My son John played middle school football. Let me rephrase that. My son John was on the middle school football team for one season. He played a total of five plays the entire season.
The team did not win a single game. After we had gotten beat by over thirty points against Tifton, I met the young coach on the field. All the players were already on the bus, but my anger had reached a confrontation level. I’d sat through too many of those games where my son could have played but I knew he would come home dejected, yet again.
So I met the coach on the 40 yard line. I wanted to know how a seventh grade boy could make it to every practice and run every sprint and go through every drill and not get to play a single play in a game that was lost by thirty points.
The coach told me that my son was too small to play and that he was afraid to put him in the game in fear that he might get hurt.
Sopping wet I weighed 120 pounds when I played football as a high school senior. I was small, but I had heart and determination. I became an all-conference quarterback and led the conference in pass interceptions. So his reasoning didn’t find much sympathy with me.
I knew my son wasn’t going become a star. I just wanted him to come home with a little self-esteem. Beside, I knew he was practicing with the starters in scrimmage. He could get hurt there just as easily as in a game. If he was too small to play in a game, he was too small to practice. That’s what I told the coach.
If he had no hope of ever playing because of his size, I told the coach he should have told my son that the first day he came out for the team. The coach said, “You never know when these boys are going to go through a growth spurt. Next year, he might be big enough to play.”
Our son was struggling through some self-esteem issues at that time in his life and as parents we needed something to lift him out of his emotional suffering. Maybe the coach had more compassion that we did, but at the time, he just seemed to add to his pain and that’s what fueled my anger.
If I could have channeled my anger in a way that would have given me the greatest satisfaction that day, I would have pitched that coach a pair of shoulder pads and a helmet, thrown a couple of tackling dummies on the ground, given him a ball and said, “Come on coach, let me show you what 140 lbs. of dynamite feels like.”
O.K., I admit, he may have run over me like a bulldozer, but it would have felt good letting my anger go like that. Of course, that’s how people get killed, choosing to let their anger go by challenging people to “man up.”
In the old days, men challenged each other to duels. Today we call it road rage, a bar fight, or passive aggressive behavior, which can escalate and do some serious damage. Men and women do these things.
We become angry when someone or something has threatened our selfhood. Our selfhood includes people, ideas, values or things that are significant to us. (Lester: 34)
I was angry with this coach because I believed he was the source of pain for my son who was and is an extension of me.
It is safe to say that the Bible places caution signs around anger. In Genesis, Cain was warned about his anger toward his brother Abel. God told him that sin was crouching at his door but Cain ignored the warnings and he ended up killing his brother.
Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount that if we are angry with a fellow Christian that we are subject to judgment.
However, we know that Jesus became angry himself. Mark’s gospel tells of a time that Jesus went to the synagogue. Some Pharisees were there and a man with a withered hand. The Pharisees were waiting to see if Jesus would heal this man so they could accuse him of doing work on the Sabbath. I wonder if they may have even set up the entire situation. They might have made sure the man with the withered hand was there that day just to see what Jesus would do. Jesus wasn’t caught unaware by the entire situation and he called them out.
The text says that Jesus was angry. He was angry that they had no concern for this man. Remember, it’s all about relationships, but the Pharisees were only concerned about their rules.
So Jesus asked them, “Is it permitted on Shabbat (Sabbath) to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. 5 After looking around at them with anger, grieved by their hardness of heart, He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out right away with the Herodians and began plotting against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Mark 3:4-6)
I wonder how Mark knew that Jesus was angry. Could he see it in his eyes? Could he hear anger in his voice? Could it be seen in his body language? All of these are likely.
However, in the story Mark tells, notice that Jesus pivots away from his anger by doing something compassionate for this man with a withered hand. I think that it was at this point that Jesus had to let his anger go. He expressed his anger but then he let it go. It’s difficult to do kind and compassionate things when we are angry, isn’t it?
Perhaps this is the reason James wrote: 19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. James 1:19-20
We ought to become angry when we see injustices done to others. But then we have to pivot. We must then let go of our anger and embrace what we know to be right in God’s eyes. Anger may be the catalyst. Then the question becomes, “What is the anger going to give you energy to do?”
Let me explain it like this. I learned with my sons that I was making a mistake when I disciplined them in anger.
Let’s say that I caught one of them in a lie. If one of them lied to me, it angered me because it threatened the bond of trust between us, a very important aspect of our relationship. Without trust, I could have little peace of mind that they were doing the right things when we were apart. Without trust I could not give them additional freedom or responsibilities.
As a father I was right to discipline my sons for lying. However, I had the responsibility to discipline them in the right way. When I disciplined them in anger, they could not see they were wrong; all they could see was my anger. They could not see my love for them in my discipline. Anger can damage your children.
While my anger was justified and while it should have been a catalyst to discipline them, I had to learn to let go of my anger before I disciplined them. Then they would have seen a calm, loving, controlled father meting out the consequences for disobedience.
