2020 Anger Management

There I was laying on the exam table as the urgent care physician poked and prodded my fingers, which were still squirting blood. “How in the world did this happen?” he asked.

It’s the question everyone I know or meet on the street has asked. It’s the question I continue to ask myself.

Still ugly crying, I told him, “I don’t know. One second I was knocking on my back door and the next second my hand was through the window.” 

“Uh huh” he replied, skeptical.

“I wasn’t super angry,” I shot back, knowing exactly what his tone meant. “I’m not some sort of crazy angry person.”

“Uh huh,” he replied again. He didn’t believe me. In that moment, I realized: that’s exactly what everyone would think: that I was angry enough to punch my hand through a window.

Later I told my friend, Erin, my worry. She suggested I should diffuse the judgment from the start by making a joke. “Tell people you discovered today that you are the Hulk and don’t know your own strength.” 

So that’s what I did. “Apparently I’m the Hulk” I said to everyone, “I am so strong that when I knock on doors, they break!” It made folks giggle, and no one gave me that “I know you were really angry” look I had seen at the Urgent Care.

But secretly, deep in my soul, I wondered: was I angry enough to put my hand through a window? Normal Eliza: no way. 2020 Eliza? I worried the answer might be yes.

Because the truth was: I was angry that morning of September 10, 2020. It was one of those mornings where nothing goes right. I had been up late the night before with a long Session (church governing board) meeting where we discussed but didn’t decide about re-opening in-person worship. My heart felt heavy with all the questions: the shoulds, the coulds, the what ifs. I woke up with the weight of indecision on me.

But as all parents know, you don’t just awaken and have time to slowly stretch or process those dream-thoughts. No. That morning, like most, I woke up to crying. The crying baby then woke up a grumpy toddler. One demanded milk and a diaper change. One demanded “orange juice, apple juice, and water in my Minnie cup…and a pouchy and cheerios and Mickey Roadster Racers … no Curious George … no Daniel Tiger.” Like nearly every other morning, my husband and I grouchily got out of bed to attend to all the things, while our children tugged and pulled on us demanding all the things. We tried to attend to the things we needed most: to get the coffee into our veins before it all went to hell and a hand basket. But to hell and a hand slicing basket is where we went.

What I remember about that morning is the noise: crying, tantrums, raised voices. We were 6 months into the COVID-19 crisis at that point: Isolated from our support network. House a mess from constantly being in it. Stress from important decisions at work. High anxiety about the upcoming election and the constant bashing of the news cycle. A toddler who won’t just PUT THOSE SHOES ON YOUR FEET! A baby who is climbing on all manner of things. It was all too much.

Then we were late getting out the door. Right before I left, I focused my anger on the one thing I thought we’d be able to control: our parenting. I slammed down a book about parenting toddlers onto the table yelling: WE HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK! Then I left with the kids for a walk to the post office, through the park, and to daycare drop-off. When I got to the post office: I realized two things: it was closed (cue anger rising) and we forgot to pack our daughter’s mask for school. So back we went.

You can read more of what happened here, but here’s the gist: While knocking on my backdoor, my hand went through the window. The glass sliced my fingers, leading to 24 stitches, surgery, and what will be months of Occupational Therapy. So the question remains: was I angry enough that morning to have caused the accident? Or was it a freak accident? Or was it both?

Like all traumas that we replay in our minds, I couldn’t quite get the bloody scene out of my brain, but I also couldn’t quite fit the puzzle pieces together either. Still, there was one piece of visual memory that really didn’t make sense: my mind kept seeing my keys just inside the door on the floor in the blood. If I had forgotten my keys and needed to knock loud enough for my husband to hear me, then why were my keys on the floor? And why had I needed to clean them if I didn’t have them? This vision haunted me, but I kept it deep inside me, hidden. The keys on the floor were a symbol to me that I was angry enough to do this to myself and to my family. I hadn’t knocked on the door because I didn’t have the keys — I knocked because I was angry. Was I angry enough to cause myself an injury that could scar my children who witnessed it? Was I angry enough to cause an injury that has affected my ability to work and parent and pastor? Was I angry enough to cause an injury that has cost my family time, sanity, schedules, and money?  Was I that angry?

