Hockey may be hazardous to your health. Just ask Bryan Allison, who was hospitalized a few years ago after a hockey game in Buffalo, NY. What’s the big deal? Hockey players get hurt, you say. Except Allison isn’t a hockey player; he’s a fan, who hurt himself after viewing a thirteen year-old video tape of his favorite NHL team playing a 1989 playoff game.
Like a personal version of Groundhog Day, his team lost again–just like the first time he watched the game live. And just like the first time he watched, Bryan Allison became furious. Suddenly Allison hefted the TV and threw it off his second floor balcony. The only problem was Allison forgot to let go and plunged with the TV to the ground. In my book, the TV was not all Bryan Allison couldn’t let go of. Anger, literally and figuratively, drug Allison down.
Eugene C. Scott joins Mike in writing A Daily Bible Conversation twice a week.
TODAY’S READING (click here to view today’s reading online)
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INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Psalm 117:1-2: Twenty-nine words. That’s all the psalmist needs to tell us much of what we need to know for life: All nations, all people gratefully recognize God as the source of life. Know that his love and care will last longer than anything we can imagine, even our lives. “Praise the Lord.” Oh my, it took me thirty-two words.
THE WORD MADE FRESH
Allison isn’t the only one, however, who has trouble letting go of his anger. Here in the United States anger is becoming epidemic. Reports of revenge, road rage, and retribution are as common as dirt. Revenge is an entire Hollywood movie genre unto itself. Anger lives and thrives in our world globally and personally. Witness the centuries old rage of the Middle East or a modern-day tantrum in a traffic jam. The only difference in the anger is scale. There isn’t much you and I can do about anger on the global scale but there is on the personal.
When I was in seventh grade, I had a friend whose parents were both professional counselors. Among the many strange things that went on in that house, they always had stacks of boxes filled with empty wine bottles sitting by their back door. One night I finally mustered the courage to ask about them.
“Some of our clients struggle with pent-up anger,” John’s mother told me. “So we have a special room we take them to. And under heavy supervision, we allow them to release their anger by throwing these bottles against the wall.”
Sounded fun to me. Little did I know that John’s parents were practicing therapy based on the idea that anger must be released–vented–like steam in a pressure cooker. Unfortunately this popular, misguided, supposed cure for our anger epidemic is actually part of the problem.
Research shows anger cannot be stored because its source is our famous fight or flight response: a chemical/electrical response to real or perceived danger. Once activated, those chemicals eventually cease firing and anger, or whatever emotion we have tied to the chemical reaction, dissipates.
How is it, then, that many of us wake in the middle of the night and feel that rush of rage all over again even years later? Psychologist Dr. Archibald Hart says we have stored not anger but rather nurtured the hurt or fear or frustration that our bodies, in an endless loop, interpret as danger. Worse yet, anger becomes an ingrained pattern so that our fuses become shorter and shorter. Venting anger as pure powerful emotion actually fuels it. Thus Bryan Allison reigniteed a thirteen year old rage that lands him two stories down and in the hospital. Hockey may be hazardous; anger definitely is.
What’s the answer? Repression? Denial? No! Hart argues that a healthy release of anger flows through forgiveness. Not a mealy-mouthed forgiveness that excuses wrong, whining, “It’s okay, really.”
Rather Hart advocates a forgiveness forged by truth and reality that says, “Yes, you wronged me and I could do the same to you. But I choose not to. I choose not to hold this against you. I choose forgiveness and freedom.”
James, the brother of Jesus, said the same thing long ago: “be slow to become angry.” Later James quotes his brother Jesus saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
Forgiveness is not protecting the offender. It is love, not anger in action. Forgiveness never erases consequences. It simply loves in the turbulent wake of the betrayal. Forgiveness also does not equal trust. Forgiveness is a gift; trust is earned one kept promise at a time. But most of all, as I wrote yesterday, forgiveness is not forgetting. Forgiveness shudders at the pain, weeps at the loss, but then stands tall. Forgiveness remembers and places grace on painful memories. Finally, forgiveness is reciprocal. Extending forgiveness to others frees them from your hate and revenge. But like a boomerang, it flies back granting you freedom from your hate and revenge as well. Forgiveness is freedom! Forgiveness is the remedy to anger not unrestrained expression.
From the cross Jesus said, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” With those words Jesus neither excuses nor forgets. With the pain of betrayal racking his body and soul, he chooses to love. We need not start with such a grand display as that. Instead when you are cut off in traffic today, choose to lay it aside–forgive (because they probably don’t know what they are doing!). Then when something more serious, a memory of a past wrong, scorches you, take the first step toward freedom from anger and pray, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing. But You do!”
- How has anger possessed you?
- Which passage spoke most to you?
- What did the four have in common?
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