May 01, 2006

Anger Management

The phone vibrating in my pocket pulled me down from the balcony of Merrill Hall---where I had been sitting and listening to a Bible study---to a stone walkway just outside. The caller was one of the children's program directors. At first I thought maybe I'd have to walk across the conference grounds to deal with an issue involving one of my sons, but the caller's question was easily answered over the phone.

Instead of walking back into the hall, I walked down the path, past the cypress and pine trees that covered this ancient sand dune. Not too far away, the gray water of the Pacific Ocean could be seen. At the end of the path was a small building in which a temporary bookstore had been set up. I walked in and began browsing. I was the only one present, other than the seller; everyone else was at the Bible study.

A few minutes later I walked out of the bookstore with a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Anger. I didn't know why I bought it. My wife and I have been working with our oldest son on his anger, but this book wasn't for him. It was for me. When I showed my wife the book, she wasn't sure why I bought it, either.

The next day, at the end of our conference's closing worship, a list of churches which were participating in a special regional process on Transformation were recognized. I and one other person from my congregation were called up front, along with representatives from twenty other congregations. However, when the list of congregations was read and the certificates handed out, we were overlooked.

I was fuming. I wanted to interrupt the benediction that then was being said. I wanted to protest. "There are one dozen members of my church here," I wanted to say, "and they would have appreciated hearing the name of their congregation mentioned with the others!" I wanted to, but I didn't.

The benediction was over, as was the conference as a whole. I returned to my seat to retrieve my program book in which I had written some important notes, but the planning team, under a tight time constraint to vacate the building, had already begun picking up---and my program book was gone.

I was bitter. I was angry.... As if those who did these things did them to me deliberately.... As if everyone was conspiring in some way to ruin my day.

After worship, we had lunch, but I mostly ate in silence. I knew that I was beign unreasonable. I knew that the weekend conference had been wonderful, all but those last five minutes. Five minutes out of 48 hours. I knew that I should not have let this bitterness get to me. But I couldn't stop it. My attitude was poisoned, and I sat quietly in an attempt to not poison anyone else with it.

So now I have this book that I'm going to start reading. And I think it'll help. Simply having it in my possession has made me more aware of my own anger. Just this morning, I made a sarcastic comment to my wife for something that wasn't her fault. I've been catching myself doing that a lot lately. Maybe someday soon, I'll catch myself before the words escape my mouth. And perhaps one day, with God's help, those words, those thoughts, won't even exist within me at all.

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