I have a counselor and mentor who spent a lot of time working in a maximum security prison as well as treatment facilities for sex offenders. Almost two years ago now, he once asked me, “Do you know what the common theme is for all the inmates I’ve worked with? Guys in prison for pedophilia, rape and other sexual deviance’s?” I thought for a few seconds about what it might be.
My first thought was that these guys all had daddy issues. They must have grown up in dysfunctional homes, been exposed to abuse themselves, emasculated by a distorted gender identity or some other term from the DSM IV and then never appropriately coped.
What the counselor said next took me by surprise. He said, “Anger. They are all very angry and don’t know how to deal with it.”
Now, he wasn’t for one second saying that anger was a justifiable excuse for the atrocities that imprisoned these men. He was, however, saying that anger became a framework for expressing all the crap that had built up over time. Was anger in and of itself the culprit? Hardly. Was it always the healthiest expression? Nope. Then this counselor/mentor, with his Charles Xavier-like mental probe, poked my heart and asked, “How’s your anger?”
My mouth was frozen and I started to numb a little. I literally felt the weight of the past bearing down on my chest. Have you ever been in those situations? Where the air in the room suddenly gets hot and thick. I know for a fact that God uses men and women like this to call a ‘time-out’, where all the other stuff you’re doing, working on, creating suddenly becomes distant and less important. I wanted to get out of there and fast. Here’s why…
I’m not a crier. It’s not how I typically navigate my emotions. Frustration for me doesn’t lead to tears or a pouting lip. That’s not to say I haven’t in the past but as I’ve changed over the years, crying is less and less of an emotional response for me. If you do see me cry it’s usually from one of two things: 1) I’ve just watched the closing scene of Braveheart (it get’s me every time) or 2) because I’m hurting pretty deeply. Since I don’t cry easily it leaves me with another emotional response that does come easy: anger.
Not just angry in a loud annoying way but in an intentionally mean way. Almost like the “where is this coming from” kind of way. It really does make me think of when Ted Cassidy narrated the opening scene of the TV version Incredible Hulk. David Banner would say “Mr. McGee, don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.” That is me! You seriously would not, will not like me when I’m angry, specifically in my self-righteous exertion to be right all the time. It takes so much energy to be right all the time, doesn’t it?
So is anger wrong then? Of course not! There is legitimate anger at the injustices of the world. That dead Somali children are lining the refugee trail to Kenya enrages me. That almost 1 million people die every year from Malaria is heart breaking. This is where we hear the Psalmist most acutely, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?” However, the expression of anger that I’ve struggled with over the years and discuss in this blog is at the opposite end of the spectrum.
It’s the kind of anger that doesn’t produce the righteousness of God. Thinking of my past and perhaps that of the inmates my counselor mentioned, I discern one summation: that hurt begets hurt and what I do with that hurt is what defines the outcome. My challenge is to surrender the need to be right, the need to be justified, the need to hurt another just to make myself feel better. Want to strip the Incredible Hulk of his power? Ask yourself, “Why am I hurting…?”
Let me finish with this true story: A few years ago we built our first house in Cleveland, TN. A proud moment for a young newlywed couple. In this new neighborhood were more empty lots, including the two on either side of ours. One Sunday, coming home from church I found two guys randomly mowing my grass. Looking at my yard, I realized they had driven their truck through our front lawn to drop off cinder blocks in the next lot.
Not only had they damaged my fresh grass, they were trying to cover it up! I proceeded to stop and ask one of them what was going on and who they work for. Through broken English, I got a sarcastic response and that’s all it took to set me off. The green monster had awoke. I proceeded to curse, yell, threaten deportation and other very non-Christ-like things. I was on the border of calling the police and having a heart attack at the same time. It was a bad day.
What’s funny is that here we are a few years later and lo-and-behold, the lot next to ours is under construction. Mowing my grass yesterday, I watched as one of the workers drove his Bobcat through my yard. The green monster was itching,clawing and growling to come out…but I remembered something called mercy. I remembered that I had surrendered my right to hurt another just to feel better. I remembered that it’s only grass.
I once told a cabin full of boys on the first day of camp, “You don’t want to see me angry.” One of the bolder campers immediately spoke up and said, “Yeah, he turns into a big hairy butt!” Thank you, Jeremiah. It’s still true.