Making Me Do and Say Terrible Things
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Ephesians 4:26-27
Over the years, I’ve met countless patients who’ve caused themselves and others significant injuries while intoxicated. Under normal circumstances, they would never get into fights or drive into oncoming traffic, but alcohol decreased their inhibitions and impaired their judgment enough that they made terrible choices and did terrible things. Under the influence, in just a few moments, they caused horrific damage that they could never undo.
Anger does something similar. Normally, I would never stomp, throw things, or yell curse words. Yet, when I get angry, I do and say things that I never would otherwise. Anger, like alcohol, decreases my inhibitions and impairs my judgment. In anger, I make impulsive decisions, doing and saying stupid things that I can never take back. In one reckless moment, while under anger’s influence, I can do irreparable harm, and it’s usually those I love most whom I’m most likely to hurt.
Paul addressed this phenomenon in today’s passage. In it, he didn’t invalidate our feelings. He didn’t tell us we should never feel anger. Anger is an emotion and as such, we have little control over the initial impulse. He did recognize however, that what we do with our anger, is a voluntary response. We can either indulge in our anger, giving in to its intoxicating power and lashing out at those around us, or we can choose to stop and consider what’s right and what’s wrong. Paul knew that anger usually leads to sin. So, he said that when we experience anger, we must stop and control it, instead of allowing it to control us.
Indulging in the anger causes it to grow. When we stomp and shout, we feed the rage. When we stop and think about what is truly right and wrong though, our anger usually subsides. The initial impulse may not be our choice, but what we do with it is. If we continually surrender to it, acting impulsively, then a behavior pattern is established and we can become addicted to it, like any other behavior.
Likewise, in choosing to stop, breath, count to ten – using whatever coping mechanism we choose – we can learn to control ourselves. In our anger, we can act like toddlers, throwing tantrums, or we can choose to grow up, controlling our actions and our words. We are going to experience frustrating things and we are going to feel anger in this life. We cannot control that. We can, however, learn to control our response to it.