Are you that angry? It seems like 2020 has brought out deep seeded emotions in us that we usually keep buried – ones that live just below the surface, waiting to bubble up. A year of pandemic lockdowns, political and social unrest, and disruption in the way we function – at home, at work, at school, at worship – has left us all a with a lot of anger and with few places to put it.

I preached on anger last Sunday in conjunction with the 3rd and 4th chapters of Jonah, where Jonah rages at God. To prepare for the sermon, I asked for my Facebook friends to answer the question: “What makes you angry?” 80 people commented in 24 hours — that’s A LOT of anger. The very first comment seemed to sum them all up: “Injustice and coming home to a sink full of dirty dishes.” We are angry at the big injustices of the world and we are angry at the irritants in our lives. It’s an unfortunate, but universal truth that those irritants lead to our anger spilling out onto the people we love the most … and have been stuck in a house with for 8 months.

We sure have a lot to be angry about right now, in our lives, in our faith, in our society, in our nation. Yet, as the Bible tell us, anger is not a new human emotion. Nearly every character in the Bible, who we have the privilege to see in their fullest selves, show us their anger. From the Patriarchs to the Kings to the Psalms to the Prophets to the Gospels to the Letters, we see anger in the people of God. Jesus himself wells up in anger. And even our Almighty, All-knowing, All-loving God burns with anger.

Are you angry? Well so is God, so perhaps we’re all in good company. Yet anger is a precarious emotion. Some anger propels us to do right, and some anger pushes us to do wrong. What we do with that anger is what makes all the difference. The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the church at Ephesus, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph.4:25-26). So if you are angry, allow yourself to be angry. You feel what you feel. But do not allow the anger to cause hurt and destruction. So be angry, but don’t let it consume you. Be angry, but don’t let it hurt others. Be angry, but don’t let it produce hate. Be angry, and let it propel you to fix what is wrong.

If you are angry about those dishes in the sink, perhaps find a way to calm down and rationally find an agreed upon solution. My family likes the song from Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood: “If you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath <breath in> and count to 4 … 1, 2, 3, 4”. Check out the song here.

If you are angry about racism, hypocrisy, injustice, lies, lies and more lies, then find a way for your anger to do good. Vote. Speak out. Stand up. Help those in need. Be kind. Donate to organizations. Volunteer. Shut down those social media comments. Channel that anger into something that models your servitude to “a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love” (Jonah 4:2).

Be angry, and let it propel you to fix what is wrong.

The back door

The other day, I stuck my key into the backdoor lock, and it got stuck. I shock the door and the key wouldn’t turn or come out. My frustration skyrocketed: this blasted door! That’s when the truth of my trauma snapped into my brain. I did have my keys that fateful morning. I tried to open the door and the key stuck … just like it does every time it’s wet outside. I wiggled the key out of the door. I held the keys between my right thumb and pointer finger. My ring and middle fingers (the ones that are injured) were sticking up. I knocked with the keys in hand. The glass broke.

It turns out: I wasn’t angry enough to Hulk through the door. I wasn’t angry enough to blindly put my hand through the window in a fit of rage. But I was angry enough to not be thinking straight. I was frustrated enough to knock on glass with keys in my hand. I was 2020 angry.

So friends next time you are 2020 angry, take a deep breath. Count to 4. Find a place to channel that anger. But whatever you do, please follow the advice of my very wise daughter: “NO KNOCKING ON DOORS!”

3 thoughts on “2020 Anger Management

  1. Your honesty continues to amaze me. I am touched by how real and encompassing your blog is and reaching out and identifying with us all. Thank you, Eliza for ‘telling us like it is’ and therefore helping us to find our own truth.

    Liked by 1 person

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