5 Ways to Manage Anger During the Quarantine and a Family Devotional
Although the Coronavirus is pretty scary, I have another fear right now as well. It's a fear about what psychological impacts the virus will have on us. Particularly, my fear is that everyone's boredom, frustration, impatience, and fear is beginning to grow into something worse - anger.
Today I saw a video of two brothers screaming at each other after only a week in quarantine. A week! The video was meant to be comical, and I got a chortle out of it. But the more I poke around online, the more I am noticing an angry undercurrent, pulling beneath the waves. Families are screaming at one another, seniors in high school and college won't be able to walk the stage come May, memes are being made about divorce lawyers, politicians are beginning to play that old blame game. Even my 7-month-old is getting tired of his 4-year-old brother's antics.
How can Christian families protect themselves against anger during this quarantine?
First, it may be helpful to know that even Jesus got angry when he drove the money-changers out of the temple (Mt. 21:12; Mk. 11:15; Lk. 19:45). In John's recollection, Jesus even fashioned a whip and Devo'ed them out of there (Jn. 2:15). What Jesus was experiencing was thumos, the Greek word for lightening bolt anger. It's that form of anger that arises suddenly, almost uncontrollably, within us.
And thumos isn't sin. In fact, we need thumos to protect ourselves and others. We need thumos to arise within us when we see a bully picking on someone who can't defend themselves. We need thumos when a car suddenly cuts us off in traffic and we hit the brakes just in time. Thumos can be a good thing, if used correctly.
The anger that is deadly is orgizesthai. That's not the anger that keeps us safe when the car cuts us off. Orgizesthai is the anger that makes us chase the car down. It's long-lived, deep seated, rooted anger. And it is this kind of anger that Jesus condemns in Matthew 5:21-26.
So, how are we to manage our anger during this quarantine? Here are some simple suggestions.
1. Allow your family members the grace to experience and express their thumos, but don't let it evolve into orgizesthai. A burst of sudden anger at your sibling is normal, even on a non-quarantine day, but don't allow it to linger. Especially don't video tape it and put it on Facebook. Let them cool off in separate spaces and then calmly discuss it with them. Remind them that love in the New Testament is always action and choice, not feelings and emotions. Help them figure out a way to apologize and restore a temporary broken relationship. Here's the advice of Ambrose, an early church father, "Let anger be guarded against. If it cannot, however, be averted, let it be kept within bounds."
2. Keep your own cool. Remember Newton's third law of motion? "For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction." The law applies to anger too. When a family member explodes in anger it's natural for us to match that anger. But when has that ever helped? Do your best to control your own anxiety and thumos. Take the advice of Proverbs 15:1, "A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger."
3. Be proactive, not reactive. Provide some kind of schedule and activities for your family. As the old saying goes, "Idle hands are the Devil's playthings." If they are busy with plenty to do, it will help keep their mind and attitude from souring. Now, I know that sounds exhausting, but you're an adult. So, drink your coffee, put on your adult undies, and set to work making a plan for the day. And right now you're in luck, because the internet is full of helpful suggestions.
4. Find sanity in solitude. Amy and I have to do this with our highly extroverted 4-year-old regularly. Every now and again, we ask him to spend a solid 30 minutes playing in his room all on his own. It gives the rest of us a chance to catch our breath. While you're working on a daily schedule, maybe it would be helpful to consider adding in solitary time. This could also be a good time to teach your family about spiritual habits. Jesus spent a lot of time in solitude and silence (Mk. 1:35). Here is a link to a practical guide to begin learning the habit of solitude.
5. And when all else fails, remember the deep love and grace of Jesus who suffered the wrath of God so that we wouldn't have to. The love of Christ is the key to overcoming anger. The insight of Edwin Markham's poem "Outwitted" is helpful.
HE DREW a circle that shut me out— Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But Love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle that took him in!
The sacrificial love of Jesus has more power than anger will ever have. Draw a circle of love around your family today and it will help you defeat anger during these difficult days.
Here's a simple family devotional you could do tonight to discuss anger.
Read Ephesians 4:25-32.
ASK: What's been the most frustrating thing about this quarantine so far?
ASK: What do you think Paul means when he says, "Be angry, but do not sin?" Is anger, in and of itself, a sin?
SAY: A sudden burst of anger and frustration is okay. That's natural. We all get suddenly angry every now and again. But Paul also says that we shouldn't let the sun go down on our anger.
ASK: Why is it important not to go to bed angry without trying to resolve our conflict?
SAY: Anger has a way of building up inside of us until it explodes like a volcano. In the movie "Anger Management," Adam Sandler plays a man who has an anger problem. He doesn't know how to express his anger in a healthy way. He winds up meeting a controversial therapist whose wacky antics eventually help him learn how to express anger without allowing it to boil over into sin.
ASK: What's a healthy way to handle and express our anger?
SAY: Here's a helpful thought - just because you're angry doesn't mean you need to be mean. You can calmly say to mommy, daddy, brother, or sister, "I'm mad at you," without being ugly. That's a healthy way to handle your anger. Then, give them a chance to help you fix the problem.
Read Matthew 18:15-20.
ASK: What does Jesus tell us to do when someone "sins against you?" Does he say, "Don't tell them you are upset with them and let your anger build?"
SAY: No, he doesn't. Jesus says go talk to them about it. Essentially, Paul and Jesus are saying the same thing. We are all going to make each other angry every now and again, but we don't have to let anger win. We can open up conversation with one another and address the things that are making us angry in a healthy, helpful way.
Host a brief discussion about things that have been frustrating during this quarantine. Is there something a family member is doing that is making you angry? How can we help you resolve it? How can you help the other members of our family right now?