Why do we continue to drink the poison when we have the antidote?
12 ways that anger sickens us and how Mercy is only cure
Alice glared across the room at Helen. “How could she?” Alice fumed. “How could she be so happy…especially when I’m so angry?” And Alice was angry, angrier than she had been in a long time. Alice folded her arms across her chest and glared even more intently as Helen laughed and joked with her friends over lunch. In a huff, Alice stormed off, swallowing her anger. She’d have her moment she vowed to herself.
It’s poison to our souls.
And like so many things that are bad for us, we hold onto it. In fact, the prophet Sirach so accurately describes us as he says, “Wrath and anger are hateful things, yet the sinner hugs them tight (Sirach 27:30).”
How many times have we been angry, just like Alice?
How many times have we also embraced ourselves in that anger as if holding the anger close to ourselves, not wanting to let go of it, relishing the anger, the feeling of the power in the rage building in us?
But, now step back a minute. Imagine Alice again. Now picture Helen. Helen smiles and laughs while Alice stews. The longer she watches, the deeper her anger grows. We call this part of the poison “resentment” because we allow ourselves to feel it over, and over, and over again. We begin to wish ill (in some fashion) on the person who has hurt us, but the truth is that we take the cup we want them to drink from, fill it to the brim with poison, and then we take the cup and drink it ourselves.
Sounds crazy, right? But so many of us do that very thing?
So how many ways do anger and resentment hurt us?
Hunger/Appetite: Go back to the scene with Alice. Helen has no problem eating. Alice, on the other hand isn’t. She can’t she’s lost her appetite. Very often, when we’re angry, we can’t or won’t eat. How many times I know I’ve said something like, “How can you think of food at a time like this?” Moreover, it is entirely possible that we may have digestive upset. Part of that has to do with another health effect of anger which is the redirection of blood flow to the body.
Another possibility is that we may turn to food for comfort. If being angry becomes a consistent pattern then we see the results of over eating or of having made poor food choices.
Sleep Disturbances: In our resentment, we dwell on the wrong and on the wrong doer. Often, we may lose sleep, perhaps for days at a time.
Changes in Body Function: In addition to our inability to sleep, our bodies function much differently when we are in a state of anger. Our body goes into “Fight or Flight” mode. In response, the brain signals our endocrine system, releasing adrenaline and cortisol among other stress hormones. The circulatory system shunts blood to muscles and other vital areas to enable us to run or stand our ground. Shifts of blood volume lead to increased blood pressure.
Health Risks: While certainly sleep disturbances can be a health issues, there are several others, some of which may not be so obvious. A person who finds themselves angry, especially one who “hugs” it or bears a grudge can wind up with eczema and other skin problems. More seriously, however, heart attacks and strokes are very common.
Self-Medication/Substance Abuse: Desiring relief from the symptoms of anger, we may also seek to self-medicate in any number of ways, most specifically alcohol and drugs.
Distraction: As we continue to internalize our anger, our minds stray away from matters that require our attention that may then cause us to make what would normally be easily avoided mistakes – some that may have tragic results.
Irritability: At times like these we have very short fuses. We’ve lost sleep, we haven’t eaten. We’ve stuffed our emotions down, and now, we’re beginning to lash out. Perhaps lightly at first.
Explosive Anger: Then we get to the point where we can no longer hold it back. We explode and all the hate and vitriol spills out, usually in a displaced or projected way.
Alienation/Isolation: Perhaps the person who hurt us was a friend, and we’ve pushed that person away. Maybe we’ve been angry for so long and expressed it in so many ways that even those who have supported us no longer want to be around us either.
Depression and Anxiety: There are times when we have so internalized our anger that we feel an overwhelming and persistent sadness and or loss of interest in things we used to enjoy. Additionally, our persistent anger may leave us feeling jittery, whether at the prospect of having to confront the one who hurt us or just in general fearing any prospect of confrontation.
Despair: Perhaps most importantly, we run the risk of losing hope. That’s what despair is…the absence of hope in which then our problems fall into an ever-widening circle.
Sin: In our anger, we may very well get to the point that we have acted out contrary to the will of God and in ways that hurt our brothers and sisters, including the one who hurt us. And chief among those sins would be that of hypocrisy in asking God for the forgiveness we’ve denied those around us.
Anger as an Encounter with God
With all that said, you might then think that anger is bad.
Rather, anger is one way we might encounter God. What I mean is this. As I noted last week in my post, sometimes God lets himself be known in by letting us feel like he is taking his hand away. But it is also true that we may know something of him by experiencing what he is not. So, in my acknowledgement of him starts with this prayer:
Second, I need to ask God to help me see what my role was in all of this. Was I without any blame at all? Sometimes I am. Often, I am not.
Finally, perhaps most importantly I ask God to help me to embrace the wisdom of being merciful. Why? Because mercy is the only antidote to anger.
The Power of Mercy
When I shared the idea of mercy and forgiveness with my high school students recently they rolled their eyes. I already knew what they were thinking – “That’s all baloney sandwiches…well, ok maybe I’m using a substitute phrase for their BS.” I also knew what they would say, and in every single class I got the same response.
I asked them first about the Alice story – and each and every class admitted that they were very much like Alice. So then I asked them, “So when someone realizes they were wrong, what do you say?” Eighty-five percent (85%) of them said their response was, “That’s OK.” The conversation then went something like this.
Me: Why’d you lie?
Them: Well it was over, it didn’t matter anymore.
Me: So, you don’t care that it happened?
Them: Well, yes.
Me: But you said it was OK – will it be OK if they do it again?
Me: What will happen if they do it again and again? How will your friendship be
Them: It won’t be.
Me: So, then why do we say, “That’s OK?”
Them: (no answer).
Often, we don’t know what to say, we’re uncomfortable, or we just want the situation over.
Mercy isn’t saying, “It’s OK.” Rather, mercy starts with the truth. It requires that we tell the person who hurt us exactly how they hurt us. We cannot forgive someone for something without telling them exactly what has been forgiven.Forgiveness is an act of our will by which we restore our power. We forgive not because we feel like it, but because we choose to. When we forgive, we take the power away from the person who hurt us by releasing the hurt they inflicted. Finally, we take that power for ourselves by releasing the debt that they owe us. In setting them free, we’ve actually freed ourselves to begin the healing process. We’ve also opened ourselves to experience the mercy that we’ve longed for…we cannot ask for something from God, that we are not willing to share with others…most especially mercy.
A Call To Action
- Where is there anger in your life?
- Where are the places where you have held back the truth about a past injury? Why did you hold back?Have you sought forgiveness that you have denied another?
- If you have held back, what did you do to manage your anger?
- What relationships need healing, help and/or hope?
- What is holding you back from being merciful right now.
Here’s an important truth, you cannot hate or remain angry at anyone for whom you have honestly prayed. This week, take time to pray earnestly for those who have hurt you, for their needs, for their healing, for their well being. You may well find that you are the one who is changing, who was in need of adjusting things.