Seems not quite right: A former–and still struggling–rage junkie would have something to say about managing anger.
But indeed. I do. Quite a lot. As you’ll see in a minute.
Let me start with this: I think anger management is an awkward, if not inappropriate, title.
See, anger is not managed. It is subdued. But not by you.
Let me explain.
A Tiny Bit of History with Anger
Anger issues usually get drawn out when someone gets married. That makes sense: Require two very different people to live together and conflict is bound to erupt.
It did in my marriage.
Funny, because before I got married, I thought I had it all together. Not much could rattle me. Then again, not much was required of me. People pretty much left me alone.
And since nobody called me out on it I honestly thought I was doing well. Until I got married.
You don’t see things like this coming: An apparent innocent statement causing your fists to clench. Or the simple neglect of things important to your spouse setting her or him on edge.
To make matters worse, you keep it up–and defend yourself endlessly. For the first ten, I don’t know, eleven years, that defined my marriage.
Here’s the deal: I didn’t want it to be that way. But anger defeated me. It worked me over. Manhandled me. I knew who was the master and who was the slave.
Of course, my wife took the brunt of this anger. Post-flare up I’d grovel. Break out the “anger” books. Burn the typical verses into my memory. Plead with God.
But inside of me I was still boiling. “How dare I go through this!”
As you might guess, the next round of heated arguments would reveal that I was not winning the battle…
I was STILL blowing my top and stomping about the house like a mad man. And things even got worse when our children were born.
Anger and Children
This is not scientific, but married people WITHOUT children tend to argue less. But once you involve wee ones and their round-the-clock demands, even greater disaster awaits.
Something you should know: All of this was before my conversion.
Why is that important? In spite of my best efforts to “conquer my anger” my wretched heart was doing the only thing it knew how to do: Defend and exalt self. Even over the children.
That meant my anger drifted from my wife to my first child. Then my second.
I’d lose it when they would fuss for hours during bedtime. I’d flip when they trashed the kitchen floor with their dinner. And stare them down if they nagged me while I watched a football game.
It wasn’t pretty.
But we managed to stitch along enough happy times that they seemed to enjoy themselves for the most part. Yet, they weren’t immune to my wrath.
This Broke My Heart–Kind Of
One thing that sobered me up was the recognition that my children were growing afraid of me. They said as much in their beautifully upbeat and jolly ways.
As you can guess, this broke my heart.
Sadly, I could bear being mean to my wife–but I couldn’t bear being mean to my children. So I vowed to hunker down and kick this wrath habit.
My tactics to suppressing my anger amounted to walking away, counting to ten and simply trying to remember that I don’t want my children frightened of me.
The problem with this is that my anger was rooted in a wicked heart. And that just proved too much for me.
Understand: I’m not trying to excuse my behavior. I’m motoring to a point. And that point is this: Liberation from anger only comes through Christ.
Here’s what Jesus said about it:
But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. Matthew 15:18-19
In other words, a corrupt heart will only produce corrupt deeds. And my tactics amounted to thin cosmetic changes that didn’t fool anyone to the decrepit nature below the surface.
It was only when God regenerated my heart that I truly was able to master my anger.
But “master my anger” is the wrong phrase to use. Indeed, it was Christ who mastered my heart through the new birth.
And it has been the grace of God, a daily plowing of that heart with the Bible and an unapologetic infatuation with the majesty of Christ that has allowed me to experience any kind of victory over rage.
Post-Conversion Recovery from Anger Addiction
Dramatic improvements have come in my life since I was born again. The difference between the years before and after is as stark as night and day.
For example, remaining calm in situations that used to send me into a rage…I simply just don’t get rattled [as much].
No doubt, I am still recovering from many bad habits, including anger. But each day I shed a little more residue of the old man as the elements of the new accrue.
I do co-opt certain psychological strategies to manage my anger, like paying attention to what I’m doing, remaining calm and, most importantly, making sure I’m actively giving good quality time and attention to wife and children.
But I’m not brave enough to say I’m no longer a “rage addict.” Some people may not like that. But let me say this: I must keep that label in front of me because, left to my own devices, I will systematically destroy those around me.
It’s also biblical.
Why I Remind Myself of My History with Anger
Often, to drive a point home, the Apostle Paul would refer to his past when he was a legalistic Pharisee hellbent on prosecuting Christians. He remembered where he came from. And he wanted others to do the same:
Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. Ephesians 2:12
Paul’s point: Denying your past is trouble because it leads to hubris and susceptibility to making the same mistakes in the future.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather NOT do that.
So, in the end, if it not for Christ, I’d hopelessly remain a rebellious, self-absorbed misfit of madness–no matter how many neat tricks I employed to combat nasty hissy fits.
A Possible Defense of Rage
One objection remains unanswered: Didn’t Jesus rage about in the temple? Wasn’t that a vicious display of anger?
Yes. He did. And it was.
But there’s an important difference between his rage and our typical rage: He was angry at injustice and corruption–not from frustration or an unfulfilled sense of entitlement.
Anger directed at corruption or cruelty is okay. But keep in mind: Don’t sin when angry. Instead, use your anger as a motivation to change things.
In the end, if you want to overcome anger, you don’t discover the formula and then work that formula.
No. You must start with regeneration.
Then, and only then, can you slowly recover from a life dominated by rage and grow into a life dominated by a sublime sense that you are at peace with the creator of the universe.
There is no other way.
So, yes, a former rage addict does have a little something useful to say about anger management. And if this at all speaks to you, let me know. I’m truly interested to know what you have to say.
This post inspired by a reader’s question. Got a question you’d like me to answer in a post? Email me.