Tag Archives: anger

The Shirt Off My Back

Four bikes were outside when I arrived for our Saturday morning run.

“No one told me that they were riding this morning?” I thought as I walked inside.

I noted the four who wore cycling gear as they greeted me, though several others were dressed to run.

“Hey, no one told me about a ride this morning.” I said, a bit miffed at being left out of the loop.  As I said this, I felt this surge of anger bubble up inside me, not sure where it was coming from.  My voice and actions became more dramatic, nearly shouting, half in jest, half in anger, “Why didn’t you include me in the text message.  Don’t I count!”

The others laughed at my outburst (as I had wanted), but I also realized that I had overstated my case and began to apologize.  Tim, one of the cyclists, said, “You need to take some time to center yourself.”  He was right.

Preparing to race, Shannon is in pink vest

Preparing to race, Shannon is in pink vest

Shannon, also a cyclist, apologized that she had sent out the text invite and used an old thread that did not include me and several others.  I calmed down and said it was okay, especially since I knew Shannon would not do it intentionally.  Shannon is a gracious and generous child of God who gives of her time and energy to help others.  She is a physical therapist who opens her workplace early on Sunday mornings so that our group of runners can do strength training as way to avoid injuries. She regularly travels to Haiti on mission trips and feels comfortable praying for our group.  I consider her a friend.

l525182534As the runners and cyclist prepared to leave, Shannon approached me to see if I had a spare shirt.  It was cooler than expected outside and she needed another layer.  I looked in my running bag and pulled out the only long sleeve shirt I had: my finisher’s shirt from my last marathon.  I teased Shannon that she needed to return it freshly laundered.

After a short prayer, the group headed out the door, cyclists and runners.  I had a great run that morning and headed home prior to the cyclists’ return.  It had been a gorgeous Saturday morning and, after my initial outburst, I was grateful for having a great group of runners to challenge and encourage me.

Later that afternoon, Tim called me to tell me some bad news. During the ride, Shannon had taken a fall.  Fortunately she had a good bike helmet that had protected her head.  Still she had to go the ER where she discovered that she had broken her collarbone.

I texted Shannon that I would be praying for her quick and full recovery.  She texted back that she appreciated the prayers, she was doing all right but that she owed me a shirt, since they had to cut off her jersey and my shirt in the ER.

When I read the text, two thoughts in quick succession flashed into my mind.

The first thought was: “That was the finisher’s shirt from my last marathon.   That can’t be replaced!”

The second deeper thought was, “John, which is more important, a shirt or a friendship?”

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.  Matthew 25:40

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Myths About Emotions Part Two

There is a  myth that emotions are irrational and uncontrollable. Certainly emotions are powerful and can be corrosive, but they are not uncontrollable. Grief, anger,  fear, love,  or gratitude can be cultivated and directed in a variety of ways and for distinct purposes. Today I will explore the myth that emotions are good or bad, positive or negative.

Our culture tends to see emotions in black and white terms. We think of joy, love, hope, peace as good or positive emotions while we categorize anger, guilt, resentment, envy, jealousy, grief and fear as negative or bad emotions. We think that to be angry is wrong and to be in love is right. But such strict categories does not reflect the reality of emotions as expressed in scripture.

In my last post I wrote about anger and an experience I had in a parking lot. I now see my angry reaction in that circumstance as a misuse of my passionate energy. However I don’t see all anger as wrong.

Years earlier I had a different kind of experience of anger in a parking lot. My wife and I had stopped at an A&W drive-in where root beer floats were served in large frosty glass mugs. The delicious drinks were brought to cars by the hard-working wait staff and then the mugs were picked up afterwards. As my wife and I enjoyed our floats, I noticed that a neighboring car was preparing to leave. As they finished their root beer, they placed the mugs on the floor of their car and the driver then quickly set the empty tray on the ground beside the car.

I felt a surge of anger swell within me. I thought, “They are trying to steal the glass mugs!” I yelled for a wait staff person, “Hey, that car is trying to steal your mugs.” I was upset that my neighbor was stealing and I wanted to prevent it. The waitress quickly returned and retrieved the mugs and I received some very dirty looks from the exiting driver.

Now in this situation I believe my anger was justified and my actions purposeful. I could have simply ignored the situation, “not my business,” but my sense of justice motivated me to act. The anger served as an energizing motivator to seek justice in this small situation. I think peaceful passivity would have been wrong in this situation while properly directed anger was more helpful.

There is a time and place for what I call “righteous anger,” when some injustice or unfair system needs to be confronted. Confrontation does not require violence, but rather the purpose of making things right. Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights movement in our nation was an expression of such righteous anger towards the injustice of racism.

Jesus demonstrated such anger when he confronted the merchants in the temple (Mark 11:15-17). The temple’s purpose had been subverted by this interchange and Jesus worked to make things right. The temple was to be a house of prayer for all nations, not a marketplace of exchanged good.

Emotions are God-given gifts that need to be cultivated and directed towards God’s purposes.

Lord Jesus, harness the energy of my anger for your purposes.

Myths about Emotions Part One

I am preparing for a sermon series this summer that I have titled Spiritual Emotions: Turning our Hearts to God. I have been reading various books and articles regarding how our emotions and spirit interact.

I recently posted on Robert Roberts works here.

I have wrestled with various myths in regards to our emotions.

