This post originally appeared on my blog pdxkcm.com on Sunday, May 10, 2015, under the title “Anger”.
Work went great this last week, largely because the previous week was so terrible. Discomfort and failure often prompt positive change.
What was so bad about it? For starters, I was exceedingly, perpetually, and inexplicably angry. I wasn’t angry at anyone or anything in particular, though, and that leads to trouble. Anger is a vector. It has both magnitude and direction. Fail to realize that and you may find your rage unleashed on the first unsuspecting victim who crosses its path.
And that is exactly what happened. The victim in question was, I’m sorry to say, my boss. To make matters worse, I didn’t blow up at him in a private conversation. I did it in a meeting, in front of three other people.
I left the meeting shortly after that. I tried to find time to talk with him in private but our schedules never aligned. I sat at my desk wishing I’d been able to say in person what I was failing to articulate in an email. In the end, I apologized as simply as I could and asked for some time to talk.
A few minutes later his response arrived in my inbox. I winced as I opened it. What I saw made me feel six inches tall. Instead of delivering a well-deserved lambasting, he apologized for not being able to meet and said he just wanted to make sure I had everything I needed.
As I sat in his office the next day, chatting casually about this or that, with no sense anything negative had happened (save my own express apology), a thought occurred to me:
I have failed in the pursuit of living my faith. So many people I know, whether Christian or not, have shown me a better example of the Christian walk than the one I’m living out.
You could easily attribute that sentiment to the rather uncomfortable humility I was feeling in the moment. Receiving grace can have that effect. But that doesn’t make the sentiment any less true.
The grace my boss offered me is just one instance of the same grace I, as a Christian, am supposed to offer others every day. Yet I realized in that moment (and in many others to follow) just how often I fail to do so. How many times, I thought, have I indulged in—even enjoyed—taking a position of self-righteous anger? Sure, I apologized for blowing up after the fact. Oh, but let me explain why I was so angry, why my anger was reasonable, justified…
But it doesn’t matter why. Patience matters. Forgiveness matters. Grace matters.
Self-righteous, seemingly “reasonable” anger is the most dangerous kind. It begs, almost demands our indulgence. Giving in invariably leaves wounds. It injures the target of our anger. It damages relationships. And it leaves personal scars. Those scars desensitize us, leave us that much more susceptible to indulge the next time we feel justifiably angry.
One scar at a time, I’ve become a bitter, defensive, and very angry person. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t feel some sense of outrage or anger at something or someone. That sucks. It’s a terrible, tiring way to live. It produces all the fatigue of hard work with none of the health benefits.
I’ve never been a particularly “chipper” person (anyone who knows me know that’s an understatement). But I haven’t always been like this. The past decade of personal and familial illness has hollowed me out. I saw the depression that threatened to settle in and, over time, learned to manage it. The anger snuck in under my radar. It came like a false friend, offering reassurances and an outlet for pent-up anxiety. After all, no one would blame me for being angry, not after what I’d been through.
But honestly, who isn’t dealing with loss, pain, or frustration these days? Who doesn’t have some supposed right to be angry?
I am so done with this. This is not how I want to live. It’s not who I want to be. I am not the man I hoped to become. I’m ready to move past it, but when something has been part of you for so long, change doesn’t happen overnight.
As far as this recent bout goes, I’m past the worst of it. It took a week’s worth of self-reflection and more than a little patience and grace from my friends and coworkers. Thankfully, they’re awesome that way. It certainly helps to be surrounded by positive counterexamples.
The rest of the road is for me to walk. The strength to walk it will come, not by extraordinary personal effort, but in time spent on my knees in prayer and humble reflection.
Remembering that in the midst of a seething fog of self-righteous rage won’t be easy. But that self-awareness is as good a place as any to start.