Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Transformation of Anger

This week I have been contemplating the transformational power of anger. I have never thought of anger as a positive force for change before. My current devotional study, "The Way of Forgiveness" by Companions in Christ is guiding me through shame, guilt, anger, and forgiveness in a gentle, but thought-provoking way. On page 49 of my book I read, "we are not so much called to rid ourselves of anger as to allow it to become, in some sense, a spiritual guide." Imagine me telling that to my parents as a teen! Mom and Dad, I'm not angry, I'm following a spiritual guidance of total frustration! On a more serious note, I have tried to sit with my frustrations and disappointments and annoyances this week to see if I could get to the heart of the matter. On at least one occasion I was successful. Progress, however incremental is still progress.

I have also tried to pray for my enemies this week. I don't have true enemies I guess, but I have tried hard to pray for people who have disappointed me, or hurt my feelings. I have even spent a little time pondering attitudes I don't understand. I didn't get very far, but I'm trying. Time is a gift and helper in this exercise. I have a two-fold perspective of time. One, I don't have time to spend energy on this so I'm moving on. And two, the more days that pass, the less anger I seem to generate about what happened. Using these two opposite thoughts, I am inching slowly down the path of forgiveness.

The take away message for me this week is the following: "To practice gratitude, praise, and blessing in the midst of annoyance, difficulty, and suffering is one of the great spiritual disciplines....Learning to cope constructively with hurt and anger lays the groundwork for what is perhaps the most challenging spiritual practice in human life: forgiveness." (Page 53 of my study, lest you think I wrote those words myself.)

One of the tenets of today's sermon spoke to me as it dovetails nicely with this journey of forgiveness I am on. He said he believes that "our capacity to love one another is directly proportional with our capacity to forgive one another." I think this is true of all the emotions that operate in tension with one another. They are two sides of the same coin---love/hate, laughter/tears, hope/despair, joy/grief, faith/doubt. Our capacity for one broadens the space for the other. How can we know one without knowing at least a little bit of the other? Joys are always sweeter when we've been denied access to joy. Love is always stronger when it has been challenged by a force against love. Hope is born of despair, and sometimes we laugh so hard we cry.

It amazes me how after two weeks of sitting and facing anger it seems a little easier to deal with. Anger becomes another process. I don't mean to diminish its existence or lessen its power, but the focal point of anger has changed for me. After my initial reaction (still working on that part), I ask: What am I trying to tell myself? Why am I having such a gut-reaction? What is it in me that causes such a surge of emotion? Why do I reject something so strongly? Has this been building? Where did it start? And most importantly, where do I go now?

Hopefully more and more often we will choose to go directly to the Father and lay it all out for Him. Without His guidance through the Holy Spirit and Jesus' example, we could wallow in anger for a long long long time. But I think Jesus might think that a waste of our time. We were meant for something greater. If we allow that wallowing to be meaningless, then it has served no purpose. It's just negative energy. Another quote from my study guide, "The value of [praying directly to God about anger] is that it faces us squarely with ourselves as we are now, [which is] a critical understanding....'God cannot find you where you think you ought to be; God can only find you where you actually are.' If we do not recognize where we are, we cannot fully offer ourselves to God for healing." (page 50-51)

As I continue on this journey--which I know will be a lifelong one, I hope that I can find a way to love more deeply (forgive), live more fully (forgive), and react more positively (forgive) to people, events, and challenges in my life. I believe if I do so, my time here on earth will be well spent.

No comments: