mindful of anger part 2
If we are to be slow to become angry as James says (1:19) we must learn to slow down the chain of thoughts that make up the automatic response in our minds. The Desert Father and Mothers called these chains of thought logismoi. I have been using a mnemonic of two patterns to help me breakdown my own afflictive chain of thoughts: S.(h.) I.F.T.
We need to SIFT our thoughts, and we need to ShIFT mental gear from the narrow focus of anger to the big picture of wisdom.
S- stands for Suggestion. This is the first thought that the Desert Fathers and Mothers identified.
h- is the hook thought that couples to the first thought, like a carriage to a train.
I – Stands for Inner dialogue – we start telling a story around the suggestion and hook thought.
F- stands for Fight, this is the inner struggle with the temptation.
T- stands for the Tale of victory or consent to sin.
The suggestive thought that leads to anger might be, ‘who does Fred think he is?’
Fred has done something to annoy us. We might find that is followed up by a ‘hook’ thought that goes something like, ‘Fred needs to be taken down a peg or two. He needs to be put in his place.’
We then enter into an inner dialogue – and this can be lightning quick – which is why we need to catch it and slow it down. This might start, ‘Fred needs to be put in his place – and I am just the person to do it!’ After that all we are left with is the Tale – of victory or defeat and consent to sin. Anger becomes sinful when it leads us to using words to hurt and criticize in a destructive way.
What is the answer to anger? It needs to be more than anger management. James says that anger is of no use in the kingdom of God, ‘for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.’ (James 1:20). The answer is more radical than that.
James tells us that along with other afflictive thoughts we are to ‘get rid of’ it (James 1:21), literally strip it off as we would a suit we are wearing that is irreparably stained.
We will never deal properly with anger unless we do that, or to take up one of Jesus’ images, cut off the limb of anger, or pluck out the angry eye. It is a bit like being an addict. An addict must resolve on total abstinence, whether it is drugs, alcohol or pornography. There is no room for keeping the door slightly open. Mentally we must use a technique used in Dialectical Behaviour Therapy, we must ‘slam the mental door shut’ on anger. We know we will feel it but we resolve never to indulge it. SLAM the door shut now in your own life. Say to yourself, ‘I will not indulge my anger.’.
Why we get angry is complex. Often it is because someone hurts us; we need to defend our fragile ego. Anger is a convenient shortcut to getting our own way. Other people don’t like anger, give in, and tiptoe around us on eggshells. We might as well be wearing a suit with the words in bold ‘uses anger to own advantage.’
We need to learn to catch the process of anger at the first suggestive thought and then slam the door on the thoughts that follow. Or notice them and let them go – do not let them hook us. That is difficult because they are like Velcro. They are designed to stick.
Memorizing biblical verses that deal with anger as in James or Ephesians 4:26-27, provide an alternative hook thought, and take us on a different track – the track of wisdom. But in order to be slow to become angry, and in order to slow down the chain of thoughts that lead to angry words and actions, we need to practice slow disciplines like Lectio Divina or The Jesus Prayer.
Of course we like to say as an excuse, ‘YOU made me angry.’ James doesn’t allow us this escape clause. He says, ‘If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.’ (James 1:26)
We are responsible for our feelings of anger. We always have a choice to respond differently: we can listen more carefully; we can be assertive and not aggressive; we can discuss the issue and separate the personal attack we are planning and so on. If anger is our automatic response we are in trouble.
If we practise slowing down in the end we create a shortcut in our neuroplastic brains that enables us to access a slower approach when put under stress. I know if I begin The Jesus Prayer, or begin noticing what is happening in my body – I access a more peaceful aware place – because I have done these things many times. I have a new icon on my chest – a smart icon – the dove of peace, which replaces the Angry Bird Icon.
We need to learn to interpret with love as we are ‘interpreted with love’ by God. One of the ways to do this is to make sure that the Word of God is planted in us, not just once but continuously. (James 1:21) We need to memorize key scriptures, like on anger, and allow these words to be planted in us. They will begin to seep new creation into our lives like rich morning dew – bringing new life. You can learn not to indulge your anger.
There is no COURAGE in anger. Anger comes out of fear. Courage comes out of love – and courage not anger is the mark of true humanity for men and women.