I have a confession to make: I really struggle with sinful anger. I don’t just mean that I get angry in the sense of the passion. I mean that I struggle with rage and the desire for vengeance at certain times. It is one of the reasons that you will find me in the confessional every week or every two weeks at most. My anger has been a decades old problem. Yes, I am 33 and yes some of that anger is from my childhood; however, you are not going to see me justify my anger as my family’s fault. Yes, some of my anger is learned and habitual, but regardless of what post-modern psychology says, I am responsible for how I respond when the passion of anger rears its ugly head and progresses to sin. This is something that has been brought to the forefront of my psyche because I have been angry and struggling after an injustice that I experienced recently, as well as a clear sense of my own failings. God is telling me that in order for me to progress on the path to holiness, I must start to seriously overcome my sinful anger under His guidance. So how do I do that?
I happened to “accidentally” stumble on a book that deals with sinful anger by Fr. T.G. Morrow called Overcoming Sinful Anger. When I saw the book staring at me on my computer screen my immediate thought was: “Okay, Lord! I get it.” I then proceeded to order the book. I have only begun reading the book, but one thing that stood out to me immediately is that I must identify those things that cause me anger. What inside of me leads me to serious anger in specific moments?
One of the things that I have known for a while is that my anger is usually caused by a very serious struggle with self-hatred. When I fail or mess up, I begin a cycle of destructive behaviors (stress eating, depression, self-loathing) that lead me further into sin. I give up and then that giving up (because it is not in my true nature) turns inward into a deep hatred towards myself. This came out in Confession a while back. The priest asked me why I was there and I said, “I am tired of hating myself.” His response was, “Yes! Exactly!” Yes, some of this anger is learned, but I have identified it, so it is time to move past blaming and focus on overcoming it. That means the first task in overcoming sinful anger is to identify what causes anger.
What causes me to go into self-hatred mode and project it on others? As I said above, my own failings are one of the causes. Next is selfishness. When things are not as I want them to be, I can immediately fall into a selfish angry mess. This occurs most often with my husband or daughter. This is hard to admit, but my desire (by the grace of God) is to be a saint. So I must descend into those dark places within myself (Dante’s Inferno anyone?) in order to come out into the light.
The other main reason for my anger is pain and injustice. I have a healthy and unhealthy understanding of justice and righteous anger. I have witnessed horrors in my life, (I was a 9-11 relief worker) and I have experienced pain. That means that I empathize with the suffering of others easily. It also means that when I get hurt, I tend to internalize, especially when I am unable to respond to an injustice, and eventually it turns to anger or rage. There have been hard periods in my life when I have had to silently take the injustices of others. We all have those times, but for me I internalize it and that is a dangerous thing for me to do.
So I have before me my primary motivators for my sinful anger: failure, selfishness, and injustice. This is the beginning of my journey. Now I must learn to identify these triggers in a moment when anger arises. This will be the next difficult step. I have to be willing to overcome that driving passion and take a moment to be introspective about what is going on inside of me. For someone who analyzes complex theology and philosophy, this is difficult for me. Part of that is because we have little control of the passions until we learn to tame them. That is a major part of the spiritual journey. I must train myself to take a step back when the heat of anger rears its ugly head within me.
The most important component is Jesus Christ. I cannot possibly overcome my inclination towards sinful anger on my own. Nope. Not going to happen. I’ve tried. To my utter shame, I still try. I have to let God do it. I have to be willing to fall to the foot of the Cross and say: “Lord, please help me to overcome this anger.” One of the ways that I need to do this is to meditate on certain aspects of Christ’s life that coincide with my own pain and anger.
As I was going to sleep last night, I meditated on the story of the Samaritan woman at the well. There in the heat of the day and alone she went to the well. She was an outcast. I have spent a good deal of time feeling like an outcast for a variety of reasons. While my sins are not the same as hers, they still coincide with the sense of not belonging and being unloved. So there came Jesus in the heat of the day. The blinding sun (both physically and metaphorically) who asked this outcast for a drink. He met her in her brokenness and then proceeded to draw her into the reality of the Holy Trinity. He filled her parched emptiness with the living water that can only flow from Him. How can I possibly remain angry when He desires to fill me up? See the necessity of meditating upon Scripture and finding those stories that will heal?
This is just the beginning. I have identified the reasons, now I must go deep into that hurt, guided by Christ so that He can fill me up. So this is the first step: Identify what leads you to sinful anger. Sinful anger desires vengeance and can become rage. Not all anger is sinful. Contemplate what drives you to sinful anger. Perhaps order the book above. Let’s spend this Lent identifying those triggers and then work to overcome them. I will continue to post about my journey and insights that God gives me in prayer. I pray for you too, who like me, struggles with pain and anger. Please, pray for me. What are some things that have helped you overcome anger? Have you identified your triggers?
Overcoming Sinful Anger by Fr. T. G. Morrow