Irritable

Lately, I’ve been feeling irritable, on-edge, restless, out-of-focus.

I grabbed my prayer book this morning and this is what I found:

Are the antidotes to my dis-ease in this simple, timely prayer? Let’s think it through:

First, have I responded in love when irritations and annoyances erupt? Nope. My anger has over-ruled and overrun my giving grace and love mechanism, like a log truck going downhill in the mountains.

If sensible people control their temper, as the writer of Proverbs admonishes, I have been anything but sensible. I have been out of my senses. I have been out of control. This is obvious in my interactions, my eating, and my disciplines. I haven’t written anything for months. My office is in total disarray. All I want to do is get on my bike and ride—hard, long, and fast.

It’s like I’m trying to get away from something. I’ve always been a runner, an avoider. Ignore something long enough and it will go away. Ridiculous thinking. I would identify it and encourage others to change, but have not been very good at owning it in myself.

As a counselor, I learned and taught classes, groups, and individuals about anger management. A basic truth for me has always been that most often anger is a protective response. People feel more comfortable expressing anger and pushing others away than owning their more vulnerable feelings of sadness, fear, confusion, or brokenness.

I’m feeling all of the above. At work. At home. In my relationships. I feel more comfortable holing up alone in my house with my dogs who don’t care what I’m going through as long as I feed them, let them out to potty, and give them an occasional scratch behind the ear.

But this is not how I want to be. And perhaps that’s why I’m so frustrated. I don’t feel like I’m allowed or supposed to feel this way. I have to be on and up for everyone. I’m not allowed to be irritated. And heaven forbid that I would express my frustration publically.

For example…last week the tree trimmers came to my house to cut my tree limbs back from the power lines. I was fuming. They’re supposed to let us know so we can pay top dollar to tree-trimming companies to sculpt rather than butcher our trees indiscriminately. We weren’t notified. They butchered my tree.

I felt violated. I was so angry, I was telling people that I was ready to chop the rest of the tree down with my teeth. Not particularly attractive talk or behavior. Upon reflection, I was mortified that I was so vociferous in my expression of my anger. I should have been gracious. After all, they were only doing their job, and keeping the electric on is important for me and for the neighborhood.

Spewing my anger over what I felt was hack job on my tree became the perfect opportunity to empty out my hoard of pent up frustration and irritation. My behavior was completely disproportionate to the incident. My ranting was unbecoming and my inability to control my expression was indicative of a deeper wounding that needs to be addressed.

That said, I have realized and reminded myself of Paul’s admonition to the Ephesians regarding anger: be angry and sin not. Anger is not the enemy. Anger is a legitimate emotion. How we release or control the intensity is what matters. Who we express it to is also relevant. Anger is energy that when channeled appropriately can result is positive change.

Typically I like to finish one of these posts in a neat package, with a tidy resolution tied up with a pretty ribbon.

Sorry, no ribbon today. Today begins the arduous work of back-tracking soul-searching examination to uncover the wound that has been the impetus to this feeling of dis-ease. I take comfort in the words of Psalm 103, “He heals all our dis-eases.”

I’m trusting in that truth, and in the ensuing process. I’m also hoping the ownership of the feelings unlocks the door to peace (completeness, shalom) so that my life and living will be a more credible witness.

Holding My Tongue

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In Psalm 39, David addresses an interesting choice he made: to keep quiet, to hold his tongue…to not argue back.

Imagine that…Selah.

We have become a nation of “right fighters” (to use a well-worn Dr. Phil-ism). We argue for argument’s sake. We chose to be right, no matter how ridiculous we sound or how much damage it does to our witness…or our relationships.

David probably felt he had every right to speak. After all, he WAS God’s chosen one. But he opted to put a muzzle on himself.

The problem was, it didn’t solve the problem. What he wanted to say just built up inside until he was ready to burst. He saw issues, problems and he became frustrated by not addressing them.

But when he was at his bursting point, instead of exploding on the person creating the issue, having the problem, making the mistake, or whatever…he didn’t vent or rant all over them. He didn’t go to social media and spill his guts. He didn’t dump on a friend.

No. He turned to God. “I felt a fire burning inside, and the more I thought, the more it burned, until at last I said, “Please, LORD, show me my future (vs. 4-5a).”

He took his anger directly to the place where it could do the most good and then rather than focusing on someone else, someone who he couldn’t change—no matter how much he argued—he pleaded with God to better understand himself.

