Clearing Things Up
Anger: Mission Impossible?
The Orange Juice Story
The Virtue of Parsley
This post is long. It has to be.
I left off with the big question, "Is the spark of anger a sin?" I think many of s agree that acting in anger is a sin, and dwelling on angry thoughts is a sin, but what about the "spark," the inception?
--Before proceeding, I need to clearly state that I personally believe that a current teaching that is floating around the pop-psychology world, and making in-roads into the Church is blatantly false, and spiritually dangerous. The teaching is the idea that emotions are neither good, nor bad, they are merely "neutral information" that we need to process - hence, you should allow yourself to feel the emotion, and not repress it in order to maintain your "integrity."
Nonsense. I defy anyone to tell me that the emotion of love I feel towards my EC is not good. I also defy anyone to justify that feeling lust towards some lady I see is "neutral information,' and not bad. How do I know this? God said. I refuse to justify my struggles with putting off the 'Natural Man' by pretending good and evil do not exist within me. I know there are those of you who disagree. All I can say is that if you can find a single theological justification for this concept, I can cite you back a thousand quotes and scriptures that teach just the opposite.
I do understand why that concept would be attractive. It lessens guilt, as it removes a major, difficult struggle that we all contend with. Please be careful, and walk, don't run from any teaching that tells you not to worry about things the Lord has told you to avoid.
-- OK, I'm back. Sorry, that kind of stuff really "pushes my buttons." I need to work on that.
Quickly: I am proceeding with the resolve that feeling a spark of anger is a sin. Why? Two quick quotes:
President Thomas S. Monson: "To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible." ("School Thy Feelings, O My Brother," October Conference, 2009)
Feel free to read these quotes again, or the entire talks they come from. Both can be life-altering.
The prophet says that getting angry is our choice. The prophets, and the Lord also teach us that this is not just an issue of emotion, it is an issue of agency. (That was the point of my orange juice story.)
So, the way my brain, and my heart, process this, is that if I use my agency to choose what God has deemed wrong, is a sin. (That was a long way to go to tell you what you already knew I thought.)
Therefore...from this point on, I will proceed with the following stipulations:
1) Anger is a sin - all three forms: The spark, the fuse, and the explosion.
2) It is an issue of agency. We chose to be angry - or not.
3) It is possible to "never become angry again."
(I might need to go take a nap now...)
That's a pretty high bar that's been set, isn't it? Never get angry? Yet I believe it is possible. Why? Because I have achieved it. Yes, that's right, I, MMM, have experienced the ability to completely excise anger from my life, to the point where not even the spark could ignite. Impressed? Don't be.
Twice. It happened twice. (That I can think of.) Oh no, it is not a current, or frequent state of being for me. But it did happen! Two quick stories:
Story #1 When I was called to serve as a bishop, the week preceding the call, and the week after, were two of the most spiritually intense periods of time that I have ever experienced. There was a little problem with timing. When I was set apart, the very next day my family and I left on a week-long vacation that had already been planned, and paid for.
After the vacation, my EC asked FOML#1, "Does Dad seem any different, now that he is the bishop." My daughter responded by saying, "Yes, he is different. We went on vacation for an entire week, and he never got mad at anyone." (This is a far greater feat than you might think.)
Story #2 One time FOML#1 (again) borrowed my truck for a road-trip and promptly plowed it into the back of a semi-truck - full speed on the freeway. We were terrified. When we were able to talk to her she was worried about the truck, and terribly apologetic. I could not have cared less about the truck at that moment, and told her so - I was worried about my girl. I never gave it much thought, but apparently she did. A little later, she thanked me for not getting mad at her. I was surprised, because it had never even crossed my mind to get angry. I guess that spark could have had an excuse to be lit - but it wasn't.
In both instances, my mind, heart and disposition were such that the expected sparks never lit - and sadly, it was so out-of-character that even my loved ones noticed. But the anger-sparking mechanism was effectively suppressed. It wasn't that I felt anger, but did a better job dealing with it - it was that I did not have angry thoughts.
Why? What had changed? I think these two stories exemplify two concepts that can make the seemingly impossible, possible.
1)The presence of the Holy Ghost, and 2) The gift of charity.
A scripture from Moroni about charity: Moroni 7:45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all thngs, hopeth all things, and endureth all things.
I don't know if Moroni could do bold text with metalwork tools, so I took the liberty of highlighting terms in this verse that I think have a direct application to anger. Yes, most of his definition of charity is included.
It would seem that having charity in our hearts can turn off our natural response mechanisms. This is one of the goals of earth life, right? I think we would all agree that anger is a natural human response.
Mosiah 319: "For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be forever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him..."
(Again, I took the liberty of bolding some things that have direct application to anger, and again, most of the scripture is anti-anger)
What do we do with "natural" responses? We put them off. We don't embrace them, evaluate them, and coddle them. We trust the power of the Holy Ghost to help us get rid of them and become more saint-like.
Remember a long time ago, at the beginning of the post I mentioned that something "pushes my buttons?" We use that term a lot to describe how certain things and people seem to have an ability to trigger the spark of anger in our hearts. Some people are really, really good at it - often the people we love most.
We spend a lot of time as saints, and as a society, figuring out ways to handle the results of those buttons being pushed. That's what anger-management is. We work hard to control our actions, our reactions, our words, our aggression, all based on handling the response to our buttons being pushed. It is a huge expenditure of our emotional energy.
Maybe we are in the wrong business. Perhaps, instead of being in the "Button Suppression Business," we need to be in the "Button Removal Business." If we get rid of those buttons, nobody can find them to push them. If nobody can find them to push them, then we don't need to deal with our reactions, because there aren't any!
In my experience, we spend way more time in thought, prayer, and counseling trying to overcome the way we respond to our buttons being pushed than we do in trying to remove those very buttons. I know I have prayed more for the Lord to help me CONTROL my temper than I have for Him to REMOVE my temper. But, as we discussed, it is possible to remove those buttons.
How? The Holy Ghost can change our hearts and remove those buttons. The gift of charity can soften our hearts and change our view of those around us. That is the only way I can see how following Elder Robbin's challenge is remotely possible.
Here's a big question: Do we have enough faith in the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost that we believe he can re-wire our minds an hearts so that thoughts of anger, pride, lust, envy no longer occur? Or do we think His power to sanctify us is limited? It is one or the other.
Now I'm not saying we don't need to keep working on controlling our responses, but we need to give equal time to button removal. Here's a couple of tips from Mormon and Moroni:
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him. Wherefore my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father will all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love which he has bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son Jesus Christ. (Moroni 7:46-47)
After the remission of sins bringeth meekness and lowliness of heart; and because of the meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer... (Moroni 8:26)
The button removal process, as I see it, is this.
1) Repent and be baptized. Weekly if necessary through the sacrament.
2) Gain and keep the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
3) Pray specifically for charity. Not once, but continually.
4) Let the Spirit do the heavy lifting as it strives to remodel our hearts.
I have met many people who have seemed to let go of their "buttons" as they have gotten older and wiser. I don't know if it is from wisdom gained, or spiritual refinement. I think the latter. I do know, from my personal experience, that those buttons can be removed, or disabled - temporarily or permanently - if we have the Spirit with us, and pure love in our hearts.
It is possible to remove those buttons, because with God, all things are possible.