Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry . . .
Anger is an under-rated, highly suspect emotion we like to avoid at all costs. It’s not nice or predictable. Sometimes it seems to come from nowhere; other times, it builds slowly like a cancer. But why can’t we move through this “negative” emotion the same way we move through happiness? Why can’t we find a means for expressing our anger and move on with our lives?
Anger can be a good thing. Anger is energy.It can move us from a state of paralysis or fear or depression into a state of action. Anger inspires political and social movements. Anger clarifies our focus. But it has to be addressed, or it turns to poison. It can poison our spirits, our bodies, and our foxholes.
Foxhole living requires getting a handle on anger. When you’re in the foxhole and shells are flying, there is no where else to go. Even if you’re angry at the enemy shelling you–trying to kill you–you’re stuck looking at just one face, dealing with one person’s annoying noises and habits. Anybody with me?
The funny thing about anger is that it is so easily transferable: boss gave the promotion to someone else, girlfriend made a snarky remark, I come home and transfer that anger to the way my spouse is making a mess on the stove while she cooks dinner or how he didn’t close the kitchen cabinets or how he chews too loudly or how she forgot to recycle again or . . . Pretty soon a lovely night at home after a hard day at work becomes a hard night at home after a hard day at work. Hmm.
I know that when life gets difficult (is that the right word? How about horrendous, push-you-to-your-crazy-point, horrifying, unfair and cruel?), it is so easy to throw your partner under the bus. I’ve done it: I’ve taken all of my anger and hurled it at him and watched him double over. But what I have learned is that if I’m hurling meanness at the one person who’s promised not to leave when things get tough, what’s going to be left of him? What kind of partner can I expect to have if every time I need him, I tear him down?
Then, a lightning bolt—or, I think, the Holy Spirit—slapped me upside the head with some serious insight. I was pregnant for the first time and very depressed. One Monday morning suffering a severe migraine for the majority of the weekend, I felt well enough to go down stairs. There, on the dirty stove, sat the dirty frying pans from the meals Jack had cooked for me over the weekend.
Why couldn’t he just clean the pans? Why, while I lay up in bed in excruciating, immobilizing pain, couldn’t he just clean the damn pans?
I wasn’t thinking about each and every thing he had done for me over the weekend: bringing me every meal, providing every dose of Tylenol and glass of water, calling my doctor on my behalf, folding laundry, canceling plans, staying home to keep an eye on me. His many acts of love escaped my mind; only the dirty, stinking pans remained in focus.
As I stared at the dirty pans on the dirty stove–he hadn’t cleaned the stove either–rage almost knocked me over. I wanted to run up the stairs, charge into his office, and scream at him for everything. It wouldn’t be the first time. I searched within myself for a handle–anything–to keep me from drowning in this anger. I knew that the dirty pans were just the tipping point. I was angry for so many reasons; little could be pinned on my husband who had lovingly taken care of me . . . but there is always something to get angry at him for if I look closely enough.
So I did something crazy. I took those pans and I hucked them as hard as I could into the back yard. Yup. I took all of my anger out on those pans, and the grass, and I left Jack alone. I sat down on the couch as the anger dissipated. Damn pans.
And, even though he was seriously concerned about my mental state when he noticed all of our cookware in the back yard, all I could think was but I left you in tact.
I have used my marriage as a giant, recyclable coffee filter for the problems of my life. Everything that is wrong, hard, unfair, unexplainable, everything that incites anger, everything outside that I can’t control is thrust into this filter. Then I pour the gushing emotions teeming from my out of control heart through that filter. And I wonder why our marriage blows up sometimes? I wonder why the pressure is too great? Why there are little bits of my anger and splinters of each of us in every bitter cup we drink?
The harder life gets, the more I need to be mindful about how I am treating my partner. Anger and sadness and frustration are real and need to be dealt with, but that doesn’t mean they need to be hurled in the direction of my teammate. I need to take my anger and hurl it out the back door (frying pans don’t have feelings, after all!), and focus all of my energy on loving my partner. After all, the more I love him, the more I build him up, the better partner I’ll have. After all, loving him is loving myself, as we are supposed to be on the same team.
When I started to understand this, my marriage changed. Life has been hard, certainly. But some of our best moments have been in the foxhole together. We both make mistakes, but it’s funny how trivial an overdraft fee, a lost check, or a dirty kitchen seems now. I remind myself, whenever I want to sling mud in Jack’s direction, that even if I’m right, and he deserves a big dressing down, what do I deserve? Much more of the same.
God bless you all in your foxholes.
And, throw the pans!!!