Imagine that…Selah.

As a pastor, I have talked and counseled with many people who are angry…typically with the behavior or choices of someone else…sometimes with God. And they stew and stew until they finally blow. Usually the eruption ends up falling upon someone totally innocent and unworthy of the volcanic spewing.

When I query as to whether they consider taking the matter to God, they are shocked and appalled. In their minds they have “protected” God from their anger…as if that’s possible and as if God couldn’t handle it—he’s just so fragile, you know?

God’s not fragile. He’s also not afraid of our anger. Paul clearly instructs the Ephesians to “be angry, but sin not.” Remember, Jesus got angry on the more than one occasion—just ask the money changers in the temple, or the Pharisees.

Hold your tongue when you can. Nothing is gained by arguing for argument’s sake. And before you dump your anger on someone else, try taking it to God. He can handle it.

Rebuilding with Nehemiah, Chapter 5, Day 2

Tuesday: What To Do With Anger

WP Neh dev 5-2 angry

Text: When I heard their outcry and these charges, I was very angry. 7 I pondered them in my mind and then accused the nobles and officials. I told them, “You are charging your own people interest!” So I called together a large meeting to deal with them. (Nehemiah 5: 6-7, NIV)

Teach: It isn’t wrong to get angry. Jesus saw what was going on in the Temple and in the gospels we find him overturning the money changers tables and kicking everybody out. Paul warns the Ephesians that they are to be angry but not give into sin (Eph. 5:26). Anger at injustice that moves us to action demonstrates our love for God.

WP Neh dev 5-2 pondering

Take: Some translations say that Nehemiah “consulted himself.” As he pondered what was going on and how that made him feel and what he needed to do about it, Nehemiah put his head and heart together and sought God’s solutions to the situation.

Task: Have you been moved by injustice around you? Have you pondered what God would have you do? The building of the wall didn’t create the problems as much as it revealed them. What has God been revealing to you?

WP Neh dev 5-2 revelation

Compassion for Mary and Martha

Who are you more like Martha or Mary?

I’ve asked that question more times than I can remember. Today we were discussing it at the Widow’s Support group and a brand new thought occurred to me.

We typically associate Mary and Martha’s behaviors with their personalities and their spirituality. Whole books have been written about this: Having a Mary spirit in a Martha World.

Nice. But in this case, what if we consider their behavior in context.

These two women just lost their brother. There is no mention of any husbands, so they are either widowed or old maids by cultural standards. That means their source of support and sustenance was gone.

These women were facing a dire situation. Their brother died and the one guy they knew who could have possibly done something about it drug his feet getting there. Jesus waited three days after he received the news that Lazarus was dying…and then he showed up when Lazarus was four days in the tomb.

Now let’s consider their personalities.

Martha handled her stress by getting busy in the kitchen. Slamming some cupboards and banging some pans can be very therapeutic. At least for me…and Martha.

Martha didn’t stuff her feelings. She was not going to get an ulcer from swallowing her anger…or her grief. She walked right up to Jesus and let him know she was miffed…hurt…disappointed…confused. She poured out her heart. No, it wasn’t pretty. How could it be?

Why does her response to Jesus’ appearing at the house surprise us? Why does she earn bad girl points for expressing herself? She just lost her brother and the future was looking pretty terrifying.

And while she was at it she took a couple shots at Mary. Siblings do that sort of thing, too.

Mary. A very different kind of personality. Mary shuts down. Mary pulls inward. Mary may be angry, hurt, and confused…her expression is tears. Banging pots does nothing for her.

How do you handle your grief?

I remember when my dad died. He had cancer. He was at home and we had hospice services. He took his last breath around 6:00am. The funeral home came for his body around 7:00am. By 8:00am my mother had turned the once dining room turned hospice equipped dying room back into a dining room–you would never have known the room was used for anything else. She got busy, that’s how she handled her grief.

If you only had that snapshot of my mother she might have appeared cold and detached…but she wasn’t. She was just functioning the only way she knew how. And the hospice worker noted that she was responding according to her personality.

What if all the world had of you was a snapshot of your most difficult day? What would it say about you? Are you a banger or a weeper?

Actually, I’m not sure that’s the most important thing. Jesus doesn’t value Mary’s weepiness more than Martha’s banging. What he valued was that she brought it to him. So go ahead, bang the pans if that makes you feel better, but don’t forget to come to Jesus.