Double Back –
Last night, after dinner, Beth wanted a popsicle. I was getting up anyway and told her I’d get her one. I opened the top freezer door on the refrigerator and grabbed two by mistake. One fell to the floor and using the three-second rule I quickly stooped down and picked it up. Unbeknownst to me, the freezer door was swinging back and when I was two-thirds up I whacked the top back of my head on the corner of the freezer door. “OUCH!” It hurt so much I crumpled to the floor rubbing the wounded area. Beth heard me, came and looked at it and thought there would be bruising and soreness. She was right. It never occurred to me until it “hit me” that the door was doubling back. My mind was elsewhere and the freezer door brought me back to reality.
I was listening to someone describe addiction this week and they said; “It gets inside of you. You think you have a handle on it and then you begin to crave it. It comes back again and again and again.” I thought about other things which come around over and over. Grieving the loss of a loved one who has passed on, anger at being taken advantage of, bitterness at being betrayed, the pain of past memories and experiences that hurt us emotionally and physically, drug, alcohol and other addictions, friends who have negative influences on us, wounds which seem to never heal. All of these can cause us to crumple to the floor when they double back into our lives.
There is a needed balance of awareness and acceptance. Awareness is needed because perhaps we can see it coming and side-step the toll it would take on our minds and spirits. Acceptance is important because we are human, are not all-powerful, and difficult and challenging experiences are part of what makes us unique.
It is in this balance we may find wisdom and peace.
This morning I woke up on the wrong side of the bed. My anger and anxiety were high for no particular reason. The dog was getting on my nerves, I snapped at my wife. When you have a severe anxiety disorder there doesn’t have to be one particular thing or a series of things to happen which makes your anxiousness turn to something more sinister. Beth had to run an errand and as I said; “Goodbye,‘ I also mentioned; ‘I would try to be in a better mood when she arrived back home.'” I went back inside and tried to locate the source of my anger and anxiety but could find nothing. For whatever reason, it decided to wreak havoc today. Knowing this I decided I could do a few things. First, I worked out. Second, after working out I took medicine specifically prescribed for these types of days. I then ate lunch and took a nap. I knew each of these would help my mood. I woke up when Beth came home and my mood was better, not great but better.
Wisdom teaches us that even a little progress, no matter how small, is still progress and not to be taken lightly.
Starting Over –
I was speaking with a friend this week who struggles with anger. We were trying to figure out how to take a breath before responding to a situation or a person who triggers his angry responses. We talked about tricks and tips to get him to breathe in fully and exhale before whatever words were forming on his tongue. I told him; “At that moment think, see with your mind what the consequences of your words are going to be.” It’s the discipline of ‘the space in between.’ The greater the space in between the stimuli and the response the better. Take time to think, to breathe, there is healing, understanding, awareness, and acceptance in that moment. Use it.”
With each breath is a new beginning, a starting over, an opportunity to live and give life.
This morning I had an early appointment in Nashville to being a training. I put the address in my GPS app on my phone and off I went. It took me to the exact spot I’d entered into the phone but there was one problem, it was the wrong address. It took me a moment to realize my mistake until I literally got to the end of a dead-end road. Argh! I felt my frustration starting to grow. Instead of being 30 minutes early I was going to be late. I checked the address again, realized where I made my mistake, and set off in the right direction. Trying not to let my anxiety rise to a harmful level I turned on a three-lane road and stopped at a traffic light. I was in the far right lane, an SUV in the center lane, and a sports car in the left lane. I heard yelling and realized it was the SUV driver and the sports car driver having a road rage episode. I couldn’t make out much of what they were saying and the words I could understand I don’t dare repeat.
I sat there listening and watching the living embodiment of frustration out of control; testosterone, anger, and vitriol spewing out of both of them. It made me take stock of my mood and I realized it wasn’t worth getting upset over my mistake and to let it go. I did, arrived at the training on time and am thankful for the lesson two men out of control could teach me.
On Saturday afternoon I burned a pile of branches, old newspapers, and other miscellaneous items. The smell of the ashes and leftover debris lingered in the air the next day. I had forgotten to grab an old wooden rocking chair out of the reading room which also needed to be disposed of. When I noticed it Sunday afternoon I wondered if the smoldering ash would still be hot enough to do anything. I took the chair out, broke it into several pieces and put some under the coals, which were still a faint orange, and put the rest in a pile on top. I checked it after a while and noticed the smoke had increased. About an hour later the wood was ablaze with a good flame. It didn’t take long to consume it once the fire restarted. Not too long afterward the chair was gone.
