I think the fourth Sunday lessons are different in every ward so I don't know if any of you had this lesson yesterday, but our RS lesson left me with a lot of unspoken thoughts so I thought I'd put them up here and see what you guys think.
Our lesson was President Hinckley's talk "Slow to Anger." As you all may have gathered managing my anger is the central drama of my life. I've spent time in therapy. I've spent time reading. I've spent time praying. I've spent time exercising. All as attempts to manage my anger. The good news is that after four years of effort I've made progress. But I still struggle with explosions that frighten my children and leave me depressed and guilty. Suffice it to say, when I found out the subject of yesterday's lesson I started to get nervous.
I'm glad President Hinckley addressed the topic because I think it is something most people struggle with a lot of the time. Other people's struggles may not be as intense as mine, but I do believe that most women (especially mommies) find anger to be a problem in their lives. So I wasn't upset that the Prophet chose to talk about it. I was nervous because I wasn't sure how all these women--who like to appear pulled together most of the time--would address a subject that is so personal. Ironically, after the teacher said something to the effect of anger simply being a manifestation of the natural man and a sin that we need to shy away from, I was so distraught I ended up missing most of the lesson (so I guess I really don't know what the other women said. These are just my perceptions and they may be incorrect!).
See, here's the disconnect for me: when most of us talk about the "natural man" we mean things that are carnal, sensual, or devilish--and my anger doesn't feel like any of those things. It feels like hunger or fatigue; a kneejerk thing that my body does without me controlling it. Also, as for it simply being a sin that we can pray away or just avoid (as if it were tobacco or alcohol or pornography) that just isn't true. Anger is an amoral impulse. It is neither good nor bad. It simply is. Feeling angry is part of the emotional spectrum, as is the shame that our culture heaps on top of it. But we don't have to feel bad about feeling anger. It's how we choose to process our anger that amounts to a good or a poor choice. It took me a lot of therapy to understand those ideas and it was disconcerting to me to have a church lesson tell me the ideas that have given me sanity were wrong. I'm sure the teacher didn't mean to, but she set off a lot of alarms and destructive thought patterns in my brain.
After chatting with my husband about it over lunch (our kids were totally bored and confused), I came to the conclusion that most of the women in that room haven't felt the anger that I have felt or they are in serious denial. It also occurred to me that I was so keyed up about the issue because the way they were talking about it made me feel excluded, like I wasn't good enough to be in that room and part of that group of women. I had to remind myself that just because I struggle it doesn't mean I'm not a good LDS woman. After all, it is only through the grace of our Savior Jesus Christ that any of us are saved. It's important that I try, but my efforts will always fall short and it is His love and sacrifice that I must rely on.
Thankfully the lesson wasn't a total bust and a few of the women made some insightful comments that I thought were helpful. I figured I'd share them here and add a few of my own tips. I hope you all will chime in too because I know you guys are a lot smarter than me! Here are the tips:
1. Anger is usually a cover for some other emotion (ie fear, embarrassment, a feeling of lack of control, unmet expectations, etc.) If you can look past the anger to what it is covering the anger usually processes faster.
2. You are not responsible for your first thought--it simply is. However, you are responsible for your second thought and any actions you take. Give yourself space to think before you act.
3. Anger, like all of our emotions, creates a physical reaction. Become aware of the physical symptoms of your anger and relieve them. Whether that means taking a deep breath or relaxing your shoulders or getting a drink of water to release a tense gut, make sure you address the physical aspects. The anger won't go away until you do.
4. This isn't really a tip, but I want to recommend a book,She's Gonna Blow: Real Help for Moms Dealing with Anger by Julie Barnhill. This book has been the only place I have found a realistic discussion of anger and trying to live a Christ-like life. Her candor and faith lifted me up during one of my darkest, angriest depressions. It is worth reading.
Be sure to post your tips!