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Thursday, June 26, 2008

More on Anger

I used to be a very angry person, and for a lot of reasons. The scary thing is that for a few years, I didn't even realize I was angry. I was just existing and it was normal for me to be biting people's heads off. Over time I came to be ashamed of this behavior, but I seemed to be so powerless to stop it.

It wasn't that I was out of control or yelling and screaming all the time. It was just that my irritation with everything and everyone was very close to the surface, and at times, rage seemed to bubble just underneath. I knew I would never hurt anyone physically or do anything insane; my anger was always verbal, but always frustrated. Because I didn't know what to do with it.

I had no where for it to go.

One day, finally, something happened that did frighten me, and I won't say what it was. Suffice to say that I went to Confession, in tears, and confessed my problem with anger. I had to do this a few times. One evening it was a face-to-face Confession, and it was as though I hadn't been to the Sacrament in years, even though it had really only been a couple weeks. I was shaking, I was tearful, and I wanted to run away. I wasn't even sure why I was there...I had no major sins to confess, and I felt like I was wasting the priest's time. He seemed to understand there was something else, and finally I just burst out and told him I was angry and it was like I was rebelling and I didn't even know why! I didn't know what I was rebelling against, or whom, or what. There wasn't a cause...I was just...angry. Always.

I can't remember what he said but we did talk for awhile, and after that...I wasn't angry anymore. That sense of underlying rage was gone.

That's not to say I didn't still have a "temper" or that I didn't get angry. For I was a revert and I was still angry about not having been given authentic teachings about Christ and through Christ while growing up and even as an adult when I was seeking all those answers. I was angry with myself for having followed the wrong path and for staying away from God for so long.

And I was angry with people who continued to follow the wrong path and who attacked the Church which I had come to hold so dear. An insult to Christ and an insult to the Church became a personal insult to ME and a personal attack against ME.

It took time to work all that out. I'll admit I'm still often offended when we as Catholics are attacked for our beliefs, and it's especially painful when those attacks come from the hands of people who claim to be "Catholic", yet they clearly reject all that we as Catholics are about. And it's especially painful when I see the betrayal of our faith coming from the mouths and writings of men who were ordained as priests.

Yes, it does make me angry. But I struggle to keep that anger at bay, because anger isn't helpful.

Anger cannot co-exist with chaity. Acceptance of one excludes the other. Anger has its place, but it tends to become a monster if it is harbored, and it grows...anger doesn't fade when we hold on to it. It nudges and pricks and irritates until we mull on it and then it has us. Satan loves to use the emotion of anger to get to us...because then he doesn't have to do anything. We fall so EASILY when we talk ourselves into the idea that our anger is "righteous" and therefore it is OK.

Anger cannot co-exist with forgiveness. We may become angry with a friend or a relative, and perhaps there's a good reason for it. But we have to be willing to let the anger go...if we remain angry, we can't forgive. And our Lord will not forgive us if we are not willing to forgive others. Holding onto anger is another way of refusing to truly forgive.

Anger absolutely has its the psalms! If you are angry or upset, go to the psalms and page through until you find one that matches what you're feeling. Each psalm is a prayer, and each is MEANT to be prayed! No, perhaps we don't want God to have vengeance on our best friend who wronged us in some way, but even as we read the psalm, we can offer our anger to our Lord, and let the words of the psalm talk us back to reason. God knows what's truly in our hearts and He knows we are weak and given to following our emotions. He is always waiting for us to come to him, even with that. We cannot be angry AT God, but we can express our anger to Him, invite Him into it, and ask Him to direct it appropriately or help us to let it go.

I thank God all the time for taking my anger from me. I'm still VERY flawed, and I tend to be very crabby and irritable especially under stress, but that is a FAR CRY from where I used to be. And it's something I continue to work on and try to master. Often, the response of others towards me has humbled me. Even as I snap and snark around, God has surrounded me with calming presences, people who don't flinch at my minor temper tantrums, not even batting an eye. Were the roles reversed and they were snapping at me, I'd be likely to snap back worse. And then feel horrible about it.

There's something to be said for responding to the anger in others with humility and steadfastness. It does a great deal to tame that beast. And all too often, I let that beast in and I feed it. It's the peacefulness of others that starves it and restores me.

Sometimes we must get angry, and there is a difference between reacting to something and harboring the anger, but we must be vigilant that the former does not become the latter.

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