Ephesians 4:26–27 (NIV)
26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold.
Being cooped up in your home may be frustrating for many of us. We long for the freedom to leave our houses and walk about without restrictions. Those who live in small apartments long for open spaces. Even with our beloved family members, no matter how close, we need to have more personal space. The news is still scary and stressful. Anxiety builds up as we do not really know what is happening around us. We find it harder and harder to differentiate real from false news. Anxiety causes fear and anger. Fear (real or imagined) fill us with the unknown and worse case scenarios (avoid watching movies that deal with pandemics such as Andromeda Strain, Contagion, Outbreak, etc). Fear of being infected as we go to buy food and groceries. Even home deliveries may cause a fear of contamination and infection.
During these imposed stressful days, anxiety and fear are slowly being transformed into anger. For many of us, anger is just simmering under the surface and it takes just a little incident to set off. We explode like a volcano leaving our family or housemates bewildered and devastated. Domestic violence has increased in the last few days. So have decisions to consider divorce.
Anger is an emotion and there is nothing wrong with being angry. It is what we allow anger to cause us to act that is important. The Apostle Paul when he was addressing the Philippians did not forbid anger. He does not say, “Be not angry”. Paul did not forbid us to be angry. However, he does say do let your anger cause you to sin, and do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.
First, anger may lead us to do some stupid things that we will not do in normal times. In our fits of anger, it might feel right to throw around some furniture or punch someone or something. Binge-watching too much violent television shows or movies may make us feel that this is the right thing to do. Restrain yourself. Acknowledge that you are feeling angry. There is nothing wrong with having this emotion. Name it as your emotion. Say to yourself, “I am angry, I am very angry’. Let the emotion out without acting on it. Do not open your mouth to shout, nor move your body to strike it. You are better than Samson so feel your anger but do not act on it. Be angry but do not sin. All our anger outbursts have consequences.
I always use this illustration to remind myself of this. There was this young man who is always angry and he will go crazy when he was angry, throwing and breaking things. His father brought him to a wooden fence in their backyard and told the boy that every time he feels angry, use a hammer to hammer a nail into the fence. Every time he feels angry but is able to control the acting out of his anger, he is to remove a nail. Over time, as the boy becomes better able to deal with his anger, there was less and fewer nails on the fence. One day the boy brought his father to the fence and say with pride. “See! There are no nails on the fence. I am better at dealing with my anger now.” “Yes,” said the father sadly, “but look at the number of holes in the fence!” Our actions driven by our anger has consequences. Do not let these be bad consequences.
Second, do not let the sun go down on our anger. We start by acknowledging we are angry but refrain from acting out the emotion. Now we have to deal with the emotion itself. We have to ask ourselves “why are we angry?” What are the causes of our anger? We try to identify the triggers or buttons. Is it the confinement which begins to feel like a prison sentence? Is it our loved one whose constant presence is getting on our nerves?
Is there something we can do about these triggers or buttons? If there is, do it. Some housemates are driven crazy when their other housemates leave their clothes lying around all over the apartment. Talk to one another. Reveal what action the other does that is driving you crazy. Ask them to pick up their clothes and keep the apartment tidy. You will be surprised that most of the time, others are not aware that their actions are driving you wild.
If you cannot do anything about your triggers or buttons, find a quiet place where you can be alone for a while. Give yourself a time out. A bathroom or a closet may be useful. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing. Initially, you may notice that you are breathing fast. Try to slow down your breathing as much as you can. Imagine that you are in a beautiful scenic place with bright sunshine, green grass, blue still lake and snowcapped mountains in the background. As you slow your breathing imagine your anger is like flower petals in your hand. Release them and let the gentle breeze blow them away. You may like to pray that Jesus will take away these petals. When you are feeling calm, open your eyes and give thanks to God in prayer. Deal with your anger immediately. Do not postpone dealing with it because it may escalate.
Living in close quarters in these terrifying times for a prolonged period is challenging. It is normal to feel anger. It is how we deal with this emotion that is important. Again Paul notes, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you (Colossians 3:13 NIV).” May we all have nice backyard fences, not full of nail holes!