A man is having an enjoyable boat ride down the river. It is dusk. The man looks up to see another boat coming toward him. His first thought is how nice that someone else is out enjoying the river. Then he realizes the boat speeding, in fact it’s coming straight at him. Faster and faster the boat closes.
Anger begins to rise within him. “Watch out!” he yells. “You’re going to kill someone! Turn! Turn away!” But the boat bears down upon his fragile craft. Now he is standing in the boat, shaking his fist, screaming. Then the boat smashes right into him. The boat is empty.
If Lent is a season of deep reflection and change, this well-known parable puts its finger on the locus of change. It is within. We spend so much time and emotional effort trying to defend ourselves against attacks from “bad” people, blaming others for the feelings that arise within us, being angry. Since anger is the dominant emotion of our culture, we accept it almost as a given. We don’t see it in our own hearts. Anger demands an enemy, a villain, a hideous aggressor. It often hides out under cover of depression, and is usually so intermingled with our grief, we don’t even know it’s there. For men, mostly, anger is often just sadness that cannot be expressed.
If you have energy for only one Lenten commitment, do this: “Let go of anger and leave rage behind.” (Psalm 37:8)
Look into your heart and name your anger. Seek it hiding under all your more presentable emotions—resentment, bitterness, grudges, even “disappointments.” Stand in your fragile craft and see clearly that the other boat is empty. Then tap your breast: it’s all coming from in here.
Jesus said, “There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him” (Mark 7:15). As hard as it is to let go of our blame, the redemptive message of Jesus is that the only person who needs to change just happens to be the only one you have any power to change. Yourself.
Question for Today:
In a stressed-out world, how do I deal with my anger?
Who is the “empty boat” in your life?
Question #4 : “What does it mean to repent?” comes Thursday March 2.
Matt Edwards says
Holy wow there’s a lot there! Reminds me of one of your sermons! I have certainly dealt with massive depression but have never considered it being a form of anger. But looking at the reasons for my depression, I think you may be onto something as some form of resentment and disappointment is always present. I deal with my anger through exercise and AA meetings where I can talk about it with like-minded people because it is incredibly unhealthy for me to repress it (see massive depression). I wish I used meditation, prayer, and breathing more, something for me to work on. The empty boat in my life tends to be feelings of “less than” that run rampant, making me act out. “Making me,” ha!
David Anderson says
Thanks, Matt—anger doesn’t lie beneath every form of depression, but I mentioned it because it often does, and we’re not aware of it.
Keep working your program—the best form of spiritual practice anyone in recovery can do—by far.
Yes, “making me.” It’s fun to laugh at ourselves when we assume the victim mode. Thank God for the program! It ruined self-pity forever. Or most of the time.
David, you say “Look into your heart and name your anger. Seek it hiding under all your more presentable emotions—resentment, bitterness, grudges, even ‘disappointments.’”
Yes, I knew that anger, rage and bitterness were sins. But I was hoodwinked by low self-esteem, self-pity, and depressive sadness. How could these be sins? But when I looked a little under the surface, there it was: Ego with a capital E. Low self-esteem, self-pity and much of depression is ego in disguise. (Not all depression of course, but in my case, the greatest part of it.)
In the 12-step program we talk about the “egomaniac with low self-esteem.” That’s it. Nailed it. Once I heard that, once self-pity was stripped of its disguise, there was no more hideout, no sanctuary where I could lick my wounds in self-righteous sadness.
Thanks, David. “Leave rage alone.” For sure. But also the softer, more presentable sins.
What is anger an expression of? The message of anger is “STOP!” Anger is a strong expression of resentment. We express resentment in many ways e.g., stubbornness, frustration, annoyance, antagonism, hate, fear, grief, hopelessness, apathy and more.
Misinterpretation is the basis of resentment and misperception is the basis of misinterpretation. Perception and interpretation are highly individualized. What a person perceives and how they interpret what they perceive is based on layers of filters (beliefs, indoctrinations, training routines, personal experiences, opinions, conclusions, etc.,) that are peculiar to them and them alone. No two people will ever perceive exactly the same thing nor will they interpret it in exactly the same way. Perception and interpretation are two ends of a feedback loop i.e., what we believe we see (we consciously and unconsciously project onto the external world) and what we see (what we have projected) we believe.
All our pain and suffering derives from our resistance. The greater the resistance the greater the pain.
My becoming increasingly more mindful of when I am resisting something or someone has really helped me to have a more peaceful life. When I notice that I am resisting I immediately switch my focus to what I am grateful for. I have learned that gratitude switches resistance and its effects off instantly. It’s very simple…if I am not at peace then I am resisting, which means it’s time for some gratitude.