The first myth is that emotions are wildly disruptive and irrational, something we cannot control. An emotion like anger seems to grab hold of me and I am unable to think or act rationally. The emotion takes control and bad things happen, sort of like the comic book hero The Incredible Hulk who is the alter ego of Dr. Bruce Banner. Whenever Dr. Banner becomes angry, he is transformed in monster/superhero The Hulk and things get smashed.

I still remember the day when I was driving my family to the store and as I approached a parking spot someone cut in front of me and took the parking spot. I immediately felt this wave of anger push up inside me, “This not fair,” and I jumped out of the car to confront the other driver. He was startled by the vehemence of my indignation (as was my family). In my anger, I told him to get back into his car and move it. He just looked at me strangely and then walked away. I was still fuming as I returned to my car and found a new parking spot. My wife chastised me for letting my anger become so wild.

Now my anger in that situation was irrational and I did some foolish things. But it is a myth to say that my anger “made” me do it. I made choices in my actions that I controlled. I now confess that I was “wrong” to confront the driver in such a angry manner.

In Genesis 4, God warns Cain about his anger towards his brother Able.

The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:6-7)

Though feelings of anger rose within me, when what I was thought of as “my” parking spot was taken, I had choices.  I could choose to see the perspective of the other driver. Perhaps he did not see me waiting; perhaps he had some urgent matter. I did not need to jump out and confront the other driver. I could have chosen to “count to ten” or pray for him or ask for God’s grace to aid my emotions. I may not always be able to avoid the emotion of anger, but I can learn how to direct and manage my actions around it.

Tomorrow I will post on the myth that emotions are either good or bad, positive or negative.

Lord Jesus, rule in my heart so my heart and body can reflect you.

Spiritual Emotions?

I am reading Spiritual Emotions: A Psychology of Christian Virtues by Robert C. Roberts, preparing for a preaching series this summer. Twenty years ago I read his book, The Strengths of a Christian, which continues to shape how I look at the virtues of self-control, patience and perseverance. I posted on Strengths previously.

In Spiritual Emotions, Roberts asks the questions, can Christians shape or tend to our emotions? Or are they simply electro-chemical reactions in our brains that we have no control over? Can emotions be something that we cultivate and link to our Spiritual lives?

Roberts proposes that emotions are concern-based construals, a framework for interpreting a situation and responding  to it. I am reminded of an example of this in Stephen Covey’s classic, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In the book, Covey described riding on a subway car and becoming very irritated with a father whose young children were acting out. The children’s behavior was loud and disruptive and Covey became more and more irritated, even angry, with the father for not intervening. Finally Covey confronted the father about the obnoxious behavior of his children. The father, who seemed preoccupied, looked over at his children and then responded, “Yes, I guess they are being unruly. You see, we just came from the hospital where their mother, my wife, died today.”

Suddenly Stephen Covey’s understanding (construal) changed from one of anger to one of compassionate understanding. At first he interpreted the situation one way, “an inattentive father,” that fostered anger within him. But his interpretation or construal changed when he realized that the father was inattentive due to grief, fostering compassion.

Now, according to Roberts, Stephen Covey had some choice in how to respond to the new information. He might have stayed angry, thinking that his subway ride was still being interrupted by these disruptive children and that it did not matter what the reason was. Most of us would see such a construal or interpretative framework as being selfish and un-Christian. Or Covey might have become embarrassed and upset, again focusing more on his own needs. Instead Covey made a choice (perhaps out of habit) to respond with compassion and offer assistance.

Emotions are not just feeling that arbitrarily hit us and we have no control over them. Neither can we automatically dictate what emotions we will have. They are fruit of the Holy Spirit, which we help cultivate and grow over time, practice and attentiveness.  I believe Robert’s book will help me in this practice.

Lord Jesus, shape my heart to be a harbor of love and not fear.

Is it right to be angry?

Last night we wrapped up the study of Jonah for Summer Lite Worship.   Most remember Jonah’s attempt to escape from God’s mission to Nineveh and how God sends his pet whale to retrieve him.  What happens next is even more fantastic, because when Jonah finally reaches Nineveh, a city renown for sin, he preaches a one-sentence sermon and the ENTIRE CITY REPENTS, including the cattle, sheep, dogs and cats.   It is a marvelous scene with everyone wearing ashes and gunnysacks, seeking the mercy of a God they did not know prior to Jonah’s arrival.    And wonder of wonders, “God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them and he did not do it.”  Jonah 3:10

The reader would think that Jonah would rejoice.  After all, what preacher has ever had 100% positive response to her sermon?   But not Jonah; he despairs!   He wants Nineveh to be punished for what it had done to Israel.   Jonah starts to argue with God,

“O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country? That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing.  And now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” Jonah 4:2-3  

The mercy of God causes Jonah pain because he sees others getting away with “murder.” Even though he received mercy when the great fish rescued him from the depths of the sea, he cannot stomach others receiving mercy.  God’s mercy irks him so much that he wants to die.

So God asked Jonah a fateful question, “Is it right for you to be angry?”

Almost all emotions involve some kind of judgment.   We are sad when we are deprived of something that we valued.  We are happy when we receive something we value.  A Garmin Forerunner 410 as a birthday present could give joy to an avid runner and disappointment to a six-year-old.  

God asks Jonah if his anger towards God’s compassion is right.  Should God be merciful to all sinners, even the most horrendous ones? Should God be gracious towards those who have hurt you?

Lord Jesus, wash me in mercy, that I might be merciful.