27th June 2012
“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.”
James 1:19-20 (NIV UK)
Picture the scene: Onnie, an easy-going red Devon Rex cat, has strategically placed herself within spitting distance of my evening dinner, hoping that whilst I’m distracted, talking to my husband, her paw can surreptitiously manoeuvre a piece of chicken off my plate. However, Rum Tum Tugger, an equally clever feline, also sees the opportunity and sidles his way on to the chair next to me, before also sliding his paw towards my plate.
As quick as lightening, Onnie pounces on his head with her paw—a short sharp shock that startles and annoys her fellow cat. Though ostensibly laid back, she can act quickly and decisively when she feels the need to. Having been ‘hit’, Rum Tum Tugger then jumps to the floor and goes over to an unsuspecting third party, ie, Hetty, another feline furball sitting there quietly, and ‘hits’ her over the head. Her crime? She was there!
My husband and I burst out laughing at the comedy scene just played out in front of us in the space of 30 seconds. But also, once again, we are dumbfounded by the ‘human-like’ emotions coming from an animal.
Rum Tum Tugger’s response was to hit out at a target different from the one that was the real source of his irritation. How often do we act like this? Reacting to a frustrating situation by taking it out on someone else! I know I have—and many times it can be an unconscious and instinctive reaction. For example, perhaps someone at work or church was rude or mean to us. We leave to drive home, and our mood needs readjusting as our mind works through the incident—do we perhaps become an impatient and arrogant road user? Do we get home in a bad mood and act grumpily towards our spouse or children? Do we push the dog or cat aside when it comes to greet us?
Psychologists call this displaced aggression (redirected aggression)—believing that rumination plays a large part in this—ie, focusing on an anger-provoking situation, trying to make sense of it, but in fact forming new angry associations, and in effect setting up a vicious cycle of anger and rumination.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 (Message version) says, “Don’t be quick to fly off the handle. Anger boomerangs.” That means it comes back to hurt us. As Christians we should know better. We are forewarned and so we can be forearmed. What better way to arm ourselves than with God’s word. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry.”
So next time you’re the target – take a step back, or a deep breath – and pray to God for His strength not to target someone else.
Lord, we fight an ongoing battle to control some of our more negative human emotions. Help us to help ourselves and others by allowing your Holy Spirit to guide our instincts in a positive direction. As you are slow to anger, please help us to be so too.
Study by Irene Tibbenham