The Danger of Holding onto Anger:

Twain

In my earlier blog (see post: Learning to Control My Anger), I describe how my Dad made a memorable point of how he expected me to “hold myself to a higher standard”. I can look back now and see how my dad taught a stubborn kid with a short fuse “to be slow to anger” as he knew anger leads “only to evil”. Dad did not know, yet God did, that following that cold day in December my ability to deal with anger would be be put to the test.

To be angry, even intensely angry, after a sudden traumatic loss of a loved one is normal and to be expected as it simply is a reaction to the pain of losing someone you loved. According to the most widely accepted model of how people deal with grief, the Kübler-Ross Grief model identifies anger as one of the five emotional stages that most people will experience during grief. Since anger is normal, the question becomes how do we deal with this anger. How to preclude ourselves from holding onto this anger and not allowing it to take root in our persona.

Good people suffer all the time when they do not know how to deal with the adverse powerful effects of negative emotions. This happens when these negative emotions are held onto and allowed to take root in their persona. As distressing as it is to see how anger not only results in the tragic death of a beloved person, it is even more devastating when multiple additional people are consumed and lost to the anger generated from this tragedy. Often the people marred are the people closest to the person that was tragically lost. By holding on to their anger, they too became additional victims of the same event, not survivors as God intended.

Joel Osteen[1], author and Senior Pastor of one of the largest churches in the United States, understood that we have an important choice in how we respond to the actions of others:

“Every day we have plenty of opportunities to get angry, stressed or offended. But what you’re doing when you indulge these negative emotions is giving something outside yourself power over your happiness. You can choose to not let…things upset you.”[2]

Due to his childhood, Dad understood what anger does to relationships. Dad had known how anger can twist and distort our judgement to the point where we retaliate only to the pain when we lose sight of our own morality. In Genesis 4:4-8, God warned us of the danger of anger in the story of Cain and Abel:

“Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.’ Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.”[3]

If I had focused on how the men murdered Dad, instead of all the great memories I had of Dad, I could have easily ended up like Cain. If I would have given into anger as Cain had, I too would have lost everything Dad had taught me, just as Cain had lost his morality when he killed his own brother. Instead, God guided me to make a choice not to focus on the men that had killed my dad. By God focusing me on the loving memories I had of Dad, God allowed me to let go of any malice as I had been taught not to hold onto my pain and anger. This is a gift I will always be thankful for.

turtle

This may be one of the reasons I find the spiritual leader of Tibet, the Buddhist monk “The Dalai Lama[4] so fascinating. Combined with his engaging personality, his inquisitive nature, and open minded approach to life, this leader of a tiny overrun country has incredibly become a best selling author with his captivating charm that is something of an enigma in our western culture. In the following quotes, The Dalai Lama explains the danger of emotions anger and hatred if they are embraced:

“I believe that generally speaking, anger and hatred are the type of emotions which, if you leave them unchecked or unattended, tend to aggravate and keep on increasing. If you simply get more and more used to letting them happen and just keep expressing them, this usually results in their growth, not their reduction. So, I feel that the more you adopt a cautious attitude and actively try to reduce the level of their force, the better it is.”

“We cannot overcome anger and hatred simply by suppressing them. We need to actively cultivate the antidotes to hatred: patience and tolerance…When we are engaged in the practice of patience and tolerance, in reality, what is happening is you are engaged in a combat with hatred and anger.”[5]

“Anger is the real destroyer of our good human qualities; an enemy with a weapon cannot destroy these qualities, but anger can. Anger is our real enemy.”

“If we live our lives continually motivated by anger and hatred, even our physical health deteriorates.”

