Monday, December 9, 2013

If I Make You Angry, I Win

Children teach.  The very act of parenting is a daily dabble in the puddles of patience and long suffering, but there are moments when a child turns a shallow little dip into a complete submersion of a vast and spiritual depth.

My oldest son Ian, is inordinately bright, and that makes him an odd ball to his peers.  We have faced our share of challenges, like his response to the “bully on the bus.” He ax-kicked that kid in the head, but the driver assured me that the incident would go unreported because, in his opinion, the other kid had it coming. I still initiated the “turn the other cheek talk,” and I further explained that turning the other cheek was not in preparation to throw a 360 back kick. 
It was ten years later when Ian was a senior in high school that he came to me again.  “Mom there is this guy in AP World History that just won’t let up.  He trash talks me every day and it goes on and on until the girl behind me sticks up for me and tells him to leave me alone.  What am I going to do Mom?” 
I reminded him of the bus story outcome and I gave my best mommy answer, “respond politely.”  Long after graduation, he told me the rest of the story and his solution became one of those headlong dives into unplumbed depths.

Aside from (or perhaps due to) the bus incident, my son has become a person that is slow to anger.  Scripture encourages us to become so and gives many examples of Christ being slow to anger.  An example: The story of the woman taken in adultery and brought to Christ by adversaries with a hidden agenda.  He faces a lose-lose scenario; either answer he would give will be wrong.  What does he do?  He doesn’t flare out in anger, doesn’t protest in rage, doesn't let his temper rule, he simply crouches down and draws in the dirt.  And he thinks.  He becomes our great example of marshaling our thoughts and controlling our responses.  He is slow to anger. 

I am a passionate person, a drama queen and I love nothing more than a good argument.  My father assures me that it’s in the genes and I work to manage this character trait.  My son’s response to his World War History problem encouraged me to work at this even harder.

We live in Oklahoma where we really get to practice freedom of religion.  I am offered a blessed day when I leave Walmart, and when we moved there, one of the first questions was if we had yet found a church.  Practically every street corner offers one of a different faith.  As I drive down the street. the big posted church bulletins are thought provoking... “When you feel abandoned, it was not Christ that moved.” Another states, “If I make you angry, I win.” 

Wow.  “If I make you angry, I win.”   It could be my touchy neighbor speaking, my adversary at work, my spouse, or that guy in the passing lane on the freeway, or a random person at the supermarket.  He that provokes me to anger WINS!  Or it could just be Satan speaking.  “If I make you angry, I win.” 

Cleansing the TempleA quote from Thomas Monson states:  “To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan.  No one can make us angry.  It is our choice.  Anger, Satan’s tool, is destructive in so many ways.” 
From the Holy Bible, in Matthew 11:11, after Christ makes his majestic entrance back into the city, he goes to the temple and sees what is happening there.

In our minds, we have the artist, Carl Bloc’s depiction of what happens next.  In this painting, Christ is wielding a whip over his head and the animals are running amok.  There utter chaos in the frame, but in a talk Gordon B. Hinckley states that this “is not an outburst of uncontrolled anger.”   

So what really happened?  If I remind myself of doctrine, I know that Christ was perfect on earth, and so I reread the verses with added insight. 

Verse 11: Christ enters the city, visits the temple, views what’s going on and then goes with the disciples to Bethany.  Maybe he ponders on what is happening and gives himself time to marshal his thoughts?
Verse 12: It isn’t until “on the morrow,” that Christ goes back to the temple, and methodically--for the second time--casts out the moneychangers.  He upends the tables and the chairs and verse 16 says that he “would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple.”

I have a new and enhanced view of the story--Christ was perfect, slow to wrath, and not dictated to nor governed by anger.  I am further convinced by what happens in the very next paragraph—he teaches.

Verse 17: And “he taught” and said to them, “is it not written that my house shall be a house of prayer, not a den of thieves.”  No one learns well when frightened and the ability to influence others is lost with anger.  Christ taught immediately after the incident, so he must have cleansed the temple in a manner that did not appear that he had lost hold of his senses, nor become “possessed” in anger.

My new son-in-law begins law school in the fall and he doesn't like to argue... with me.  He protests that I have just changed my mind, contradicted myself, gone off on a tangent and diverged too far from topic.  I protest that I’m not in it to win, I’m in it merely to argue. 

But Gordon B. Hinckley gave an example of truth as he related a story of a man that pitched a fit when he asked him to move a train.  The man ranted, screamed, stomped on his own hat and Pres. Hinckley couldn't help but laugh at the man.  He quotes Ecclesiastes 7:9:  “be not hasty in thy spirit to be angry:  for anger resteth in the bosom of fools.”  When temper gets the better of us, we lose the ability to convince, to teach or even to influence.   

 Verse 18 proves the efficacy of Christ’s teaching ability as “the scribes and chief priests heard, and sought how they might destroy him, for they feared him.”  It was not his actions they feared, but his impact on the people, “because all the people was astonished at his doctrine.”  Christ was effective just as the son-in-law will be as cool heads prevail.

In Priesthood talks given in conference in October, 2007 and 2009 respectively, President Hinckley and President Monson relate many heartbreaking stories of lives ruined by anger, the result of emotions ruling people who, upon reaching their breaking point, act.  Many later responded, “I don’t know what came over me.  I just went too far.”  I believe that the influence of Satan governs our actions more freely when we relinquish control and it does take only that small suggestion to push us over the brink. That is why we see good men doing really horrible things.  In Tulsa recently, one terrible story ended tragically when a pregnant woman in the midst of an argument pushed her husband through an eighteen story window.  Tragic and life altering consequences result when anger acts. 

The world would have us be true to our natural being—encourages us to disregard what it terms “old-fashioned convention” and to do as we feel—to act on our base nature—be authentic and real.  In contrast, the Lord and his gospel would have us marshal our thoughts and emotions and control our actions. 

As a teenager, my son, Ian really liked Chuck Norris—the jokes and stories and because he has an impeccable memory, he recalls them all.  When I asked him about how the situation in World War History resolved, he told me this story; it could be a fable, who knows. 

Chuck Norris was sitting in a bar and a man came into the bar up to him and said, “You are in my chair.”  Chuck looked at him, stood up and moved to another.  The other patrons at the bar said to the man, “That guy is Chuck Norris, he coulda trounced you.”  The man was prompted to go to Mr. Norris and ask why he hadn't stood up for himself—why he hadn't fought him.  

It's said that Chuck Norris looked at him and quietly responded, “It’s a chair.”

After relating that story my son said, “Mom” he said, “I figured it’s just a chair.”  

When I related the response to my husband, he responded the opposite of me. He said, “I have not paid for ten years of martial arts training for that boy to turn the other cheek.”

I must admit that I did think that if my son had taken his black belt to school and set it on the desk with the three gold stripes showing, the problem might have been resolved.
But in the big eternal picture, such action would have taught no eternal principle.  And with a worldly perspective, in the end my son would have gained nothing and his effort to become more like Christ may not have begun.

I have a testimony that our efforts on earth to marshal our thoughts, to learn to control our bodies—will help us emulate Christ. 

I know that these are mere tools preparing us for the eternities to come, for a time when we will be like unto God and we must train now at His feet.  I encourage all of us to further study these talks, to take these principles into our lives to become slow to anger and to endeavor to become more like the Master.

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