But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things! – Galatians 5:2-23
One of the most common things I hear from men in my office is “… and then I just get so angry.” Anger seems to rest on our population like a plague, often creating a wake of devastation in the lives of families all over America. While many men experience anger, their loved ones, friends, and co-workers feel the ripple effect. Even that guy who you cut off in traffic.
Anger spreads, invades, and infects those around us. Further, when we try to bottle it down, it becomes like a pressure cooker ready to explode. As such, many treatments men try to use for themselves either end up having no effect or else the opposite effect. Treating anger in isolation, head on, can often be a futile task.
Imagine this: you are standing in a cove on the beach, and I instruct you to stop the waves from coming in. How could you accomplish such a task? Would you stand in front of the waves and tell them to stop? Would you lean into the waves and use your body to block their path? These attempts would likely yield poor results as the water will find any route around you.
No matter how quick you move, how much space you can take up, the water will wash right past you. (You might just get angry and frustrated at the task itself!) Water fills any void that’s left open. In the same way, anger can creep in and fill any void you leave it in your life.
What you would need in your cove, then, is a wall with a firm foundation to hold back the waves, then for that cove to be filled in with something that will not give space for the water to exist in the same place.
The same is true for anger. Trying to rail against and stop anger usually doesn’t work for most people. Instead, you need a wall and to be full of something else so that anger can’t take a hold of your life.
For Christians, there exists a fairly simple recipe for the antidote to anger found in Galatians 5:2 when Paul lays out the fruit of the spirit- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
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If men, and really all people, could fill themselves with this fruit, anger would have less of a foothold in their lives. Let us look at how these different “fruit” can all work to counteract the plague of anger. My hope is that by dwelling on these eight concepts, this meditative technique can push anger out of your life.
When Galatians speaks of love, this is a love for all people. This is a “Fruit of the Spirit,” implying that this should grow in you from the presence of God in your life. Love provides a compassion towards others, helping you to connect at a more empathetic level to those around you. Whether it be romantic, familial, or a friendship love, you find yourself caring for the wellbeing of others.
Anger, on the other hand, is often coming from a place of selfishness. If you perceive that your needs are greater than those of your fellow human’s, then when you are jilted, or wrong is done to you, anger will spike. However, with love, there exists an element of putting yourself second to those around you. Love allows for you to have a longer fuse to buffer the pain of unmet expectations.
To pursue joy is to pursue the things that make you happy. Spiritual joy can be found even in the midst of suffering and loss, but only when your attention is turned towards God. Happiness can come and go, but joy is a permeating experience that must be chosen.
To choose joy is to recognize that in spite of current surroundings and hardship, there is good in the world and God is at the center of that. When the focus is on not being angry, we still look at that anger and its impact. However, if you turn towards joy your mental energy becomes devoted to positive experiences and people, helping anger to have less of an impact on your life. If you set your sights on joy, you will be less able to focus on your anger.
Perhaps out of all of these, peace is most antithetical to anger. Peace means that in spite of people, and circumstances that trigger anger, anger has not presented itself. The very nature of the fruits of the spirit implies that these concepts are not innately human, so to know that peace is from God is to know that anger is not inevitable.
No matter what the circumstance, peace can be experienced, and this comes from God. So even if it feels impossible to not act out in anger, know that God, who works miracles, can create peace in you. Rather than praying to not just be angry, pray for peace in your own heart and mind.
In patience, we find the ability to hold back the causes of anger. Rarely do we experience a “pure” anger – that is, an anger that exists alone and not in conjunction with another emotion. In light of this, anger is often considered a “secondary” emotion.
If I were to ask you why you are angry, you might point to an event, and if I asked how that event made you feel, under the anger, you might respond with hurt, sad, etc.
Patience, then, gives us space to experience and address these primary emotions. If you could deal with the sadness or the pain, anger may not ever need to rise up to defend you. Further, patience is like a muscle – it takes practice to strengthen and does not come easily to most people.
Dwell on patience and find areas in your life where you can practice slowing down so that you feel you have more control. Delay having dessert, for instance, to get used to what it feels like to not immediately have what you want. Also, give yourself grace when patience runs out, and pray for more.
