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Slowing Anger

“Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger. For human anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness.” (James 1:19-20 NET)

James echoes the wisdom of Proverbs here which exalts the person who is slow to anger. Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding and while a quick tempered person ‘exalts folly’. (Prov 14:29) The wisdom tradition also values a person who slows their anger over a warrior or someone who captures a city. (Prov 16:32) Slowing your anger contributes to peace and conflict resolution (Prov 15:18) Appropriate anger management also includes a willingness to overlook an offense which is a person’s ‘glory’.

God himself, in his encounter with Moses, proclaims himself to be ‘slow to anger, compassionate and gracious, abounding in love and faithfulness’. (Ex 34:6) In this way, every compassionate, slow to anger person reflects God.

I wish anger didn’t work in the short term as well as it does. Anger demands attention. It’s disruptive and compelling. Sudden angry bursts in my children cause me to stop, listen and intervene. Conversely, I may snap after my kids ignore about three polite request. Anger accomplishes something but it’s not the God preferred way of getting stuff done.

Anger is powerful and passionate, seemingly preferable over floundering boredom or apathy. It’s is a secondary emotion though, the experts claim. Less vulnerable than its primal roots of fear or sadness. Putting the brakes on anger is not the same as denying its presence. Rising anger is an inevitable part of being alive and we must make space for anger over injustice, corruption or the flagrant, unopposed rampage of evil. It’s more about learning to properly express yourselves without harming others. Anger reminds us we’re alive and what truly matters.

But we must learn to slow anger lest it turns to hatred and rage which it is prone to do. In slowing anger we make space for connecting with the deeper issues and allow ourselves to be honest and vulnerable. We may sit with our helplessness and insignificance while the flames of anger slowly fizzle out.

Being stripped of anger we face the greater challenge of listening. Listening never seems quick to me. Rather laborious, confusing with intermittent and delayed gratification. I fear being trapped in conversation, in the far recesses of another mind on a rabbit trail. At times listening holds little immediate reward. Listening to God requires patience and discernment and a certain level of courage to believe and step into what we think we heard.

Then other times I listen and my mind changes. I take step or make decisions I wouldn’t have made otherwise. I feel understand and connected in deeper ways. And when we speak from a non-angry place of listening, we speak in love and truth.

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