“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.” – James 4:1-2
Anger reveals what is important to you. This was the thought that was rattling in my head as I tried to compose myself. I was taking my son to get a haircut after an entire day of complaining that he did not want one. I let him know in my best booming dad voice that we were getting haircuts, end of discussion. After he replied, “yes sir,” I knew that I had brought too much emotion to this conversation. Then I thought, “anger reveals what is important to you.” I realized that what my son was trying to communicate, in the best preteen way he could, that he was afraid of getting a bad haircut that would lead to teasing at school. I, on the other hand, just wanted to finish my Saturday to-do list and needed his cooperation. As I drove silently and calmed down myself, I was able to see that what was important to me was not as important as what my son was communicating and I was missing an opportunity to listen.
Think about the last few things that have made you angry. Was it the food order that took too long at lunch, driving home in rush hour traffic, a conversation with someone in which you did not feel heard, a news story that caught your attention? James observes that often what makes us angry has to do with something that we want but we are not able to get. That’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes anger reveals what is most important to you, and sometimes our anger reveals things that should be important to us. We should get angry! Other times, anger can lead to a new insight, which just might be that we need to loosen up a little. How do we know when we should get angry and when we should let it go?
I think one of the ways we can shift our thinking is by moving from me-anger to we-anger. Me-anger is the kind of anger James describes that is all about getting what we want. This is a narrow view of the world with “me” at the center. We-anger, on the other hand, is the God inspired recognition that something is not the way it should be. We-anger actually opens our hearts to others as we see the world the way they do. We-anger leads to understanding and appropriate action. That’s the shift I experienced with my son – a move from me-anger to we-anger that led me to listen to his frustration. Anger reveals what is important to you. The next time you feel angry, take a breath and ask God to help you move from “me” to “we” so that you can know what is the most important thing in each moment.