What does the Bible say about anger?
Ditch Your Goals for Adventures, Ditch Your Anger for Peace
I’ve struggled with anger for most of my life.
There are generally two types of anger. One is projected toward a specific person or persons like the spray of a machine gun, the other is brooding and internal and tends to explode when disrupted; like impatience slathered in gasoline. A spark is bound to find it eventually.
Both wreak havoc in families.
Both wreak havoc in relationships.
Both are huge blockades to peace.
Both seem impossible to manage or control.
It’s one thing to hear a great sermon on anger and say, “Yes. I will stop getting angry.” It’s another thing entirely for the boiling bubbles of burn inside of us to dissipate to where they don’t erupt at every slight provocation. I know this from experience and most of you likely do as well.
Around two weeks ago it hit me that my impatience-slathered-in-gasoline anger was getting to be off the charts. When people were around I was able to keep it stuffed down, but when I was alone things were getting pretty ridiculous. While I’m not proud of this at all, I’m talking strings upon strings of obscenities going on parade over very little things. Pretty much anything that didn’t go right, a stubbed toe, bumping into something, or something wrong with my computer, was responded to with a slew of F-bombs and their fumes. And it had been like this for months.
What’s ironic is I have never been in the habit of swearing as part of my vernacular.
Something was way off.
I was heading into a day of rest with the Lord and knew this needed to be priority number one to take before him. I sent an email to some people sharing with them what I was struggling with and asking them to lift me up in prayer throughout my day of rest. It’s only been two weeks (probably a little premature to call myself an expert in this), but the level of breakthroughs God revealed me to that day, and the drastic and immediate difference they’ve made, are worth sharing.
The origin of this breakthrough begins in the Manistee National Forest, located in Northwest Michigan. We do an annual men’s camping trip to this national park and as I reflected on it, I realized this was the only place in recent memory where I feel truly relaxed.
The only place where I have no agenda.
The only place where I have no goals.
Our men’s camping trip has no program to it. We simply find a clearing in the pine forest, set up camp, and do whatever we want. We go to bed when we are tired and wake up when the sun decides.
There are no goals, only adventures.
Settling along the 7-state North Country Trail, I typically just decide a direction to hike and walk. I have no idea what will come next.
Maybe we will find a rope swing?
Maybe we will swim?
Maybe we will climb a ledge?
Maybe a sand dune?
Maybe a bald eagle or a snake?
It really doesn’t matter; the adventure is on.
This is so different from having goals.
Can you imagine someone on a men’s camping trip who had goals? Action points? Agendas? Schedules? Progress reports?
This person would be nails-on-a-chalkboard obnoxious. This person would single-handedly ruin the entire trip.
And there you have it: goals are the cause of anger. Get rid of goals, get rid of anger.
The reason I explode in anger when I bump into something is because bumping into something slows me down.
From my goal.
From being as efficient and effective as possible, all of the time.
To the point that this is the only mode of operation that my brain chemistry knows.
Many sports involve scoring goals. If you are driving with the puck in hockey and a defenseman stands in your way, what do you do? The first thing you do is get angry. The chemicals in your body surge as this obstacle stands in the way of your goal. You will either find a way around the obstacle or go through it if need be.
If there were no goal, would there be any anger?
So you get your goal. What does every athlete want next?
You score a second goal, what does every athlete want next?
You win the game, what does every athlete or coach want next?
To win another game.
And another game.
And another game.
You win the championship. What does every athlete or coach want next?
To win another championship.
Do you see the insatiable greed in this?
Do you see the futility and emptiness in this?
Do you see the hamster wheel and how it cannot be healthy for our brains to always be operating like this?
Do you see the discontent in this?
I’m reminded of Henri Nouwen’s quote from The Way of the Heart:
“What else is anger than the impulsive response to the experience of being deprived?” (p. 23)
But if we are in Jesus, knowing we deserve nothing, how can we claim to be deprived of anything? Jesus is all sufficient. We’ll come back to that.
In my journal two weeks ago, I drew a picture of a boiling cauldron. This is what felt like was living in my sternum all of the time. When something would bump it, the hot contents would slosh against the side and hiss over the edge (coming out audibly as the slew of F-bombs).
Under the cauldron, I drew a fire being fueled by logs. I labeled the fire: Goals.
Now, to figure out what was fueling my goals. What was fueling my insatiable need to accomplish things? I labeled the logs: Performance.
But getting rid of the performance logs isn’t enough. Logs come from trees.
I was then reminded how powerful the book of Colossians was for me a couple of years ago, leading to a “Jesus + Nothing = Everything” sermon series at our church. I began reading and bumped into this set of verses:
Colossians 2:6-7 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
It was like God dropped the mic and walked off the stage on me.
If we are in Jesus, knowing we deserve nothing, how can we claim to be deprived of anything?
The answer to my anger, an answer I have known before, is to kill the root system of my performance tree by being rooted in Christ instead. To know that God does love me because of what Jesus did for me on the cross, not because of what I do or don’t do for God.
The difference this time around has been the ability to identify my goals as what needed to be ditched in order to stop my anger from exploding. Like a really long fuse cut in the middle. Cut the goals, eliminate the explosion.
“Getting rid of goals” might sound confusing. After all, isn’t it good to be goal-oriented? Wouldn’t the alternative lead a person to be lazy and lethargic?
The key isn’t to stop pursuing the things we’ve set goals for, it’s to make them into adventures instead.
If I’m on an adventure hike in the Manistee National Forest and I trip on a root, do I get angry?
No. The root is simply part of the adventure.
Here’s the thing about goals:
- Goals contradict the gospel. The gospel says Jesus has already done everything; my goals say I have to accomplish my goal in order to feel satisfied and be at peace. Goals are empty attempts to pay off the debt that Jesus already paid off for us (Colossians 2:13-15). Adventures are filled with wonder and gratitude. Goals are filled with entitlement and anxiety.
- Goals insult God’s sovereignty. I determine what happens in a goal, God determines what happens in an adventure. Adventures require faith and trust, goals require self-striving and earning merit. Adventures are relational, goals are relentless.
No goals, no anger.
Try saying that next time you stub your toe.
Ditch your goals and trade them in for relational adventures with God where He determines what’s around the bend. (This works on your biggest goals, as well as on doing the dishes)
Don’t be that guy who shows up at the Manistee National Forest with a to-do list, stopwatch, meeting agenda and action points.
Not only will your friends think this is ridiculous, God will too.
God is probably more patient than your friends though. He’ll be there waiting for you to stop feeding your performance-driven tree roots. He’ll be there waiting for you to learn to rest and rejoice in what he’s already accomplished for you.
- Ep. 38: Jesus’ Love for the Outcast & how this Grace Transforms Each of Us - November 18, 2020
- Another Path for Gay Christians: Friendship as a Lost Vow - November 18, 2020
- Ep. 37: Jesus bringing great calm to great chaos + new Flip Side book club exploring gay celibate partnerships with Wesley Hill - October 24, 2020