So I have an update to my new exercise of learning to control feelings of frustration and anger.
As expected, the hustle and bustle of the holiday season has provided me with some opportunities to work on this. The other day I found myself in a disagreement with someone, having a series of conversations about a small matter that had become a heated issue for no good reason. At some point early on I remembered that I was supposed to be working on this, so I prayed for grace. I did not receive it. To my disappointment, my prayer was not answered; I did not seem to receive any strength from God to practice meekness and humility.
Then I thought for a moment about the prayer I’d said, and it occurred to me: did I even want grace? Did I really want God’s help to be meek and humble? The prayer I actually said went something like:
Lord, I ask for your grace to help me act in meekness and humility.
What I was actually thinking, however, was more like:
Lord, I ask for your grace to help me act in meekness and humility…later. Because right now I am not even done making the points that I need to make. First I would like to point out to this person that they started it, not to mention their bad tone of voice. And I am not going to let this discussion end without noting that I have asked them on multiple occasions not to handle this this way, and that this person always blows me off when this comes up, and…
You get the idea. And, if I’m being totally honest, when I thought of humbling myself it sounded wholly unappealing unless I got to make some comment pointing out that I was the only one being humble.
I think this is what they call “attachment to sin.” In theory, I agree that indulging in anger and arguing for selfish purposes is wrong — the operative words there being “in theory.” After that prayer the other day I asked myself: if I could have God wave some sort of grace magic wand that would instantaneously force me to be 100% meek and humble, would I do it? Honestly, I wasn’t sure. It didn’t sound good. I had a white-knuckle grip on all these great points that I had yet to make that would show once and for all that I was RIGHT and the other person was WRONG, and I couldn’t let go. Or, more accurately, I didn’t want to let go.
One of the very first things I learned in the conversion process was that you can block out God if you want to. He doesn’t force us to seek him and love him. The same thing, I’ve realized, is true of grace: you can block it out if you want to. Despite the oh-so proper words that I recited in prayer, I really didn’t want God’s grace at all. Because if I got it it would mean that I’d be more inclined to be selfless, to see the other person’s best interest before my own, to act out of love first and foremost — in other words, to lose the argument. And, to be honest, I wanted to win the argument more than I wanted grace. I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but it’s true.
It even happens in the (more frequent) occasions where some uppity inanimate object foils my plans: I want to spend a lot of time dwelling on how horrible it was that my printer suddenly wouldn’t print; I want to make a grouchy comment to my husband under my breath when our house key gets stuck in the lock again, even though it certainly adds no joy to his day; I want to throw the hangers on the floor when they get all jumbled up because…well, sometimes you just have to teach them a lesson! If God had come down and personally offered me the grace to have peace and just forget about those situations, I probably would have said, “No thanks. I think I’ll just stew about this for a while.”
It’s funny, I never really intended to work on this area of my life until Abigail brought it up, but I think that this whole exercise has been a gentle (or not so gentle) nudge from the Holy Spirit to let me know that this is an area that I should focus on. In re-reading all St. Francis de Sales’ wisdom on the subject, I realized that I’m not even at the point that I can start to really live that advice, because the first step is to let go of my desire to act in anger and frustration. And God will help me with that…if I want him to.
I recently came across a great quote here about relinquishing all attachment to sin:
Unless our attachment to sin, our desire for what is sinful, is sundered to the last sinew, however tightly we bind it, it keeps us in turn captive. It is the proverbial wolf we hold by the ears, afraid to keep hold of it and afraid to let it go.
Relinquishing sin is a consciously total act. You cannot let go of sin, “a little”. If you have not slain the wolf, you cannot hold him by one ear.
The question is…how do you do that? How do you train yourself to loath a sin to which you have some sort of attachment? I’d be interested to hear from anyone who’s dealt with stuff like this in their own life, even if it isn’t to anger in particular.
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