A Storm of Anger
Lying here in the dark I hear the rumbling of a thunderstorm in the distance. There’s a drought in Iowa this year, so “we need the rain.” As the far away lightning momentarily brightens the bedroom I wonder if it will wake up my children and send them frightened to my bed in the early hours of the day. I hope that the worst of it doesn’t hit when it’s time to walk to school. If it’s a downpour the water won’t do much good; the land is baked so hard and dry that the water will only run off and cause flash flooding. Thunderstorms, with their whipping winds, pouring rain, all-encompassing pounds of thunder, and electric blasts of light, are a completely different experience from spring rainstorms that gently drop life-giving water onto earth. Despite the instinctual reaction to fear nature’s intensity, many people enjoy thunderstorms.
I remember watching a thunderstorm from a distance while visiting my uncle as a child. We sat on the front step of his home with the sky darkening in the distance, the sun setting behind the house. It was the perfect scenario to watch the fleeting lightning brilliantly streak across the sky. After a few minutes of watching the sky, when big raindrops began to fall I rushed inside, but my uncle stayed outside in the soaking rain while my aunt chided him. I admired his courage, but I couldn’t put off my instinctual reaction to the thunderstorm to watch any longer.
Thunderstorms have a tension about them, a feeling that is easy to use as an analogy for anger. Being in a thunderstorm is no passive observance; it is an overwhelming wave of sensations. In a similar way anger can overtake all of our senses and thoughts, overwhelming good feelings and pushing away the Spirit. Yet anger seems to be a force of nature, an instinctual reaction that is difficult to control. Although it is unpleasant, at times it seems very necessary, even cathartic, and is included in the stages of grief. When we experience anger it can be seen as our very basic instincts reaching out to grab us, to say that “we need the rain” desperately and all is not well.
It can be difficult to sort out our emotions, to understand why we feel anger or what, if anything, should result from our anger. I believe that our emotions should not be ignored; they can be a key to greater understanding and personal growth. That said, without proper controls and outlets they can also be a source of trouble and can easily overtake us. Very often people who strive for a holy life attempt to deny all negative feelings, pushing away the natural man without a thought for the guiding nature of emotions. It can be difficult to reconcile these differing views of anger.
Anger can become a pavilion, as Elder Eyring illustrated in his recent General Conference talk:
“Many of us, in moments of personal anguish, feel that God is far from us. The pavilion that seems to intercept divine aid does not cover God but occasionally covers us. God is never hidden, yet sometimes we are, covered by a pavilion of motivations that draw us away from God and make Him seem distant and inaccessible.”
My anger has often obscured the Lord. It can harden my heart and make me resistant to revelation and learning. Still, there is something that wisely whispers that ignoring anger or simply pushing it away is not really a solution either.
If we admit that there is a purpose to anger, we must also admit that there is such a thing as too much anger; just as a thunderstorm can drop too much water on parched earth and lightning can spark destructive fires. Elder Uchtdorf shares this fable:
“There is an old Welsh story from the 13th century about a prince who returned home to find his dog with blood dripping down its face. The man rushed inside and, to his horror, saw that his baby boy was missing and his cradle overturned. In anger the prince pulled out his sword and killed his dog. Shortly thereafter, he heard the cry of his son—the babe was alive! By the infant’s side lay a dead wolf. The dog had, in reality, defended the prince’s baby from a murderous wolf.”
This cautionary tale about the fatalistic end that unrestrained anger can lead to is a good reminder that our emotions should be kept within the bounds the Lord has set. The minimum bounds include no violence, abuse, or continued ill will towards another person. Our eventual goal would be to eliminate any actions or thoughts that create even mild anger, resulting in peace like a river, continually flowing. As unreachable as that goal may seem, as followers of Christ we strive towards it.
In dealing with the loss of his son, Elder Bowen of the Seventy said,
“As I felt the guilt, anger, and self-pity trying to consume me, I prayed that my heart could change. Through very personal sacred experiences, the Lord gave me a new heart, and even though it was still lonely and painful, my whole outlook changed. I was given to know that I had not been robbed but rather that there was a great blessing awaiting me if I would prove faithful.”
In this case Elder Bowen was dealing with grief and seemed to be stuck in anger. In working with the Lord, “through very personal sacred experiences,” he was able to move past anger into more productive emotion, eventually finding blessings. He did not stifle his anger, but took it to the Lord in prayer and submitted.
Through the process of writing this essay I’ve struggled with anger; it was the motivator for writing. As I prayed, pondered, and listened to General Conference talks with a mind seeking to understand my anger, I came to a moment of clarity. It simply dawned on me that I needed to forgive someone. When I realized it, I thought, “I can forgive her.” In the moment I thought it, I felt the anger lift, like storm clouds moving away from the sun. This is the type of personal sacred experience that Elder Bowen referenced. It included my submission to God, personal revelation through the Holy Ghost, and a willingness to let go of my anger.
My anger was real, it wasn’t something to be ignored or pushed away, any more than I could go on a picnic during a thunderstorm. Accepting that I was angry for a reason was important. Like my uncle sitting on the step watching the lightning while the rain soaked his clothes, I needed to sit in my thunderstorm: to watch the wind whip the trees and grass, to feel the wetness and breathe the charged air. There were also conversations with my husband and a leader about the situation, as I sought trusted counsel to help me decipher these emotions. The process wasn’t simply running away, like a child hiding under her bed when the lightning crashes. Inspecting my anger and taking it to God in prayer were crucial to resolving it.
Thunderstorms are a magnificent display in the heavens, bringing much needed rain for growth. Seeing our emotions, especially anger, as a passing powerful storm can lead us to fully utilize these great souls God has blessed us to possess.
“In the nice bee, what sense so subtly true
From pois’nous herbs extracts the healing dew.”
Even though anger can be a poison in our hearts, there is healing dew that can be extracted from it. Emotions are keys to unlocking our inner world. While they must be bridled and contained within safe boundaries, they should not be ignored or denied. When you’re tempted to deny yourself anger or another intense emotion, or to deny them to another person, imagine a picnic in the thunderstorm, complete with soggy potato salad. Have the courage to postpone the picnic and instead watch the storm, appreciating the rain.
- How do you manage the thunderstorms in your life?
- What do you do when you’re angry that helps you cope? (My husband watches football. I go to the gym or write.)
- What does this mean for parents?
- How can we teach our children about anger and how to properly handle it?
- What part do our emotions play in our progression towards eternal life?
Images: (thunderstorm/lightning) TheLightningMan.com, (rain) GlobalMouser via Compfight, (prayer in the storm) Leland Francisco via Compfight