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Where is our balm? Reflections on Anger

I slammed my fist down on my desk, hard. Then again. And a few more times.

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Photo by @LukeRenoe

This post piggybacks on a recent post on desires. Read it here.

When I was in college, I founded a tradition where once a month, I’d jump in Lake Michigan. Every month. The worst one was December, 2013 because it was 27 degrees and the thin sheets of ice carved blood from our shins as we waded in. We were too cold, however, to even feel the gashes until later when we warmed up. We saw the blood pouring forth but felt nothing.

For three years, I jumped in Lake Michigan without fail. The lake didn’t care.

At the time, it seemed like such a massive commitment bound me to the body of water, and what did it offer me in return? Nothing.

The same was true of the summer I was a surf instructor on the East Coast: I was in the ocean every day of summer, but did the ocean care?

These are not legitimate reasons to be angry—nature’s indifference is something you’ve probably grasped by now. But I think it symbolizes something much deeper that exists in many, if not all of us. I mean, I want the world to care that I’m here. When I depart, I want it to have mattered that I was. Truth is, I’m just the cotton candy salesman at the Catholic street parade of life, trying to make a quick buck off the glorious procession.

I think the root of much of our anger is the feeling that we won’t matter. Sure, you may leave a mark on a generation or two, but what about in a thousand years? What about in a million?

I don’t want to take this piece too cosmic, but I do think there is something to be said for feeling like you don’t fit correctly within this reality (or is that just me?). To some degree, we all feel like aliens in a human world, or a giant trapped in a small cage. Maybe you see God as some cruel prison guard dangling the keys just inches beyond your fingertips, and if you could just reach them, you’d feel…alright.

Do you ever feel stuck in this reality and you can’t escape? On a smaller scale, do you feel like your energy and talents would be better spent somewhere else, doing something else? I think this nearly everywhere I go, thinking that just around the corner of this next international jaunt will be the spring of eternal satisfaction.

The secular world is no stranger to the power of anger and resentment. Fictional billionaire Bobby Axelrod summed it up, “Hate is nature’s most perfect energy source; it’s endlessly renewable.”

Eldredge wrote that most anger comes from desires which go unmet. Whether we acknowledge them or fry them, we have deep longings which probably go hungry, if not completely unrecognized most of the time. We often fall into the trap of numbing our desires with porn, Netflix, alcohol or a myriad other distractions which don’t satisfy our deep longings, but simply take away their intensity for a few moments. Like the December ice slicing into our shins, we don’t feel the damage we’re doing to ourselves. It takes different form in each of us but it’s summed up in one of my favorite passages, Ecclesiastes 3:11:

“God has placed eternity on the hearts of men.”

How do you feel about knowing that your desires are not only big, but infinite? It makes me itchy, like I’m wearing a shrink-wrapped wool sweater.

Last week after an especially stressful string of classes, the students had left and I slammed my fist onto my desk. Then again. And a few more times.

Why?

If you were to ask me in that moment, I may not have had an answer for you. I’d probably vent some cop-out answer, like how stressful the students were that day, but the truth is, that’s just the pebble atop the thousand-ton burden; the straw through which we push the pressure of the ocean.

What is this burden? What causes these angry flare-ups at times which may even mystify ourselves? If you’re like me, there’s often a well of lava simmering just beneath your surface, waiting to erupt.

Poe screamed alongside the prophet Jeremiah, ‘is there no balm in Gilead?’ Why can’t we be healed? Gilead was a place in Biblical times famous for its healing spices and ointments. The prophet asks God why even there, even at the Mayo Clinic of the Ancient Near East, no healing could be found to nourish the hearts of his people. Is there no way to soothe this burning anger which flares out of control on a moment’s notice?

Last month I asked God where He was and I have yet to hear back.

Recently, a friend showed me this 18-minute documentary about a 97-year-old philosopher contemplating his imminent death. He’s not a Christian, so for all of his poking and reasoning about the amorphous substance, or event, to which he drew near, he ended up nowhere. He was like a blindfolded child taking swings at a distant piñata which the gods kept cruelly yanking above his reach.

