A few weeks ago, I had a mild temper tantrum down at The CellPhone Store where I work. We’ve been working short-handed, and that day, we had someone from another store coming to help out, but I didn’t know who it would be. I was talking about it with a co-worker, and somehow came to the conclusion that it was going to be someone in particular that I did not like. As our conversation went on, I did what I always end up doing. Without any foreknowledge of what was going to happen, I decided to skip the formalities of finding out and go ahead and get angry about it. My day was going to be ruined, after all, working with this intolerable person all day. Why do we even have someone so incompetent on the payroll? Why must I, of all people, be forced to deal with this?
Suddenly I stopped myself. I had no idea who I would be working with, but here I was, getting angrier by the moment. My co-worker said she tends to wallow in undue anger also, and that her son refers to it as “screwing yourself into the ground.” I’d never heard that expression before, but I found it horribly appropriate. When I sit and allow myself to get angrier and angrier, I have indeed screwed myself into the ground until I’m stuck and can’t be moved.
Anger seems to be a hump I just can’t get over in my spiritual walk, and it stands between me and God.
Remove anger from thy heart, and put away evil from thy flesh. For youth and pleasure are vain. Ecclesiastes 11:10
What is anger, after all? A friend of mine went to a training class at work where they discussed anger. The class was asked to describe anger as if they were describing it to an alien who came from a planet without emotions. The definition they came up with: I didn’t get my way. That’s what anger is. I didn’t get my way and I’m going to throw a hissy fit over it. I would argue that when I’m angry, there’s always a logical, rational reason for it. I am never angry without cause and if I get upset it’s because I am passionately committed to seeing justice prevail.
My husband would say I’m having a hissy fit because I didn’t get my way.
And there is no anger above the anger of a woman. It will be more agreeable to abide with a lion and a dragon, than to dwell with a wicked woman. Ecclesiasticus* 25:23
Anger in and of itself is a wretched evil, but it gets worse. The longer I stew over some wrong, and the more I screw myself into the ground, I am planting seeds that grow into grudges and resentment. These are spiritual weeds that choke out love and mercy and every good fruit of the spirit.
Anger hath no mercy, nor fury when it breaketh forth: and who can bear the violence of one provoked? Proverbs 27:4
Something I’ve recognized as I try to put away anger and let go of grudges is that I don’t want to. There are reasons why I’ve held a grudge. My anger has always been provoked by the unacceptable behavior of others. I have a right to feel the way I do!
But it separates me from God. It separates me from my brothers and sisters. It stops joy and patience and love and mercy from blooming in my heart. I’ve been praying to let all these little things go that have hurt me, and I’ve been praying to want to let them go, but it’s hard. I never think to pray for grace when my blood starts boiling; I’m so consumed by my emotions, I think of nothing else. There have been times I felt that my soul would never be free from these grudges, because I simply do not know how to forgive.
Remember the footsteps in the sand poem? This is the part where God has started to carry me. Over the last month or so, I’ve felt a strong tug on my heart to let go of old grudges, let old wounds heal, and stop collecting grievances. Through much trembling and crying, I’ve handed over old baggage. God, I said, I don’t want this anymore, please take it from me. Amazingly enough, the old wounds started healing over. However, I ran into a bit more trouble with the newer wounds. Especially the ones that still get poked at regularly. The person who looks down his nose at me, the co-worker who blames me for his mistakes, and all those little wrongs throughout the day.
I started to slip a little in my mission to learn forgiveness, so I looked for a prayer to help me get back on track. I posted Daily Prayer: To Forgive Others on Wednesday night, along with Thursday’s Mass Readings, but I didn’t really sit down and read the Mass Readings until Thursday. When I heard Jesus tell the story of the servant whose debt was forgiven, but didn’t forgive his brother’s debt, I was floored. Clearly, forgiving others is of the utmost importance. But how? I work in service, how can I avoid collecting little grievances against customers? Have you dealt with upset customers lately? They’re unpleasant and rarely ever right! And my co-workers! And the family! I can’t get away from it!
I know it sounds cliche, but I started thinking about how attitude is a choice. The way we react to outside stresses is a choice.
As I went about my day today, I kept reminding myself I was choosing joy over anger and frustration. When a customer started threatening me, I took a deep breath and said sternly to myself, “I’m not going to get upset about that.” When a co-worker said something I found to be appalling, I said, “I’m not going to pass judgement on that.” All day, sometimes out loud, I declared that I would not allow these seeds into my heart. “I’m not going to worry about that….I’m not going to let that bother me….I’m not going to spread that gossip..” I was amazed at how easily the temptation to screw myself into the ground passed. It was only one day, granted, but I can only do one day at a time, and today was blessed with grace.
But the fruit of the Spirit is charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness,…mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity. Against such there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23
I’m not going to tell you I’ve got it licked. I’ve done nothing but make a choice, and I have faith that God will give me whatever graces I need to draw nearer to Him. I’ve got a long way to go, there’s no denying it. This is just going to be one of those times when there’s only one set of footprints.
* One of the seven Deutero-Canonical books, missing from most non-Catholic Bibles