I wrote last week about the struggles I have when February rolls around. Many years have passed but the layers of hurt, anger, and uncertainty still lay buried, ready to ignite when fuel is added. What I try to do, instead of dwelling on the past, is not feed the flames. When I am aware and notice my mind drifting back to the place of pain I find a place to breathe. I close my eyes and take deep breaths. I remind myself of the truth that I cannot change the past but I can be present in the now. Does it always work? No. Does it work? Yes. Maybe one day I will be healed, maybe not, but I don’t want to give up on living today because of the difficulties of yesterday.
Enemy Within –
I had a meeting with my talk therapist yesterday. It went well. She is professional, a good listener and has a way of pointing out things I miss in life experiences. We were talking about a certain subject, one I struggle with mightily at times, and asked a question that made me think in a completely different way. She didn’t say; “Think this way.” Like a good therapist should do, she allowed me to look inside and find my way out of dark corners.
As someone with a Chronic Severe Depression disorder the battle with ruminating thoughts, anger, doubt, confusion, and fear cover my mind, emotions, and spirit like a wet blanket. Some days I can shake the blanket off of me, other days it’s like a chill in my bones and I can’t get warm. Therapy helps remind me that many of the feelings, and non-feelings, which come with depression may not be gotten rid of completely but a new thought, a burst of light, a letting go of some of the negative, can make room for hope and a willingness to continue the journey.
One of the first questions I have, when teaching a new class or working with a father, is “Tell me how you express your feelings. Can you show you are angry, disappointed, frustrated in a healthy way or does it all come out as toxic anger?” Toxic anger is dangerous and greatly inhibits a child’s growth, impedes communication with others, and can lead to abuse and neglect. Understanding how a father deals with his feelings is key to understanding his relationship with his family, friends, and community.
One of the most common responses on how men deal with the feeling of anger is; “I want to hurt someone else. I want another to feel pain. I don’t want to be alone in my suffering.” This can surface in many ways, a bruising hand, a mouth filled with hurtful and caustic words. Other men leave and don’t come back, others come back but never talk about the emotion that erupted like a volcano. A lot of men simply get mad and stop talking, letting their silence oppress everyone who is near them.
Most men have never learned to deal, and healthfully express, their feelings. This is why for most men anger is their default emotion. The saddest part is they pass these traits along to children and the unhealthy cycle starts all over again.
An old Zen proverb says; “To hold on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.”
True and Real? –
I have many friends who are afraid and angry at the state of the nation. They are from both sides of the political spectrum. Fear is the breeding ground for anger and it seems to be everywhere. A friend of mine posted a controversial post this week which was lauded and hated by the differing sides. Folks are digging in and whatever can be used to prove their perspective is “on the side of angels” is put forth not to engage in conversation but to end the conversation by being right and the other being wrong.
I had an interesting conversation with another friend this week who basically asked me; “Which side is right? Is there a true right and wrong?” After a long pause, I said; “I think there is but I’m not sure we ever discover it.” I went on to tell him we are too impacted by our genetics, our growing up in certain places, the beliefs of those who raised us and imprinted upon us, our environment, where we grew up. Add to these the countless experiences each and every day that we use to solidify our opinions, friendships, and families and the other people who surround us. All of these make us who we are and shape the way we think, believe and live.
I finished up by telling him; “Wisdom teachings tell us that we may not ever be free of these countless influences so that we can find an “objective reality” but if we can become aware of our natural tendencies, biases, and preferences we are one step closer, one person closer, to a world of peace.”
“The mark of a wise mind is the ability to think a thought and not necessarily believe it to be true or real.” #Aristotle
Sunday afternoon I picked up some branches from the yard, placed them on the fire pit, and set them ablaze. They burned for a while but not long because there were only a few limbs to feed the flame. With only a scarce amount of smoldering embers left I placed a large piece of wood on them and went inside for the evening. The next morning I took the dog outside and noticed the smell of burning wood and looked at the fire pit. The part of a stump I had placed on the glowing embers had burned all night and the piece of wood was almost gone. There was no flame, a bit of smoke, but the stump was slowly being eaten away. Tuesday evening I placed another large piece of wood on the second piece and this afternoon it’s almost gone. Even though a fire cannot be seen the smoldering ashes are still burning away at whatever’s been placed in the fire pit.
