“Post this at all the intersections, dear friends: Lead with your ears, follow up with your tongue, and let anger straggle along in the rear. God’s righteousness doesn’t grow from human anger. So throw all spoiled virtue and cancerous evil in the garbage.” James 1:19 (The Message) In other words, be a good listener, a slow talker and don’t get angry quickly.
This verse came to mind yesterday for me after a road rage incident. Is it just me or has road rage gotten entirely out of hand? Talk about posting scriptures about anger at all intersections. I think this may need to happen quite literally.
Anywhoo…yesterday around 5pm, I was headed home. There was traffic and the winter sun was starting to set right in the direction I was headed which was at a three way intersection with a stoplight. Because I couldn’t see the light, I went rather slowly but then the cars started breaking. Unfortunately, I noticed too late that I had stopped in front of an exit to a gas station. Another car had been waiting for a break in traffic to go across but I had stopped in his way. Legally I was not violating any traffic law and I had the right of way but I normally let people in or leave space in those situations but cars were in front of me and behind me so I couldn’t move. I started to motion that I couldn’t see because of the sun and I made sure my apologetic face was in full view. But as soon as I began mouthing the words, “So sorry,” his middle finger was already up and he was pounding his fists on his steering wheel, obviously screaming at the top of his lungs while staring straight at me. His face was alarmingly bright red and his arms were flailing around hysterically. For a minute I thought he would either have a heart attack or he would get out of his car and proceed to strangle me. The anger in his face scared me to death. Even though I couldn’t hear what he was saying, our cars were close enough that I had some pretty good guesses. I don’t think I’ve seen a string of curse words mouthed that well in quite some time. I looked around thinking maybe something else had happened because I was in disbelief that someone could get this enraged over less than a minute delay in their commute. I mean seriously. In the (maybe) 60 seconds during which he acted like a two year old having a major temper tantrum, the light had already turned green, I moved forward and he was able to go. Was it worth all of that?! Good grief! And I thought my girls were drama queens!
As I drove off, I couldn’t shake the sadness that suddenly came over me. I started to get a little emotional. I had just come from being tethered to an IV for 4 long hours for a chronic disease that has no known cure. I struggle daily with symptoms that seem to get worse every day. Somedays I can barely even make it to my treatments – treatments that I am praying will start helping soon, even if it’s just a little bit! I was getting upset and overwhelmed because I had a very long day. I was feeling sorry for myself and he hurt my feelings, end of story. I began to search my heart. No. That was not it. The feeling went deeper than that. I kept seeing this guy’s face in my mind. It troubled me. It burdened me. What does that guy do when it’s something that really matters? Who is he hurting with his words, his actions, maybe even with his own hands? Then came the zinger. Does my anger affect people like that?
Ryan and I watched a very disturbing documentary recently about a family that among many other problems, has a severe generational cycle of violence, i.e.: murder/attempted murder is something a lot of them have in common. What really shook me to my core was the way the violence seemed to manifest itself. The grandmother in the family died of natural causes and instead of grief, tears or hugs, there was hateful words full of obscenity thrown out randomly to no one in particular and death threats screamed at other people in the family – with small children standing close by. Not to mention the casual and flippant way the teenage boy talked about murderous revenge as if he was talking about video games or sports. They had all grown up this way. If you had a problem, you solved it with anger and violence. Every emotion ended up with an angry dramatic display. They didn’t seem to know any other way to express themselves. It was heart breaking albeit, terrifying.
I have had my share of battles with a quick temper for a long time and it’s frustrating because I will think I have it in check and then it creeps up out of no where and will spill out on whomever is in the room at the time. I’ve been researching about Chronic Lyme and I found out that angry outbursts and rage are a common symptom. That would be an easy excuse. But I know that I can do better. I know that with prayer and God’s help, it’s something that does not have to control me. But what is it that causes anger to get out of control? Why is it something that so many people struggle with? I’m no psychologist but I believe it can be traced back to something really simple. Pride. When my girls deliberately disobey and I temporarily lose my mind in anger over their behavior, it’s because they interfered with MY schedule or with MY idea of how my children are supposed to behave. Is everything about me or am I considering the needs of those around me when I’m angry?
As my road raging friend personified yesterday, a reaction that comes in explosive anger can be traced back to pride. He was focused on what HE was doing and the “inconvenience” I caused him meant that he had to wait…even if it was only for a minute. His agenda was much more important than mine or anyone else’s on that road. He didn’t care who I was, where I was going or where I had been. He had to show me exactly how my actions affected HIM. What he didn’t realize was how his behavior affected me. It altered my mood for quite a long time and he will never even know that. And I don’t know what his day was like, where he had just come from or where he was going. Maybe he had just gotten laid off from his job. Maybe he had just had a fight with his wife. Maybe he too was dealing with illness or physical pain. I don’t know, maybe he just hates driving. I hope he’s not usually an angry person but I know as I watched his crazy behavior, I saw a familiarity that made me ashamed. What do my girls see when I’m raising my voice at them or slamming the pantry door because something isn’t going my way or someone made me mad? What am I communicating to my husband when I stew in silent anger or speak in a harsh tone?
Sometimes it takes a road raging maniac to help you realize that your actions affect EVERYONE around you. I needed that reminder. I want to have a positive affect on others. I want my friends and family to feel happy and peaceful when they are in my presence. I should constantly be thinking of how my actions and reactions affect my husband, my girls, my friends, even the drivers driving beside me on the highway or the people in front of me at the grocery store.
Ephesians 4:26-27 says it best, “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life.” (The Message)
God knows we are going to get angry. He got angry too. But we can’t let it get the best of us. I am still working on this.