Posts Tagged ‘reflection’

Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 35: Anger is a Secondary Emotion

Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger. Ephesians 4:26

There are too many times on too many days that I experience anger. Sometimes, it is my own anger; other times, I am the target of the anger of another. Anger crops up at work, at home, in traffic, in politics, and yes, even at church. Some people are quick to get angry, but then calm down in short order. I am the opposite. Usually, it takes quite a lot to arouse my anger and, once angry, I can stew for days or weeks.

Our anger, however, is not a primary emotion. Although anger commands a lot of attention, it always masks something else. We may consider someone an angry person, but he or she is more likely a person whose anger is stimulated easily, quickly, and often. If we want to get to the heart of anger – ours or that of another – we must look deeper. It starts with an event that we interpret as threatening. It is the threat, real or perceived, that generates the anger. Once we are angry, any number of consequences may ensue, many of them unpleasant. To effectively deal with anger, we must first identify the threat preceding it and understand why it triggers feelings of vulnerability. In identifying and examining the threat, we may realize we have exaggerated the risk, often to the point of absurdity. For example, when someone cuts us off in traffic, we may lay on our horn and yell, “What are you trying to do, kill me?” The triggering event is the car pulling in front of us, the threat is our perceived imminent death at the hands of a homicidal maniac, and the result is anger.

Anger, once aroused, can lead to acts of verbal, emotional, or physical violence, and therein lays the problem. Many everyday events threaten us. When we examine the event and our initial reaction to it we can recognize our fear, humiliation, indignation, annoyance, or any of many emotional responses, and we can begin to understand that none of these events require us to become angry. The anger, the secondary emotion, is a choice, albeit often an unconscious and unhelpful one. The challenge is to become consciously aware enough to allow ourselves to decide whether to react in anger. Too often, our anger bursts out uninvited, leaving a mess we immediately regret.

Relationships are fertile ground for anger because no strong relationship is possible without a willing and shared vulnerability. What would not be a triggering event in other circumstances can lead to an emotional explosion between people in close, regular proximity to each other. A dish not rinsed before going into the dishwasher, dirty clothes left on the floor, a car left nearly empty of fuel – all can leave us feeling unappreciated, belittled, or invisible. If we are not intentional and measured in our response, anger will ensue.

The challenge for me, as with most of the choices I make, is to take the time to assess my reactions to the countless stimuli around me. Why do certain things threaten me so? What am I afraid of? Will this matter a year from now? How does this compare to the challenges faced by those in third-world countries, or to the parent whose child has cancer? I find perspective helpful when analyzing emotions, just as analyzing the triggering events and my initial responses are helpful in exploring my anger. When I am the object of someone else’s anger, it is sometimes helpful to ponder, “What have I done that this person perceives as threatening?” Writing him or her off as just an angry, unpleasant person is not helpful or instructive – something is hurting them. Questions like these help me accept responsibility for the anger around me, which is important because I cannot improve a situation until I accept at least some responsibility for its creation.

Anger is a secondary emotion. How did I miss that?

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Life Notes

Image and Likeness

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.” God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good. Genesis 1:26a, 31a

In a recent issue of the comic strip, Family Circus, middle brother Jeffy draws a picture of his older brother Billy. Billy says, “Hey, I don’t look like that!” Jeffy replies, “Maybe you don’t know what you really look like.” I believe this cute illustration captures a key issue behind many of our problems: We do not know what we really look like. More accurately, we have forgotten in whose image we were created.

An image is an identical counterpart produced by a reflection. A likeness, on the other hand, is a representation or a semblance of something – not identical, but similar. In the cartoon, Jeffy is creating a likeness, but Billy expects an image.

Each of us shares a common image – that of God – but we manifest differently as God’s likeness. Collectively, we display an infinite variety of God’s hues, shapes, and characteristics. When we look in the mirror, however, we see only an imperfect likeness. Many of us are unhappy with that likeness because we believe we are too short or too fat, our hair is too thin or too grey, our clothes don’t fit quite right, or our shoes don’t match our purse. Something important is always missing, misshapen, or mismatched. And something is always wrong because what we see in the mirror is a reflection of God’s likeness – a representation of one aspect of God – and not the entire image we so desire to reflect. Our divine image becomes hidden beneath our likeness to the point where it is easy to forget the image from which we originated. We are conditioned to only see the likeness and not the image, thus becoming obsessed with our appearance instead of our essence.

Our divine image is always there, however. We see the image of God in another when we look deeply into their eyes, or when we catch them uninhibitedly being their most beautiful and pure self (think child-like). The moments are rare, but they are there for the seeking. Likewise, we display God’s image when we let go of our concerns about how others see us, or what others expect from us – when we know we are good enough as we are, where we are – good enough to be loved and valued by God. When we dance like no one is watching, or sing like no one is listening, we do so from a place of ultimate freedom. In that place of unconditional love, we are free to realign our likeness into something more consistent with our image – something that will touch others at a soul-level. As we better reflect God’s image, we are better able to positively impact our world.

Come home to church this Sunday. Discover what you really look like.

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