I reflected on the embers today and thought about a wisdom proverb;
“Anger is like a hot coal clenched in the hand, ready to be thrown, but destroying the one who grasps it.”
Anger is an emotion that almost everyone, at times, has trouble handling. Whether it’s a spouse, a child, a family member, friend or co-worker, there are people and situations which stoke the embers of anger within. As with every other emotion, anger is not good or bad but rather it’s the reaction to the anger that leads to positive or negative consequences.
When anger is held onto, smoldering, it can destroy us but when expressed in a healthy way can put out the flames, or the embers that burn inside.
It’s not often when you can be outside wearing shorts and standing on your bare feet in the middle of November. Yet last night was one of those rare evenings when I stood in front of our fire pit with no shoes or socks, feeling the warmth of the flames on my toes.
I had gone to the woodshed to grab an old pallet to use as my firestarter. I lit it and sat in an Adirondack chair watching the blaze begin to grow higher and higher. Soon there were big embers floating through the air, many of them, and their flight course took them toward the house. I was becoming concerned. It wasn’t too long before my wife spotted the large fire from the kitchen and came outside to express her anxiety. I watched it closely and soon it burned down enough that I could relax and enjoy the November evening.
Earlier this week a gentleman told me the rage and anger within him, because of hurtful people and events in his past, was an inferno which burned so intensely it’s caused him to do much harm to himself and those he loves. It’s been the main catalyst for his drug and alcohol use vainly hoping they would dampen the flames. However, instead of putting them out the drugs and alcohol only added fuel to his fire. He was being consumed and hurting, not just for himself but for those whom he loves and who’ve also been victims of the flames that burn within him.
Wisdom tells us that unless we have a positive, healthy way to spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically deal with the anger that’s present inside each of us the fire will destroy us and those we hold most dear.
This morning I was running early for my fathers with addictions group so I stopped at the local Hardee’s and studied while enjoying a cup of coffee. I was reading the page (pictured above) when I heard a raised voice coming from the counter. Apparently a man had ordered his breakfast and they never let him know it was ready or he didn’t hear when they announced his ticket number. Either way he was not happy and let the employee know it with a loud and thunderous; “Thank you!” when he received his food, jerked the tray off the serving area and complained boisterously all the way back to his seat.
The above definition states that; “Good mental health is the ability to think things through so that you can adjust to and meet life’s demands in ways that don’t harm you or others.” I had two thoughts as I watched this angry man grumble and wolf down his biscuit. One, there is a lot of wisdom in this definition and it’s applicable to everyone. Two, who we are, especially in crisis and moments of frustration, reveal our character perhaps more than any other time.
Last Monday I shared a few thoughts about a burn barrel I’ve been using this week and followed up with a few more reflections on Thursday. Below are my final ruminations on using the burn barrel and I shared these with our campus this morning.
In a world where privacy and personal information must be protected, great care is taken with you dispose of things with sensitive information. Over the last several months Beth and I have been collecting a lot of this type of trash. This week we’ve been doing some cleaning and needed to finally get rid of it. A few weeks ago I asked a friend if he had a burn barrel or know where I could get one. Being a great friend found one and brought it to our house.
The burn barrel has been used a great deal as we have set fire to old bills, junk mail, cancelled checks, and other materials we no longer needed.
Monitoring a burn barrel requires spending a lot of time watching things burn. As I stood there this week I reflected on the scripture text for today. How anger, revenge, bitterness have a lot in common with a burn barrel.
Reflection: A Burn barrel holds a lot of trash and ash.
It is amazing how much one burn barrel can hold. After several days of burning it still isn’t filled with ash. No matter how full it seems once it starts burning and turns to soot it settles and more fuel for the fire can be added.
Anger and bitterness are this way. Anger, bitterness, are never full, they always want more. There is always something else to become angry about, someone to be angry at. Unlike being filled with joy, anger and bitterness just consume.
Reflection: The ash stays hot, scratch surface, fire starts again
The first day I used the burn barrel it took a while to get a flame going. I used some kindling, a couple of matches and made sure the fire didn’t go out. Once it started however there was no stopping it. Even when I was done for the day, stirring it to make sure there was nothing else to burn, it still smoldered. The ash stayed hot even over night, when temperatures dropped into single digits, all it took was stoking the ash, adding some new paper and the flames would erupt again.
