Mennonite Weekly Review Logo Mennonite World Review

March 3, 2014 issue

Antidote to anger

By Sarah Kehrberg

Then bubbling up from the inner depths is the one thing we did not want, a biting and bitter spirit. — Richard Foster Celebration of Discipline

Kehrberg

Kehrberg

It’s unfortunate we can’t harness this world’s anger into some kind of tangible energy. Then we could say goodbye to fossil fuel and fracking and odd-looking solar panels.

Anger is a consistent, reliable presence. Occasionally it boils over as road rage or a ridiculous parent screaming at a sporting event. More often we carry in our inner recesses a simmering cauldron of discontent. It doesn’t erupt so much as slowly leeches all the flavor and texture from our lives.

Once I found myself in the checkout line in a particularly foul mood. The woman in front of me noted a possible coupon error, and a manager was called. When she turned to me and apologized, I gave her one of those tight­lipped grimaces that say, “I’m pretending to smile, but I obviously want to kick you to Siberia.”

Random annoyances like a long wait at the doctor’s office or a rude response from the school secretary can become laden with offense.

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Jesus came so that we may have life, and have it to the full.

Nothing kills the fullness of life like anger — or, as Richard Foster describes it, “a biting and bitter spirit.”

I find gratitude to be the best antidote to swelling anger. In the past I’ve tried naming the things I’m supposed to: family, friends, health. I am thankful for all those things, but sometimes the rote list seems ineffective. It is tempting to believe I somehow deserve all those things. (I’m healthy because I eat right and exercise. I have friends because I’m a good friend in return. And so on.)

It has been more helpful to acknowledge specific things that sweeten my life. Things to which I have no connection and can take no credit.

That day at the grocery store I realized I was behaving badly and asked to see the goodness in front of me.

The mentally handicapped man bagging my groceries had a job and useful work. Somebody invented potato chips, a most perfect food. The store provided, free of charge, a sturdy grocery cart, without which life would be very hard indeed.

The Holy Spirit works miracles. I no longer cared about the lost 10 minutes of my day. I saw the humor in the wrangling over a dollar’s saving. In my heart I wished the woman well and felt a burden lifted.

Perhaps I am placing too much significance on such a brief interchange. Yet, fleeting moments add up to make a day, a lifetime. Sometimes it’s the small miracles that affect us most.

I am strangely comforted to know God is no stranger to anger. At Mount Sinai he was so angry with Israel, his chosen people, that he threatened to abandon them altogether and start over.

Yet over and over he extended mercy and grace. Mercy was when he didn’t punish them as they deserved (after the golden calf). Grace was when he blessed them with good things they equally did not deserve (manna and quail).

I have learned I cannot offer genuine mercy and grace to others if I haven’t gratefully accepted it from God first. So when I feel anger rising or note its ongoing presence, I make a simple plea: Mercy and grace to me. Mercy and grace from me.

A burden is always lifted.

Sarah Kehrberg lives in Asheville, N.C.

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