“Happiness cannot come from hatred or anger. Nobody can say, ‘Today I am happy because this morning I was angry.’ On the contrary, people feel uneasy and sad and say, ‘Today I am not very happy, because I lost my temper this morning.’ ”[6]

The views on the dangers of anger held by The Dalai Lama seem to harmonize with the teachings of Christ in the New Testament. Similar to how The Dalai Lama teaches patience and tolerance, Jesus stressed this theme in what is considered his most impactful sermon. In His Sermon on the Mount, three of the eight points Jesus emphasized to his disciples in the Beatitudes were the antithesis to anger, hatred, and bitterness. In the Beatitudes, Jesus pronounced:

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” [7]

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”[8]

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”[9]

Jesus would underscore these pronouncements by warning his disciples not to respond to murder with anger. In Matthew 5:21, Jesus first reminded disciples of the teachings in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17 where we are taught “…You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment”. In the very next verse, Mathew 5:22, Jesus warns us that “…if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment![10], asserting that to be angry is viewed as harshly by God as murder. Jesus continued by clarifying with his disciples in Matthew 5:38-44:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also…You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”[11]

Again, the Apostle Paul would echo these teachings in Romans 12:14-21:

“If someone mistreats you because you are a Christian, don’t curse him; pray that God will bless him…Never pay back evil for evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honest clear through. Don’t quarrel with anyone. Be at peace with everyone, just as much as possible…Don’t let evil get the upper hand, but conquer evil by doing good.”[12]

Just as Dad had taught me that I should hold myself to a higher standard, the Apostle Paul was teaching that if you are a Christian, you are expected to make every effort to hold yourself to a higher standard so we could “conquer evil by doing good”. As Christians, we are taught that we must never seek personal retribution, no matter what has been done to us. Similarly, Jesus made it clear we are to “love our enemies” so we must never wish personal harm to someone that has harmed us. This is how we as Christians are expected to hold ourselves to a higher standard. This is how Jesus taught us to stop the dehumanizing cycle of seeking vengeance as justice.

MLK

To understand why Jesus was teaching us to hold ourselves to this higher standard, I believe we have to look no further than what happened in the infamous feud between the Hatfields and McCoys. This feud is reputed to have started over the alleged theft of a hog from the Kentucky family of Randall McCoy by the cousin of West Virginia’s Devil Anse Hatfield. This single act would lead to at least twelve murders over the next twelve years.

As the bad feelings were building between the families of Randall McCoy and Devil Anse Hatfield, the first personal vengeance was taken when three sons of Randall McCoy killed the brother of Devil Anse Hatfield. Devil Anse Hatfield and his family retaliated by raiding into Kentucky, arresting the Randall’s three sons, and executed all three sons in West Virginia without a trial. Each side continued to take matters in their own hand, avenging one wrong after another until it escalated to the barbaric murders of two daughters of Randall McCoy as the Hatfields assaulted and burned down Randall’s home in Kentucky.

Jesus knew that when we take the law into our own hands we give evil control of our life. If we take personal revenge, we are now no better than the person that originally wronged us. Jesus knew the only way to avoid this endless cycle of evil, the evil exhibited in the feud between the Hatfields and McCoys, we had to learn to leave retribution to God. By trusting in God, we can trust that God will enforce justice here on earth though our laws, hold them accountable after their time on earth is over, or both.

It is critical to understand that Jesus is urging us to take this course for our own well-being, not for the benefit of those who have done us wrong. Jesus does not want us to succumb to the same evil that has harmed us, as this is how evil gains control of our life. Jesus did not want us to suffer the same fate as the Hatfields and McCoys. Instead, Jesus is guiding us to a path that will allow us both to live a positive life during our remaining time here on earth and so that we will not face the same condemnation people that committed evil against us when it is our time to go before God.

Like Dad, Mom too understood this important choice we have to make to avoid the hatred that anger can lead to in our life. Instead of falling into the trap of anger, Mom instead focused on the Christian faith she shared with Dad. A few months after Dad was murdered, Mom provided the following profound statement explaining why she did not hate the men that had so ruthlessly murdered her husband in cold blood:

“I don’t have any hatred for the men, I don’t think I could live with this type of thing. It is hard enough to accept death to begin with, and, to accept murder is very difficult. But to accept hatred as part of your life – just won’t make life worthwhile. And you just can’t do that. I want them apprehended very badly…for them not to pay for what they have done is wrong…”[13]

Mom was able to understand how to separate letting go of the anger so she could recover in a healthy way without hatred from what needed to take place in the legal system. Mom served as a phenomenal example to each of us kids on how Jesus expected us to let go of our anger so we could avoid the hatred, resentment, and bitterness that embracing anger leads to in your life. Mom was an inspiration on how to become a survivor, which lead to first her involvement in Concerns of Police Survivors (C.O.P.S.) and then my involvement in C.O.P.S. through her example. She wanted the murders to be held accountable in the legal system and understood that she did not need to hold on to the destructive anger and hatred for that to happen.

