On Anger

“What we gain by fasting is not so great as the damage done by anger; nor is the profit from reading as great as the harm done when we scorn or grieve a brother.”  ~  St. John Cassian

It is so easy to become angry. Our spouse, one of our children, the person who steps ahead of us at the grocery store or the one who pulls in front of us on the highway: any of these people can quickly become a recipient of our wrath. We may be having a day that is calm and peaceful when suddenly one (it may even be small) thing “flips the switch” and, almost without pause, we are angry.

St. Paul addressed anger: “In your anger, do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26) He goes on to add, “do not let the sun go down on your wrath.” So, the Holy Scriptures themselves challenge us to not only maintain our purity even when we are angry; but also we must get over whatever has made us angry quickly; before the sun even goes down. Unfortunately, this is not easy to do.

Worse, the ease in becoming angry is quickly learned by our children, and thereby “passed on” for them to continue. Things which to us may seem like “small” things, can become “the switches” that turn our children to anger. Often our children’s anger is displayed in a more emphasized way (physical aggression, shouting, etc.) than ours may be, but both we and they are often guilty of sinning while angry.

Because of this temptation to sin while angry, it is important that we pay attention to what causes our anger so that we are readily aware when those causes come our way. That awareness can help us to be prepared, so that we may be better able to choose not to give in to anger when the opportunity arises. It is imperative that we help our children to learn to look for what causes them to become angry, as well, and give them tools to use when they’re on the verge of anger, too.

Here is a story, by an unknown author, that can help us begin this discussion about anger and its consequences, together as a family:

There once was a boy who had a bad temper.  His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence.  The first day the boy drove 37 nails into the fence.

Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down.  He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence.

Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all.  He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.

The days passed and the boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone.  The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.  He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence.  The fence will never be the same.  When you say things in anger, it leaves a scar just like this one.  You can put a knife in a man and draw it out.   It won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry,’ the wound is still there.  A verbal wound is every bit as bad as a physical one.”

In a peaceful family moment, let us share this story with our children, and together discuss anger and its effects on others. Let us also talk about St. Paul’s words about not sinning while we’re angry; and not letting the sun go down on our wrath. To continue the discussion, let us encourage each other to think of what seems to trigger our anger. Then, let us pray together, asking God to help us to recognize our triggers, and learn to withstand the temptation to sin in anger. Every moment, we have the opportunity to choose how we accept the events around us. Will we react in anger, or in peace?

Whatsoever tidings I may receive during the day, teach me to accept them calmly, in the firm conviction that all eventualities fulfill Thy holy will…” ~ from the prayer of the Optina Elders


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