While the last few fruits were internal states, kindness implies an outward trajectory and action. For most men and women who struggle with anger, anger, itself, is not the problem but the thoughts and actions that accompany it are. Filling your life with more kind actions can both help you to feel better and improve your environment.
Think of how little time you will have to be angry if you are focused outward and kindness becomes a part of your nature. Kindness needs not be evidenced by grand gestures either, but rather should be found in the little interactions of your day. In all things, think how you can be kind to this person in front of you and see how angry you find yourself getting.
Also, as I mentioned, give yourself grace when your patience runs out, give others grace when your kindness is not repaid. You will reap the intrinsic benefit of kindness just by living it out in your own life.
For goodness, think about doing the right thing in all aspects of your life. With a lot of men, I often see that their anger comes from a place of being angry with themselves for not being better, and so this emotion is turned outward.
Again, focus less on diffusing the anger directly, but live a life that you are proud of and you can live free from guilt and shame. Remember again, goodness comes from God and even if you feel you cannot “be good” or “do good,” God can allow this to come into your life.
Faithfulness can feel like a loaded term. If you’re like me, you might see this word and think of it in terms of being faithful to your spouse or partner. Consider where else you can be faithful- to friends, to commitments, to coworkers.
What happens when you don’t hold a commitment or bail on a friend? Usually, there is tension between you and someone else, and this tension is fertile ground for anger to arise.
At this point, we become defensive about why we were not able to fulfill our commitments (even if for good reasons) and we become angry and reactive. Focusing instead on following through with commitments, you can give yourself fewer opportunities for anger to get hold of you.
Think about what you associate with gentleness. For me, it’s how I would hold an infant child, or how I would teach someone a new skill. I’m trying to create environments of safety for those around me.
Anger creates environments of hostility, so to focus on gentleness is to focus on creating space for productive growth to occur in your life and the lives of those around you. Approaching conversations with gentleness at the front of your mind, rather than ambition, will make it more difficult for anger to grab ahold of you since you are trying to keep the other person safe.
The final fruit of the spirit, self-control, probably is what you’ve been trying to do already with your anger. This means two things 1. Without all the other fruits present, self-control will be hard to come by, and 2. Self-control comes from God.
Trying to control yourself in the absence of the Holy Spirit might feel like a difficult task. The Holy Spirit is who allows us to encapsulate all these concepts and control our anger and any other harmful behaviors we might be experiencing. Similar to patience, find ways to practice self-control that feel safe in order to become used to delayed gratification.
So to return to our metaphor, in order to hold back the waves of anger you will need to put up walls and fill the void with something new and better. The fruit of the spirit as laid out in Galatians provides a solid roadmap to do this.
Take inventory of yourself, then, and ask yourself, “what lays under my anger?” Is it pain? Is it sadness? Is it bitterness? If you come up with frustration, dig deeper and see what’s under that. I often call frustration “anger-lite,” and it’s just a more politically correct way of expressing that we are angry.
Once you have a sense of what is under your anger in general, take a look back over the fruits of the spirit again. Which of those seem the most foreign to you? Trying to use all of them at once, or improve on all of them at once, is a daunting task, so narrow in on what you think you need the most help with.
Meditate on this particular fruit and ask in prayer for God to grow that fruit in you. Next, look for areas of life where you can try and build on that concept. Maybe write it in dry-erase marker on your bathroom mirror so you have a daily reminder of what you’re trying to focus on.
Anger often feels like such an unstoppable force bombarding our lives, but it doesn’t have to be. In this process, be honest with yourself and notice when you do feel angry and take notice of your surroundings. Where are you? Who are you with? What just happened? Think about whether there are ways you can make use of one of the Fruit of the Spirit in this situation.
Tackling this on your own is incredibly difficult. Many people find coming to counseling helps to understand where their anger is coming from and further helps them to come up with practical ways of dealing with it that are specific to them.
You too can find ways to effectively deal with anger and grow into the life you want to have. Reach out to me or any other therapist and begin getting ahold of your life again!
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