around yelling or showing hostility whenever I don’t get my way. You’re probably not in danger of getting slapped if you’re nearby when something sets me off.

Psalm 139And so, because my anger doesn’t show itself in obvious ways, it would be easy for me to go along through my day, happily thinking that I don’t have an anger problem. I’m generally kind to people, generally patient, generally fairly easy to be around (or so I’m told). But trust me, I really do get angry when I don’t get my way, or when things get hard…and I get there with alarming speed.

One “good” example happened just this past week.

I recently went for a walk in our neighborhood with my daughter, Mary, and our dog, Calvin. I hadn’t seen Mary in several weeks, at least not for a long-enough period where we had a chance to talk, so I was looking forward to this time with her. In hindsight, it seems clear that I had already formulated my own rigid ideas as to how this time would best be spent. As we got started, though, our dog – ever-eager to get out and see the world – attempted (as always) to pull my arm out of its socket and greatly increase our speed. So now I was trying to chat with Mary as I was simultaneously battling with Calvin over who was in charge and how fast we would walk. Already well on my way to being annoyed, we turned a corner and had to pass by a long line of backyard fence.

On the other side of that fence was a very-small-but-very-brave-dog who decided that we were far too close to his property for his liking. Of course, this wasn’t the first time that this sort of thing has happened for Calvin and me, so I can’t say it was a surprise. I know these streets; as soon as I saw that particular dog was outside I knew it would be hard going. Resolutely, I tightened my grip on the leash and kept our pace. Mary and I were in the middle of a conversation, so I was attempting to keep my unruly 80-pound walking companion under control while still paying attention to my daughter.

Earlier I mentioned that the fence line was long; it would be more accurate to say that it runs the full length of a backyard. Not a small backyard, but not a farm field either. We got about two-thirds of the way down when – having had enough manhandling – Calvin lunged in such a way that he pulled me towards the fence and simultaneously hit me with his body, really setting me off my feet and almost knocking me down. My immediate reaction was to curse at the dog while also raising my voice in a really hateful way. My daughter stopped talking and just looked at me while I regained my composure. I mumbled an apology alongside an excuse to “justify” my behavior, we made it past the fence line and finished our walk without talking about that little bit of awkwardness.

Just as it is tempting for me to believe that “I am not really an angry person,” it is still tempting to look back at that outburst and tell myself, “Well, it was an isolated incident…everybody has those moments. No big deal!”

I really don’t think that’s true.

Jesus certainly doesn’t seem to think that anything we say should be terribly surprising (Luke 6:45). Since that walk, I’ve thought about my little outburst several times. It took less than a minute for God to reveal to me just how close to the surface my anger lies, and how deeply interwoven it is into my desire for things to go the way I want them to (Psalm 139:23-24). Someone far smarter than me once said, “If you want to find out where your idols are, just make a note of those times when you get angry.”

Clearly, what I wanted was “a hassle-free window of time” in which to catch up with my daughter. What I wanted was perfectly legitimate, certainly not a bad thing, and one I should seek to make time for. But in that moment of anger, I revealed that my desire to control how that time looked was what I wanted most. I had (yet again) allowed a good thing to become a controlling thing.

If something is “big” enough to make you mad when it’s withheld – whatever that is – that’s a problem. We can’t minimize those events in our lives because, generally speaking, we like to think we’re good people; all evidence to the contrary tends to get stuffed down and suppressed. But as Christians, we really can’t justify our behavior and tell ourselves that “everyone” gets mad sometimes. While it is certainly true that we all get mad, that moment where your anger is revealed to you is actually precious, a God-appointed opportunity for you to learn something that God is trying to show you.

It’s an opportunity for you to see that you are clinging to something too tightly.

Whenever we justify our behavior or minimize it, we miss an opportunity to see our sin and to grow in faith and righteousness. Life this side of heaven is all about growing in faith and righteousness, and by Jesus’ death and resurrection, we’ve been freed from having to worry about what might happen if we’re “found out” as people who get angry (Romans 8:1). Why wouldn’t we then, along with the psalmist, make it a daily practice to ask of God, “Search me O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139)

“What many people call ‘psychological problems’ are simple issues of idolatry. Perfectionism, workaholism, chronic indecisiveness, the need to control the lives of others – all of these stem from making good things into idols that then drive us into the ground as we try to appease them. Idols dominate our lives.”
Tim Keller, Counterfeit Gods

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