“So I just go on existing and waiting,” he laments toward the end. “Waiting until I have to say goodbye.”

In his gutwrenching and hopeless pontification, he had decided that ‘the best’ was indeed behind him. With his wife died much of the joy of his life, and all he had left was to die. So he spent his final years wobbling around his empty house, reading with a magnifying glass, and painting.

Too often, Christians adopt this mindset and assume this life is all there is. When this life does not align with our ideas of our dream life, disappointment sets in. Depression and anger creep in.

Perhaps worst of all, hopelessness creeps in.

Have you ever wondered why the idea of hope seems to be so emphasized in the Bible? Hope affects everything. Hope affects how we live now, and the more we realize thisthe more we can live into the reality of hopethe easier this life becomes to digest. How?

Tim Keller explained it this way: Imagine you take two men and give them identical jobs. It is toilsome, drudging work, not the ideal choice for anyone. You tell one man that when the year ends, he will receive $25,000, barely above the poverty line. You tell the other man that after his year of labor, he will be given $25 million.

Do you think that during their year of work, they will have different mentalities and mindsets? Of course they will! One will be complaining constantly about his work and how hard and ridiculous it is. The other will be doing the same work, but rejoicing: “Is this all I have to do?? This is nothing!”

During the year, they are in identical situations. The difference between them is hope.

The heart of Christian belief is that we are the latter man, eagerly anticipating the coming glory when our years of toil are over. This means we do the same work as the rest of the world, but we do it with joy. We suffer along with the rest of the world, but we suffer with joy.

Do you have hope?

Or are your (my) angry outbursts reflections of a hopeless heart? I catch myself constantly wondering why my life isn’t better. Why the world never seems to align with my vision of how it should be. Unlike the 97-year-old philosopher, we do not merely exist, awaiting our nearing oblivion. We work hard and we hope hard.

We take our cues from a Man who has tasted death and lived to tell about it. We trust in the One who killed death. Because of Him, we are not trapped in our situation. We are not limited to the offerings of this dying world.

Jesus heals reality.

Jesus heals reality now. 

As Plato would say, we exist in the realm of the becoming, while Christ calls to us from the plane of being.  Much of my anger comes from expecting perfection from a land of brokenness. Our universe is in flux, but I find myself striving for that one moment and place and community where things will be good. I think there is much more joy to be found in accepting that I won’t obtain them until the eschaton. If the Apostle Paul could rejoice while being tortured in prison, surely we can rejoice in our cubicles.

May we be people who look forward to the future, knowing our best is yet to come. May we be people who gladly accept our present situation, whatever it is. And may we take the difficult swings to clear away the anger in our souls, digging to the root that we may be healed.

May we rediscover hope.

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6 comments on “Where is our balm? Reflections on Anger

  1. Two men with identical jobs – that is the BEST analogy of Christian hope that I’ve ever come across. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I randomly stumbled upon this post (and went on to read a buuuunch of your others and can relate to so many), and this one I especially can relate to so hard at this point in my life! The paragraph about being stuck in this reality is spot on. For quite a while now, I’ve been feeling like I’m on the verge of doing something amazing with my life or feeling something amazing in my life. I don’t know exactly what it is and I don’t know why I feel this way. And yet nothing changes/I change nothing because I don’t know how to climb over that edge. It’s the itchy wool sweater and the simmering lava you’re talking about (again, spot on for me)! I’ve been angry and lost for a while. Reading these words from someone else just lifted me up a little bit and back into feeling hopeful. Thank you for this!

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    • Thanks Alicia! Glad you were able to connect 🙂

      Like

      • Since reading this last night, I’ve been on a roll writing a few songs today, so thank you again for a little inspiration! Would you mind if I wrote something involving some of the things you talk about (mainly those points I relate to most)? It might just be me that ever hears it, but if it ever got out in the world I would let you know and give credit where it’s due. 😊

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  3. Excellent post! Thank you!

    Like

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