Friday, July 15, 2005

Slow To Anger

Mark Looper was one of those guys who was an expert at everything. I know he was an expert because he told me so. Aside from that claim, I'd have had no idea he was so good at so many things -- especially after watching him do those things. The truth is, Mark was full of hot air. And that bag of hot air was the third baseman on my school baseball team. The rest of us guys in the dugout realized that Mark was all talk, especially when he told the team exactly what they were doing wrong.

"Brett, you're dipping your shoulder when you swing. Don't do that."

"Bill, you've got to plant your left foot before you throw, like I do."

"Ralph, you need to slide on your left leg, not your right."

Needless to say, those comments got old really quick. Especially when we watched Mark dip his shoulder, forget to plant his foot, slide on whichever leg he fell on, and generally play less than mediocre baseball.

For me, it hit the fan during a game when his ineptitude affected me. I was playing first base when a baserunner decided to test my arm. He took off from second to third when the ball was thrown to me. I didn't get the opportunity to throw out runners very often, so I made sure of the throw, firing a bullet to Mark Looper at third base. The throw was right on the money. It hit Looper right in the mitt, two steps in front of the runner. But the expert-at-everything third baseman dropped the ball! "Mr. Perfect" let a picture-perfect throw fall from his glove!

I was livid. I had heard too many "Looperisms" to be anything but mad beyond belief. Here was the guy who told everyone else about their mistakes making yet another big mistake. I took off my mitt and slammed it hard against the ground. How dare Looper ruin my perfect throw! I stomped the dirt and kicked at my glove. My temper was doing it's best volcano impression; saliva flying about like lava. It wasn't pretty. But I didn't care. I was mad.

I would like to say it was the only time I lost my temper like that. I would like to tell you that I never threw my tennis racket across the court after a passing shot hit the net. I would love to proclaim that my 5-iron never ended up stuck in a tree after an errant approach shot. I would really, really like to say all those things, but I can't. Back in those days, when I got frustrated my anger was faster than a speeding bullet. I threw my mitt down in disgust on more than a couple occasions. My tennis racket still bears the scars of a zillion skids across the backcourt. I once buried my putter twelve inches deep in a soft green. I was a mess.

I'm so grateful that I've learned that a bad putt or a dropped ball doesn't mean I need to explode. I've mellowed with age, perhaps. But I believe I have a truer perspective on what is important. The trivialities of life don't cause me to go off like they did back in high school and college. I'm not perfect by any means. I still get angry -- often over stupid things. But I'm not like I once was. And I'm glad.

There are all kinds of stereotypes about quick tempers. Redheads are supposed to have short fuses. Same with drunks, and various nationalities. Some people use the stereotype as an excuse not to use any self-control. But what really strikes me about a quick temper is the immediate cause of the outburst. It seems to me that a sudden display of anger is usually in reaction to the most unimportant things. I know it works that way with me. If I suddenly find myself getting mad, the cause is most often something which really doesn't matter. My wife telling me to do something, a car pulling out into my lane of traffic then doing 10 mph under the speed limit. . . all reminiscent of the fits after missing a putt or missing an overhand smash. I suppose that's because there would be no slow-building anger over something so trivial.

Perhaps that's the big lesson behind Scripture's urging us to be "slow to anger." If we are legitimately angry after a few minutes, then it's probably more important than the stuff we have "flare-ups" over.

I don't see a prohibition on anger in the Bible. After all, Jesus probably wasn't whistling a happy tune with a whip made of cords in one hand and turning over money tables with the other. Jesus was angered over things of eternal significance, not over the minute details of the day. But it's so tempting to throw a fit when the fast food place forgets an order of fries in your drive-thru order. Mercifully. God gives us the strength to overcome the urge to lash out in anger, or even to keep that anger bottled up inside.

That strength will also mercifully keep you from looking like an idiot, throwing tennis rackets and baseball mitts and burying putters on a manicured green. Funny how it works out for our good, huh?

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