Anger and bitterness ignite quickly too. There are times in our lives when we have been hurt by someone or something and even when we think the fire has gone out it only takes is a little poking around and the fire erupts again.
There are places in where we must be very careful not to let the rage of fire ignite again. We must be aware of the areas in our lives where negative feelings smolder, vulnerable places where we are subject to becoming angry and bitter again, no matter how much we think it has cooled off.
Reflection: Fire doesn’t know the difference, it just burns.
Fire doesn’t know the difference between what needs to burn and what doesn’t. A few times after placing something in the barrel I realized it might not be something which needed to burn. Didn’t matter, the fire burned these as quickly as everything else placed in the flames. Though able to retrieve them they still bore the burn marks.
We must be aware how the fire of anger, bitterness, judgment, revenge can unintentionally burn the wrong things in our lives. Negative emotions left unchecked will not only burn against the person or situation which makes us to be angry but can also burn others closest to us. We’re mad about work and lash out family, upset about finances and blame love ones. The fire of anger doesn’t distinguish, it just consumes. If we aren’t careful it will consume our lives and the lives of those we love.
Reflection: All burnt things look similar
After a few days staring at the burn barrel you begin to notice everything burnt looks the same. No matter it looked like before when the fire is finished it’s black and unrecognizable.
Anger, bitterness, revenge consumed us and the fire of anger, the ash of long smoldering resentment, makes us see everything negatively.
Reflection: Burn barrel affects surroundings
If we were standing in my driveway you would see ash covers almost everything. It settled on the snow, on the outside furniture, on the clothes I was wearing. In spite of the coldness this week the area around the burn barrel was marked by melting snow.
When anger and bitterness rage they affect everything. A black ash settles on our families, jobs, friends, and our life like a dark cloud.
Reflection: Smoke suffocates and blinds
Most of the week the temperature outside never rose above 15 degrees. I was layered up with long pants, coat, and a face mask pulled over, with sunglasses. Even with my mouth covered there were times the smoke still got the best of me. When the wind changed direction suddenly the smoke went right into my face, giving me a coughing fit. It also burned my eyes causing them to water. I couldn’t see.
When the flames of anger and bitterness burn hot within us we cannot breathe. Fire needs air to burn and it uses and takes it violently. In the same way anger takes the breath of life from us to keep burning, suffocating our spirit.
It also blinds us. Filled with rage, we can’t see straight. Our focus becomes that which makes us angry, the one who has wronged us; we are unable to see the blessings in our lives and what we have to be thankful for, all we see is hate.
Reflection: Burn barrel is addicting
When the fire in the burn barrel is really going the flames invite you to throw all sorts of things in and watch it burn.
It’s similar with anger and bitterness. When the fire rages we can always find something else to burn. We live in a world that thrives on anger, division, bitterness, blame, judgment. Radio stations, television channels, internet websites which will feed our rage. We can find people willing to gossip, to stoke our hate, share our bias, and give us more material for our flame.
Reflection: There’s always something left over
After a week of burning there is a lot of ash left over in the bottom of the barrel. When I started it was almost empty now it is almost full. No matter how much I stir, no matter how hot the flame gets, no matter how high fire burns, at the end of the day there is always something left over. When I noticed that it was filling up I asked my friend what to do with the ash. He said he would come haul it away for me. I asked him if there was anything else that could be done with it and there isn’t, it needs to be disposed of.
It is the same way anger bitterness, revenge, rage, temper, and other negative feelings. When they fill up our lives with their residue they need to be hauled away. There is no use for them. They do not serve any purpose. Aren’t we glad that we serve a God who is willing to come into our lives take it away?
Our lives can always be used as burn barrels. We can keep the fire going; let the flames consume our lives and the lives of those we love. We can allow the ash and soot to cover us, the rage and resentment to burn even unintended things or we can find someone to haul it away. The choice is ours.
The Lord is my light and my salvation;
I will fear nothing.
The Lord protects me from all danger;
I will not be afraid.
When evil attacks and tries to kill me,
I will not stumble and fall.
Even if all hell surrounds me,
I will not be afraid;
when I am under siege,
I will still trust God.
I have asked the Lord for one thing;
one thing only do I want:
to live in the Lord‘s presence all my life,
to marvel at his goodness,
and to ask for his guidance.
In times of trouble he will shelter me;
he will keep me safe in his presence
and make me secure on a high rock.
Because of the Lord, I will triumph.
I will praise the Lord.