The customer service rep. was cool, detached, and didn’t really care that my water bill went from $32 to $108 this month. “Yes, we did change the meter” he acknowledged in a bored tone of voice. “No, I can’t adjust that bill. That’s the reading, sir” he answered with a “I couldn’t care less,” tone of voice. “No the meter is new and couldn’t possibly be faulty,” he continued in his patronizing, “you’re really bugging me but I have to talk you ’cause it’s my job,” tone. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. I was tired and irritated. I could feel my ears getting hot. No, really, that’s a clue that I’m getting angry. Apparently as my blood pressure rises, my ears start to heat up. OK, so I’m different in that way. Hang with me here as we meander towards my point.
During the conversation, in some part of my brain, another little voice was saying, “Jerry, don’t be angry with this guy. It’s not his fault. He’s probably in a call center somewhere in Illinois and even if he wanted to, couldn’t do anything but read the script on his PC screen.” Was that the Holy Spirit or just memories of unproductive and ungodly temper fits? I’m not sure, but I listened to the voice. I thanked him for his assistance, ending the call courteously. End of story? I wish it were. The truth is, my ears were still hot and my stomach felt like it was tied in knots of frustrated anger — all over a water bill!
What about anger? Is it always a bad emotion? What can we do with it or about it?
First, we need to know this: anger is a normal human emotion. Believe it or not, it is a God-given emotion! A person who is incapable of anger is going to be run over, pushed aside, used, manipulated, and generally unable to deal with life. Not many injustices would be righted if people were unwilling to allow themselves to be angry. It took some angry people to confront 19th century America with the sinfulness of slavery. It took some angry people to force socity to deal with child labor and abuse of women. Personally, many of us will not deal with sinful habits until we get angry enough at ourselves or our situation to go through the difficult experience of change! Anger is a powerful motivator for change.
However, anger is an emotion loaded with danger! Given a leash that is a little too long, it will become a raging fire (the Bible calls it ‘wrath’) that burns up everything in its path! The Bible speaks a forcefully to the necessity of controlling our anger and directing our anger away from wrath or rage; Paul warns us not to “sin by letting anger gain control over you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a mighty foothold to the Devil. (Ephesians 4:26-27, NLT) The Proverbs remind us of this common sense wisdom – Hot tempers start fights; a calm, cool spirit keeps the peace. (Proverbs 15:18, The Message)
Then, too, we need to take a look at the things we allow to produce anger in us! Yes, anger is a voluntary emotion! Nobody “makes me mad;” I choose to become angry. Situations and people irritate us, but we still have a choice in our response. A traffic jam, a water bill, or a lazy retail clerk aren’t really reasons to get angry, are they? How easily we confuse personal inconvenience – a normal part of life in this complex world- with situations that are worthy of anger. Keep your perspective and choose wisely.
Know this: Anger is addictive. Really, it is! When we get angry, our bodies are designed to release adrenaline, a hormone that energizes us and prepares us for fight or flight. That triggers an increase in heart rate and blood pressure (hence my warm ears!) so we are ready to meet the challenge or threat we perceive to be facing us. Curiously, we learn to like the rush of adrenaline, the feeling of power, or even the immediate results anger produces – so our threshold for anger drops as we give in to the emotion. What should be cause for mild aggravation, for a rage addict, can be the cause of a violent outburst of anger. That’s wrong and, if we’re Believers who claim to be filled with the Spirit, such anger must be dealt with as the sin it is, for the sake of Christ, our Lord.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that suppressing anger is the godly decision. Anger must be expressed. Expressing anger doesn’t necessarily mean letting fly with aggressive behavior, hurtful words, or flying fists. Express anger by re-directing it towards a solution, by allowing it to motivate us to become a part of an action group, or by working for change. If none of those options are available, then talk it out with someone you trust until you understand why you’re are getting angry. Anger sometimes creeps along hidden pathways in our brains and finds a way to the surface in a totally unrelated situation! That’s what I figured out yesterday in my situation.
As I processed the anger I was feeling towards the water company guy, I came to realization that I was dealing with the stress of the day where I had been ministering to a family whose 28 year old son had died as a result of some apparently inadequate medical treatment. I absorbed some of their anger at a situation that just ‘wasn’t right’ and desired so much to make it better for them — and couldn’t! I was angry, but for an entirely different reason than I thought. So, instead of stewing further over the water bill; I prayed for the grief-stricken, angry family. My anger faded as it found a better expression than telling off a customer service rep. Thank God.
Next time you’re angry (or I feel my ears getting warm) – let’s ask ourselves a couple questions:
Is this situation worth the cost of anger, worthy of allowing the dangerous emotion some release?
What are we really angry about? What should we do about it?
Use your anger. Don’t let anger use you!
“Slowness to anger makes for deep understanding; a quick-tempered person stockpiles stupidity.” (Proverbs 14:29, The Message)
“Teaching People how to say “Yes” to God!”