Tag Archives: anger

Anger, Healthy Choices And The Holidays

“His anger was offensive. He ought to be more considerate.  It is a choice.  After all, it is Thanksgiving!”

“Why can’t she be thoughtful about the fact that I want the kids on Christmas eve?”

“When are my parents going to realize that I have to think about my spouse’s parents, too.  They want to see their grand kids on Christmas morning also!”

We all have a sense for how people should behave.  When they behave differently than our expectations we have choices to make about how we are going to process their choices and react.  Part of the challenge is discerning between those matters that are under our control and those that are not under our control.  Covey calls these ‘Circles of Influence.” The prayer of Reinhold Niebuhr, often recited in recovery group meetings can be helpful:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; 
courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. 
Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time; 
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; 
Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; 
That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next. Amen.

 God has gifted each of us with rational minds that can make choices that are logical and defensible.  He has not equipped us with the ability to cause others to think rationally and to make logical and defensible decisions.  Speaking only of probabilities, we can influence others–to the extent that they allow us to do so–but, in the end, everyone must make their choices and deal with the consequences of those decisions.

Just because someone reacts negatively to my logical and rational decision to allow relatives to enjoy Christmas morning every other year with their grandchildren does not mean that I must give in to their overreaction.  In fact, it makes sense to be even more determined to address the issue equitably rather than to give in so that everyone understands that your decision is not to be based upon pressure and fear.  It is an attempt to work from a position of common sense and rational  Peace at all costs often leads to more wars and conflict because people realize that getting what they want is tied to how strongly they react, no matter how illogical and unreasonable their position.  The desire to avoid conflict, in itself, can plant the seeds for further conflict rather than bring about the desired effect of reducing it.

In the end, the only prescription may be to do the right thing insofar as you can do so with objectivity and follow through with your decision, giving others the freedom to decide how they wish to respond.  You may be surprised to realize that they respect your decisions and appreciate the lack of mixed messages that often come with pressured choices and vacillating principles.

In the end, the best way to move through some of those tough choices can begin with three steps.  1) Take a moment to consider the most logical and equitable choice.  2) Discern between those things over which you have control in contrast to those over which you do not have control.  3) Count the cost and be ready to face the consequences of your choices and the irrational reactions you may have to face.  These three simple steps may be an important part of bringing peace and harmony to those tough times for families during the holidays…or they may not.  The key, in the end, may be that you considered the options and made a decision for which you were prepared to deal with the consequences.  In other words, you did the best you could under the circumstances.

Anger and Irrational Expectations

Flip Wilson – 1969

Sometimes our expectations create difficulties when others let us down or our goals are not achieved.  In our anger and disappointment there are several ways to react at those times.  Sometimes our expectations are rational and reasonable.  At other times, when we closely examine them, our expectations have been irrational and need to be adjusted to fit reality.

The comedian Flip Wilson’s character, Geraldine, from the 1970’s and 1980’s used to decry that “The devil made me do it” to explain why she made certain choices.  Part of what made the character so funny was that, at one time or another, we all use projection and blame to explain why we feel certain ways, to justify our behavior or to absolve ourselves from responsibility.

This approach to seeing the world is fraught with difficulties that can seriously impact relationships.  When we believe people ‘should’ act in certain ways we betray our own perspectives about how things should be without giving adequate attention to reality; i.e., the way things are.  This can create problems when people do not act or say things the way you or I think that they should act or say them.

Albert Ellis, the father or Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy, was influenced by the tradition of ancient Stoicism.  In this philosophy reason and logic are the governing principles that guide the thoughts and feelings of the person who would be wise.  The first-century philosopher Epictetus is one example of Stoicism that reaffirms many of the concepts that underlie this approach to problem solving.  I love his tongue-in-cheek approach to this topic.

IRRATIONAL IDEA NO. 1: “I must do well and win the approval of others for my performances or else I will rate as a rotton person” (p. 39).  This philosophy goes a long way to perfecting the art of perfectionism!

IRRATIONAL IDEA NO. 2: “Others must treat me considerately and kindly and in precisely the way I want them to treat me.  If they don’t, society and the universe should severely blame, damn and punish them for their inconsideration” (p. 41).

IRRATIONAL IDEA NO. 3: “The world (and the people in it) must arrange conditions under which I live so that I get everything that I want when I want it.  And further, conditions must exist so that I don’t get what I don’t want. Moreover, I usually must get what I want quickly and easily” (p. 42).

The sub-points of each of these “Irrational Ideas” step on a few nerves in Ellis’ book, Anger: How to Live With and Without It but if you keep wondering why others make you angry or why you are not able to get things done because of the actions of others, this could be a helpful read.

Albert Ellis (1913-2007)

Anger and Forgiveness

Anger is rooted in a moral sense of what is right and what is wrong.  The origins of this inner sense begins with a God-given conscience that informs us of how things ‘ought’ to be (Romans 2:14-15).  Over the course of a lifetime that inner compass is further shaped by our life experiences, our families and friends, our culture and the world around us.  When the world around us matches our personal sense of how things ought to be we have little cause for anger.  Conversely, when the world around us does not match our sense of how things ought to be we perceive that we have cause to be angry.

Because of our sin we live in a world where people have the opportunity to make right and wrong choices.   When people make wrong choices it upsets our sense of how things should be and so we often react with anger.  We assume that people should inherently desire to make good choices and that they should inherently know what those choices should be.   Indeed, our anger is fueled when we witness the injustices of our world that violate our sense of how things ought to be.

These injustices can happen at any number of levels.  In our culture today the discussions about bullying, racism, road rage and civil rights are all founded in our sense of right and wrong, good and bad and the innocent victims of poor choices.  These injustices permeate our fallen world from the one-on-one interactions between two people all of the way to nation-states as they struggle for power and control at the expense of the innocent citizens that they are supposed to represent.

And so, it is not surprising that God, Himself, becomes angry over the wrong choices people make, particularly when the disenfranchised are mistreated because of others who have decided that their own desires are more important than the well-being of the defenseless.   The so-called imprecatory Psalms of the Old Testament (e.g., Psalm 7, 35, 55, 58, 59, 69, 82, 83, 94, 109, 137, 139) provide a helpful format to consider how it all works together.  They also give us an insight into an avenue of expression to God that helps the victims of injustice and injury deal with their pain and misfortune in the light of God’s justice and mercy.

First, David focuses upon God’s righteousness and his personal desire to be allied with God in an intimate, personal way.  Secondly, he will ask God to exercise his righteousness by correcting the situation.  Finally, he confesses his trust in God’s ultimate resolution of the imbalances in the world.

The key seems to be that the Lord has exclusive claim to setting the scales correctly and bringing about justice according to His own timing (Romans 12:18-20).  We are called upon to simply trust in Him to do so when the time is right, for His name’s sake.  The imprecatory psalms (along with other similar passages in Scripture) show us that it is good to ask that God’s will be done in the implementation of justice and then practice leaving it there, at the foot of His throne.

For those who struggle with personal injury due to the immoral behavior of others across the spectrum of human experience, this may be the only recourse for healing in cases where the perpetrator has passed away.  When the person causing injury is a former spouse and the Christian is called upon to forgive, learning to allow God to balance the scales by leaving it with Him may give the emotional room to deal with the continuing challenges that come with, for example, difficult post-divorce situations.

All of the way through, trusting God to do the right thing–and asking that His will be done–is always the right answer.


For more detailed discussion, thanks for the article, Preaching Imprecatory Psalms, by John Marks Hicks.