Manage anger or heal it?

Take a look at the news or social media and it often seems as if the world is full of angry people. Many people search for ways to manage their anger, and there are plenty of anger management methods to choose from. But is managing anger enough? Or can we actually overcome it?

A few years ago, I came across an article that explained that we react with anger when something happens that conflicts with our concept of how things should be or how people should act. That was quite an eye-opener for me. I realized that whether I was just mildly irritated or very angry, it was really because things weren’t going quite how I thought they should. With that realization, I began to see that anger is not forced upon us by some outward circumstance but is ultimately the result of how we think about ourselves and others.

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That’s why I’ve found it helpful to turn to prayer to overcome angry thoughts. But prayer, as I’ve learned through studying Christian Science, doesn’t mean pleading with God. It starts with the quiet listening that Christ Jesus recommended when he said, “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret” (Matthew 6:6). As I’ve studied the textbook of Christian Science, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures by Mary Baker Eddy, I’ve come to understand that the closet that Jesus refers to is a mental, spiritual sanctuary hidden from all the clamor of the world. It’s our consciousness, where we are able to commune with, and feel the power and presence of, the infinite Love that is God.

Everyone has access to this healing prayer, which opens our thought to the ever-present love and wisdom of God. This kind of silent prayer helps us more clearly discern the nature of God as Spirit as well as the true, spiritual nature of ourselves and others, enabling us to let go of selfish willfulness or a need to have things our way. Grounded in spiritual calmness and goodness, we’re slower to judge or condemn another and less likely to react negatively.

Is managing anger enough? Or can we actually overcome it?

Take, for example, an experience I had some months ago. Standing in a slow-moving line at the driver’s license issuing office, I was impatient and irritated. There had been a typo on my previous license, so when it came time to renew it a few weeks before this, I had requested it be corrected. But my new license had arrived in the mail without the correction. I was not happy—how could they be so incompetent!

I reached the counter, only to be very rudely told by the clerk that he couldn’t find my file and that I needed to come back another day. I protested angrily. But before I could get into an argument, a quiet thought stopped me. It urged me to be still, reminding me of the spiritual study I had been doing and what I had been learning about my true nature. 

For several weeks prior to this, I had been praying to express more grace in my daily life. To help me do this, I had been studying the Bible and Mary Baker Eddy’s writings. The Bible contains many instances of people who were able to express grace even in the most difficult circumstances. The life of Christ Jesus is the perfect example. Jesus’ life teaches us how to express a spiritual poise that rises above and overcomes any discord that may come our way. At one point he faced an angry mob that intended to throw him off a cliff. But Jesus remained undisturbed. According to the Bible account, “He passing through the midst of them went his way” (Luke 4:30).

My study had led me to think more deeply about the qualities of Soul, one of the synonyms for God given in Science and Health. I made a list of these qualities, and grace was at the top, along with beauty, substance, completeness, wholeness, individuality, contentment. I came across this statement in Science and Health: “Knowing that Soul and its attributes were forever manifested through man, the Master healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, feet to the lame, thus bringing to light the scientific action of the divine Mind on human minds and bodies and giving a better understanding of Soul and salvation” (p. 210). It occurred to me that Jesus was unimpressed by negative human circumstances, including disease, because he recognized that Soul, God, could not, even for a moment, be stopped from expressing His attributes through any of His ideas. And this recognition on Jesus’ part brought healing.

Prayer gave me a better sense of my spiritual individuality as the pure, calm reflection of God, Soul, undisturbed by material circumstances.

All of this prayer and study had given me a better sense of my spiritual individuality as the pure, calm reflection of divine Soul, undisturbed by material circumstances. It also made me start to think of others in this way, too.

Back in the driver’s license office, I realized I needed to put into practice all I had been learning. I needed to recognize that “Soul and its attributes” were being expressed right there in that office, not only through me but also through every other person present. That put a brake on the train of angry thoughts and helped me to calmly and quietly approach a supervisor.

To my surprise, he assured me that the mistake on my license would be rectified. He then instructed the clerk to ensure that it was done within a week! Of course, I was very grateful to hear this. But what made this experience so special was that when I returned to collect my license, the same clerk who had been so rude seemed to be a changed person. He was extremely helpful and went out of his way to make sure everything was in order. The change in my thinking had made a difference to the entire situation.

I continue to work at overcoming even the smallest signs of irritation or anger. For anyone who would like to do the same, it can be helpful to consider this approach from an article titled “Taking Offense” included in Mary Baker Eddy’s Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896: “... we should go forth into life with the smallest expectations, but with the largest patience; with a keen relish for and appreciation of everything beautiful, great, and good, but with a temper so genial that the friction of the world shall not wear upon our sensibilities;…” (p. 224).

With this Christian approach to our daily life, we won’t be content with simply managing anger. We’ll increasingly feel able to heal it!

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