Who's In Charge?
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of a fascinating book entitled The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living. In it he offers a particularly useful piece of advice that will help you keep the peace or restore it once it’s been lost:
“Restrict the expression of your anger to the incident that provoked it. Be as critical or annoyed as you like.”1
But make sure your words remain focused on the incident that made you angry in the first place. If you do that, you will probably not say anything permanently damaging to yourself or others.
Telushkin is not telling us to ignore our anger or to stuff it in a box but rather to put a leash on it. Similarly, Paul tells the Ephesians “Be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26, rsv). Paul assumes we will get angry. The point is what we do with our anger. Do we control it, or does it control us? Paul also sets limits to our anger by saying we should never let the sun go down on it. In other words, don’t go to bed angry.
For some of us, anger has always been a problem. Getting it under control is a huge challenge. It’s like trying to leash train a dog that’s always been allowed to run wild. At first the dog will strain at the leash, pulling you down the street and barking at every other dog in sight. But if you’re patient and persistent and know even a little bit about dogs, you will eventually be able to train it to walk beside you. You can do something similar with your anger.
If you have a hard time putting your anger on a leash, consider getting help, perhaps taking a course in anger management. And don’t forget that another name for the Holy Spirit is the Helper. Ask God to guide you through the power of the Spirit, helping you to learn how to control your anger so it no longer controls you.
1. Joseph Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-By-Day Guide to Ethical Living (New York: Bell Tower, 2000), 34.