When Cain killed his brother Abel, he was angry. God never told Cain that his anger was sinful. What God did was throw up a big caution sign and told Cain to be careful. “Sin is crouching at your door. It desires to have you. But you must master it.”
That why is says in Ephesians 4:26, “In your anger, do not sin.” Be angry, but do not wound, harm, or damage others in the process. That is not easy to do.
Cain’s anger could have been a catalyst for something positive to occur in his life. Instead, he allowed it to control him.
Have you ever gotten angry enough to do something positive about an issue? Have you ever heard about MADD, “Mothers Against Drunk Drivers”? Here’s a group of women that have experienced unthinkable pain. They became angry that someone took the life of their child because someone chose to drink and drive.
Their anger drove them to get involved to try to stop underage drinking and drunk driving.
Have you ever gotten angry enough with someone’s mess that you cleaned it up? Have you ever gotten angry enough about a chronically late employee that you confronted that person in a calm manner? Have you ever gotten angry enough about your poor health that you joined a gym or changed your diet? Have you ever gotten angry enough about the injustice of others to get involved?
Anger can give us the energy to make changes in our lives and world.
But if we are not careful, anger can become like an unexploded grenade with the pin pulled that’s rolling around in our lives. Without some intervention, it’s going to go off and we are going to get hit along with innocent bystanders.
In April of 1995, Steve Tran of Westminster, California, was trying to get rid of some cockroaches in his apartment. He was so tired of living with those pests. Those bugs had made him mad enough to do something. So he bought some of those activated bug bombs, but instead of using two as recommended for his apartment, he used twenty-five. Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 2 http://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/1996/february/1601.html
Those cockroaches had met their match with Steve. However, the fumes from those bug bombs filled the apartment so thick that when they reached the pilot light of the stove, it ignited. The blast was strong enough that it blew his screen door across the street, broke all his windows, and set his furniture ablaze. (Ibid)
The blast caused over $10,000 in damage. To add insult to injury, a few days later he saw cockroaches walking around in the apartment. (Ibid)
Proverbs 29:11 says, “Only a fool gives full vent to his anger.”
We need to recognize when anger is within us. When we feel angry, we need to ask, “Why do I feel threatened?”
Lots of things threaten us or those around us. Can you imagine not feeling anger if your child is mistreated, or if your spouse or parent is not cared for properly in a hospital or nursing home, or if another country tried to take away our freedom?
Several Psalms show us that there are times when we even become angry at God. Anger is an emotion that is common to the human condition. However, it’s what we do after becoming angry that makes the difference in whether we sink into sin and self-destruction or whether anger is a catalyst for positive change.
Anger can serve as the energy to put God’s goodness into motion but it can also can thrust us right in the middle of a bigger mess. It can lead to more sin. It can explode like Steve’s bug bomb in a relationship and ruin friendships.
Perhaps you have experienced this. Perhaps you know what it is like to lose a friendship because of your anger or because of the anger others have expressed toward you.
Some of you know what it is like to lose control. You know what pushes your buttons, who you have a short fuse around, and what kind of destructive path anger can leave behind.
I pray that you will experience in your relationships the kind of self-control that the Bible says is one of the fruits of the Spirt. I pray that you will learn that you tongue usually works against you when you are angry and that most of then things we do in a moment of anger are not good. However, our anger can be a catalyst for good once we are calm, collected, and have let go of the anger.
I pray that you will experience some much needed forgiveness and grace regarding your anger like one father received from a young son.
The father said it was one of those evenings when everything went wrong. The children were cranky while he was making dinner, so he gave them some hot chocolate to tide them over. Bill White, Paramount, Californiahttp://www.preachingtoday.com/illustrations/2007/may/4052107.html
Timothy, the five-year-old, decided to throw his marshmallows at his little sister, knocking her hot chocolate all over her. As she began screaming, the phone rang. As the young father answered it, the doorbell rang. While he was answering it, one of the children was screaming in the background. He then returned to the kitchen and hollered at Timothy. Then he had two crying children. (Ibid)
As dinner began to burn and he deposited his daughter in the bath, he loudly announced that he was so angry he might do anything, so he declared he was putting himself in timeout. He closed the door, none too gently, and tried to get dinner to be the only thing simmering in the kitchen. (Ibid)
Everything changed about ten minutes later when he caught sight of a yellow piece of construction paper sliding under the door. In the unsteady hand of a kindergartener came a scrawled message of grace that pierced his heart and helped this father let all of his anger go.
“From Timothy. To Dad. I still love you even when you’re angry.”
If you have anger in your heart today, please hear this message: “From Jesus. To you. I still love you even when you’re angry. Let go of your anger. Learn to love yourself, love life, love me, and love others more. P.S. Open the door. Let me in. I will help you.”