Five Ways to Mismanage Anger
Jesus got it right. He was angry for the right reason, and he managed his anger appropriately. But none of the rest of us has his perfect batting average. I know I don’t.
I get along with all of my brothers, but it hasn’t always been that way. When I was a teenager, I was eating dinner one evening when one of my brothers began to torment me. He always knew how to push my buttons. As the pressure mounted inside of me, I looked with anger at the shiny fork in my hand. The good news is that I did not throw the fork at my brother. The bad news is that I threw the fork with full strength toward the screen door and through the screen door. It bounced to a stop on the back porch near where my mother was sitting. For weeks my mom left the hole in the screen door to remind me of the damage caused by my angry outburst. It soon became a parable of sorts in my family. Still today, more than twenty years later, I’ll reach for my fork while enjoying Thanksgiving dinner with my extended family, and my brother will dramatically duck under the table. Some behavior is hard to live down. (I won’t even go into the BB gun incident. Let’s just say my mother didn’t give it back to me until I was thirty years old.)
The real problem with a man and his anger is mismanagement. I mismanaged my anger by letting it control me. David mismanaged his anger by failing to resolve it. But other types of mismanagement exist. Most men are guilty of one or more of the following types of anger mismanagement.
Some men never get angry. Never allowing themselves to get angry is actually a mismanagement of anger. This is seen particularly in churches, where people think anger is always bad. But the opposite of sinful anger is not the absence of anger. All anger isn’t evil. All anger is not sin. Jesus got angry. According to Dr. David Seamands: “Anger is a divinely implanted emotion.” If we are never angry, something is wrong with us. In Ephesians 4:26 Paul tells believers to be angry but cautions us not to sin in our anger.
One Bible translation refers to the “anger of the Lord” thirty-five times in the Old Testament. There are times when it is appropriate for us to be angry. We should be angry about the things God is angry about, but we must learn to manage our anger, not avoid it.
Some men get angry too fast. James 1:19 tells believers to be slow to anger. Those with impulsive anger cannot control it; instead, it controls them. They have a short fuse; they are combustible and reckless. They blow up at their spouse, kids, and co-workers. When something sets them off, they erupt. Impulsiveness precludes discernment, which is necessary to be righteously angry.
Before David became king, he used to play his harp for King Saul to soothe his nerves frazzled from ruling a nation. On at least two occasions Saul became jealous and fearful of young David and tried to pin him to the wall with a spear (see 1 Sam. 18:11 and 19:10). We’ll never know what caused Saul’s outbursts. Perhaps David had played the wrong note on his harp. Like King Saul, some men become angry too quickly because they can’t control their emotions.
Some men express their anger in an unhealthy manner. When the apostle Paul wrote about anger in Ephesians 4:26, he warned against sinning in anger. We sometimes tend to make foolish decisions during the heat of our anger, such as planting our fist into a wall, a dashboard, or a family member.
Sometimes we use explosive language when we get angry. We speak unkind words or yell to let off steam. It may be that we are angry about the right things, but we express our anger in an unhealthy or unbiblical manner—like throwing a fork through a screen door.
Some men fail to resolve their anger, and unresolved anger can lead to resentment. The final admonition in Ephesians 4:26 is “Do not let the sun go down on the cause of your anger.” Here Paul instructed believers to quickly resolve their anger. Yet many men can harbor anger against a relative, friend, or co-worker for years, sometimes leading to addictions and substance abuse. Instead of pursuing peace, like David, we allow anger to eat away at us. A friend once commented that resentment is the only emotion some people ever feel. We resent people who have more than us; we resent people who have less than us; we resent people who cut us off in traffic; we resent our parents for raising us the way they did; we resent our kids for holding us back; we resent our spouse for her flaws. We’ve mastered the ability to harbor unresolved anger.
Some men misdirect their anger toward innocent victims. This proverbial “kick the dog” response in which we take our emotions out on the wrong person is unhealthy. I was once angry at a person and shared my anger with my wife. She interrupted me and asked, “Why are you yelling at me?” I responded, “I’m not yelling at you; I’m yelling to you!” She was right, of course. I was angry, and I was taking my emotions out on her instead of addressing the issue with the person himself. Jesus said in Matthew 18:15: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault when the two of you are alone. If he listens to you, you have regained your brother.” In the same way, if I am angry with someone, I should go to that person with my complaint and seek to resolve it immediately.
In Jonah 4:4 (NASB), God asked the prophet Jonah a penetrating question during a particularly childish temper tantrum: “Do you have good reason to be angry?” Most of the time we will find that, like Jonah, our anger is unwarranted and unprofitable. We’re burning emotional calories—and often hurting other people—for no good reason. Before becoming a believer, I had a problem with impulsive anger for empty reasons. Even a short temper would have been better than what I had. When I was a baby believer, God began to work on my anger problems by providing learning opportunities. Such an opportunity came when I found my car in the parking lot with the entire right side banged up. I went and awoke my roommate, and together we examined the car. His presence helped me to keep my cool, but as I thought about the situation, I felt myself grow angrier and angrier. How could someone be so inconsiderate as to sideswipe my car without so much as leaving a note? Where was their conscience? How could God let this happen? Fortunately, the windows were fine, the tires were fine, and the sunroof was fine. Sunroof? Wait a second. My car didn’t have a sunroof. That’s when I realized that we were examining someone else’s car. Mine—same make, model, and color—was parked about six spaces over. Perfectly undamaged.
Excerpted from Jeffrey Miller, Hazards of Being a Man: Overcoming 12 Challenges All Men Face. Used by permission of Baker Book House Company, copyright © 2007. All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Book House Company.