Monday, December 7, 2009

Going the Distance - Chapter 6

This series was originally posted on In Tandem, a blog for ministry wives. 

Chapter 6 - Anger: Using it constructively

That's not a chapter heading you normally read! But, it's a helpful chapter.

Brain points out why anger is a problem for ministers - 1) ministers (and Christians generally) are not meant to be angry and 2) ministry can be a source of much frustration (eg. expectations, community status or lack of, and the voluntary nature of church leadership can place large stresses on a minister).

Interestingly Brain notes that Hart observed that pastors "are amongst the angriest group of people he works with" (p84). What I find interesting about this statement is a there is a companion to it I heard some years ago - that minister's wives are also one of the angriest groups of people around. They bear the same burdens as their minister husbands, and in addition, they bear the weight of people complaining to them about it. And, I think, as many of us would be willing to admit, women do (generally) take things a little more personally, so personal attack or criticism of our husbands makes us rise up like protective lionesses (same as we do with criticism of our children).

Well then, anger can be a problem for everyone - so the question is, what to do about it?

Brain suggests that anger needs to be understood, acknowledged and then dealt with. We must take care not to allow anger to be expressed in sinful ways (eg. Eph 4:31) - either in anger turned outwards (rage, slander) or turned inwards (malice, bitterness). He says the key here is also in Ephesians, 4:32 - 'Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.' So Brain notes that there are two things from this verse which can help us:
- kindness and tenderheartedness will remind me to be self-controlled, so that I can understand why you too might be angry
- God's forgiveness of me through Christ will alert me to the fact that, if you have wronged me, forgiveness, not anger, should be my response to you. (p87)
Brain does make a distinction between anger as a feeling, and anger as behaviour: like an alarm signal that prompts us to make a choice as to how we will behave or respond. We need to have in place ways of knowing what the appropriate choice of behaviour is to be... Here is the place for self-control. To be able to identify and then think carefully about the reason for anger is essential. (p91)
He goes on to show how forgiveness plays a key role here:
"Forgiveness is surrendering my right to hurt you back if you hurt me." As such it "is the antidote to anger. There is no other satisfactory solution to our urge to take revenge." (quoting Hart, p93)
Brain goes on to make some helpful comments about the realities of forgiveness, which are worth reading. He says that forgiveness is a choice, which has to be confirmed consistently - the idea of 'forgive and forget' is rarely helpful or possible. He suggests three attitudes and actions which are involved in forgiveness:
- I will not raise the matter again
- I will not tell others about it
- I will not dwell on it myself (p95)
I found these very helpful personally. With these guides in our minds, we are preventing from mentioning things again and again, and continually thinking about the issues that caused the original anger.

He ends the chapter with some helpful comments on the benefits of anger. It teaches us to trust God, to realise we face situations under God rather than as God, we mature with the proper management of anger, and that we can use good management of anger as a witness to others. I know this to be true in parenting as well. My actions when angry speak volumes - and when I control it well and express it with self-control, my children also learn how to express their anger better.

Some things to think about:

  1. Do you struggle with anger?
  2. How do you generally express your anger?
  3. What could you do better in managing your anger?
  4. Do you need to forgive anyone at the moment?

Next Monday: Chapter 7 - The pastor's family

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