In his book, The Journey: Living by Faith in an Uncertain World, the great evangelist Billy Graham warned us of the dangers of condoning the destructive emotion of anger in our lives:

“Every destructive emotion bears its own harvest, but anger’s fruit is the most bitter of all. Uncontrolled anger is a devastating sin, and no one is exempt from its havoc. It shatters friendships and destroys marriages; it causes abuse in families and discord in business; it breeds violence in the community and war between nations. Its recoil, like that of a high-powered rifle, often hurts the one who wields it as well as its target. Anger makes us lash out at others, destroying relationships…”  

“…we must stop making excuses for our anger or bad temper-blaming it on our parents, for example, or claiming we have every right to be angry because of something that happened to us in the past. We also must face honestly the toll anger and bitterness takes on our lives. They are our enemies. The Bible says, ‘An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered on commits many sins’ (Proverbs 29:22)…Never underestimate anger’s destructive power.” [14]

Later in my life I would have the opportunity to serve on the National Board of C.O.P.S. where I would discover the harsh reality of how anger can destroy a person. Good people suffer all the time when they did not know how to deal with the adverse powerful effects of negative emotions when they allow these negative emotions to take root in their persona. It was distressing to see how anger and bitterness not only resulted in the tragic death of the person in the Line-of-Duty, but could devastate multiple lives when the anger was allowed to develop into bitterness and resentment. By holding on to their anger, they too became additional victims of the same event, not survivors as God intended.

redheadbird

The people closest to the officer that had been killed, naturally experience anger following the death of a loved one. This can be even more dangerous when the anger seems so justified due to the circumstances of their loved ones death, as it would have been in the case of Dad’s murder. Justification does not lesson the trap anger represents, instead it intensifies the danger. The more justified a person feels they are to be angry, the easier it becomes to rationalize remaining angry and giving in to these negative emotions. This is the trap, the longer a person remains angry the easier it is for them to lose themselves to hatred, resentment, and bitterness. It is in this way the evil of anger can sadly consume multiple lives, when these negative emotions are allowed to take over the persona of anyone that has tragically lost a loved one.

God bless!

 

[1] Joel Osteen is a televangelist, author, and the Senior Pastor of Lakewood Church, in Houston, Texas.

[2] Heslop, Jessica. 2014. ‘Step By Step: How To Free Yourself From Negative Emotions – Purpose Fairy’. Purpose Fairy. http://www.purposefairy.com/70068/step-by-step-how-to-free-yourself-from-negative-emotions/.

[3] New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[4] The 14th Dalai Lama describes himself as a simple Buddhist monk. He is the spiritual leader of Tibet. In 1959, with the brutal suppression of the Tibetan national uprising in Lhasa by Chinese troops, the Dalai Lama was forced to escape into exile to Dharamsala, northern India.

[5] Falahee, Jamie. 2012. ‘How To Deal With Anger (According To The Dalai Lama)’. Heallovebe. http://heallovebe.com/2012/05/22/how-to-deal-with-anger-according-to-the-dalai-lama/.

[6] Bond, Annie. 2015. Care2.Com. http://www.care2.com/greenliving/the-dalai-lama-s-wisdom-about-anger.html.

[7] Matthew 5:5, New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[8] Matthew 5:7, New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[9] Matthew 5:9, New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[10] New Living Translation (NLT).

[11] New American Standard Bible (NASB).

[12] The Living Bible (TLB).

[13] “Tom Carpenter A Proud Patrolman”. 1974. Patrol 829 Volume 1, Number 1 (q): Page 3.

[14] The Journey: Living by Faith in an Uncertain World by Billy Graham, Published by W Publishing Group (2005). Pg 180.

© C. Carpenter and Surviving December, 2017. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s