It was just a friendly game of racquetball. Our racquets were tethered around our wrists in case things got slippery, and then we started pounding the dickens out of the ball, all in the spirit of friendly fun and exercise.
Maybe my friend expected to win handily; maybe he expected consistently great shots from himself. But whatever was going on within him, he was getting louder. What began as a few eyerolls after a bad shot drifted into inarticulate muttering, then self-talk such as “IDIOT!” then curses aimed at the ball, his racquet, and the walls. By the middle of the second game, the veins in his neck were ready to burst and I was trying to keep my distance.
He finally had enough. After a lost point, he threw his racquet with all the force he could muster. Since anger is stupid, he forgot that he had that leash around his wrist, so when he let go of the racquet, it hit him square on his shinbone. Blood went everywhere. Then he became even angrier, ripped off the leash, and beat that racquet against the floor without mercy until there was no life left in it. It would never mis-hit another ball.
Meanwhile, I was watching the mayhem. Once I realized that he would not be hitting me, I could stand back and observe without fear. There he was, blood dripping down his leg, wondering what to do now that he was racquet-less. He had come to his senses. When he looked at me, we were expressionless, then smiling, then laughing.
Sometimes it is funny when a human being acts like an animal, but only if the animal is in a cage—or an isolated racquetball court—where nobody gets killed. We laughed together. But I wouldn’t want to be his spouse.
A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.Proverbs 29:11
When you listen carefully to your anger, you might overhear the echoes of a parent or someone with influence in your life. Same tone. Same words. This is another reason why we are deaf to anger. We are persuaded that our tone is modulated and our words reasonable because we sound just like the people who helped shape who we are.
Scripture warns us about the connection between the angry people around us and our own anger.
Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.Proverbs 22:24–25
Friends can leave us ensnared in anger; family can do the same. We tend to take on the mannerisms of those closest to us.
The racquet smasher came from a family of smashers. They loved each other but competition was war. When you lost, you smashed things.
The child who hears anger from her parents will be playing house with angry dolls. Later, she herself might be the angry parent.
Do you excuse the anger in your family’s home? Be careful. You can certainly love an angry family member, “but don’t excuse anger. If you do, you will be tone deaf to your own imitation of that anger.
Some families, and even some ethnic groups, boast about how they can be fighting fiercely one minute and hugging the next, as if that is a good thing.
It is not.
So retrain your ears as you listen to others. Listen for either destructive words or a destructive tone. Practice listening in daily life. Listen for parents who are angry with children, people arguing or even fighting, or teens being picked on by those who are older. Listen, and be surprised by it. Then remember your early experiences with angry people. Decide that the culture of anger will stop with your generation.
As a protest against the anger around us, who will you bless with your words today?
Ten Ways to Bless an Enemy
Since we rarely have true enemies who are committed to curse us, think about those you temporarily put in the enemy camp. Some have inconvenienced you. Some have wronged you.
The ultimate goal is to bless. This means that we want to help them in their relationship with God by displaying God’s character—this is what is in their best interests. We want to speak to them the way God speaks to us. This is for their good and it is also for our good.
Here are examples of how to bless someone who is not blessing you. Humility and gentleness run through the list. Boldness also appears.
- Judge yourself first. Do you have any desires that have become selfish desires? What are they? Confession is the way to rein in needs and selfish desires so they become wants and desires.
- Do not retaliate.
- If you see any way that you have wronged the person, ask forgiveness.
- If you don’t know what provoked the other person, ask how you have wronged him or her.
- Use gentle words (Proverbs 15:1). For example, “I am so sorry that there are tensions in our relationship. What could I do to help?” They could be strengthened: “You seem to be declaring war against me. Could we talk about it?”
- Consider the unjust servant as a way to remind you of your reasons for blessing your enemy (Matthew 18:23–35). You have received mercy rather than judgment. Now you want to pass it on.
- Ask someone to help you think of ways to bless the other person and to pray for you.
- Enemies have also been wounded. Are you aware of any hardships in the other person’s life? If you are familiar with these hardships, let your compassion be aroused and express your sorrow to him or her.
- You can bless the person by either overlooking the offense (Proverbs 19:11) or identifying the offense. Which would be most helpful? If you choose to identify it, you might begin, “Could we talk about what happened the other day?” If the person refuses? “Then when can we talk?” If the person refuses again, ask a wise person for help.
- If you can’t think of anything, or your attempts have been ineffective, keep praying. Ask the Spirit to give you deeper insight into what to do and the strength to do it. And ask a wise person for help.
What would you add?
Excerpted from A Small Book about a Big Problem ©2017 by Edward T. Welch. May not be reproduced without prior written permission.
A Small Book About a Big Problem: Meditations on Anger, Patience, and Peace
A Small Book about a Big Problem by biblical counselor and psychologist Edward T. Welch guides readers to look carefully at how their anger affects them and others through short, daily meditations. In a fifty-day reading plan journey, Welch unpacks anger while encouraging and teaching readers to respond with patience to life’s difficulties.