Lent helps to cleanse our soul and make us better people. But when people talk of the struggles that they face in life, anger is one of the top most things that come out. There are many people who say that he/she is a good person but can’t control their anger. It is interesting to note that many people who have diet restrictions and fasting end up being angrier than others. It could also be due to the frustration of not being able to eat properly or even the fluctuation of blood sugar levels. Whatever it is, anger in men and women becomes one significant thing that people can change during lent but it is easier said than done. It should also be noted that channelizing anger rather than completely doing away with anger perhaps is a better model. Can an anger fast then be a meaningful fast for us during lent?
Whichever ladder of the hierarchy we belong to, anger should not be a part of our repertoire. A priest should not get angry at his congregation, a father and mother at their child/children, siblings to one another, friend to another friend and colleague to colleague. There is no justification for anger as it is unsettling for our body and soul. Thomas Aquinas wrote that anger can become a mortal sin if “through the fierceness” of the anger a person “falls away from the love of God and his neighbor.” Getting angry at someone is not a solution to a problem and neither can it be justified citing seniority and more experience. The more one has seen the world, the more one should be able to channelize one’s anger as we can’t justify getting angry at God’s creation because it is like getting angry with God.
Ephesians 4:26 says “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” Our fasting and lent should teach us and reform us to deal with our anger. Some of us fast till noon, some afternoon and some evening. But what use will it be if we can’t channelize our anger properly? We justify anger because we do not see it as part of morality and morality is what concerns us the most than anything else. James 1:19-20 says “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” We jump at something we hear and don’t even think for a moment or say a small prayer. It is the spur of the moment and then we can’t take back what we said.
Anger mostly only instills fear in others and we are not justified in instilling fear in others as that would lead to forcing people into things. Nothing forced will last in life. We sometimes get angry at one word or one action. Proper prayer will give us the strength to be patient and understanding. One explanation of diet restriction for lent is that ordinary food makes us calm and patient. But this may not be the case always because people can be bitter with the fact that they are on a lent or that they are doing this for someone. This may not help. Anger will not get us anywhere. Matthew 5:22 says “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment…” Lent is a hope for a better tomorrow. By getting angry and judging others we are falling into judgment ourselves. This does not in any way fulfill the reason for lent. The Psalmist puts it more directly in Psalm 37:8-9, “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret- it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”
Aristotle said something very thought provoking and it is “To become angry is easy. To be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose and in the right way - that is not easy.” Even when we say that lent is a good time to do away with anger or channelize anger properly there are two things that should qualify that. In a house it could mean that the wife can never get angry because she will have the burden of being patient and keeping quiet to prevent a tensed situation. This may lead to the explanation by a husband that his wife did not allow him to observe a true lent because she did not understand his anger and keep quiet and instead got angry herself leading to a reaction from him. Anger sometimes has to be talked out between family and friends as otherwise it will come out at an unexpected time. This is a danger that we ignore. Husband and wife or partners should use lent as a time to talk about frustrations, dreams, unaccomplished things, misunderstandings and plans. This will become properly channelized anger as the anger inside will come out instead of being suppressed.
The second thing is righteous anger which is often quoted by many in church as a justification to get angry. Michael Perrott talks of Jesus getting angry at the temple. This is seen in three gospels in Matthew 21, Mark 11 and John 2. By and large I have seen this as a passage used by church leaders to justify getting angry in church and in certain cases refusing to reconcile. But Perrott has a different explanation of the righteous anger of Jesus. He says that the shops and the money exchange happened in the place which was for the gentiles. All this activity denied them an opportunity to worship in a certain section of the temple. So it was not only that they were confined to a certain section but that even that was taken over by commercial interests. This was when Jesus got very angry. I look back at the three years of pastoral ministry in my latest church. I have got angry very few times. But once I had an outburst and everyone in church was surprised. It was because there was talk of pushing a family out of church for a flimsy reason. I can understand how Jesus would have felt when certain people were denied an opportunity to worship God.
So channelizing our anger and expressing righteous anger for the right reasons are how we qualify not getting angry. But otherwise anger will not get us anywhere and we will only drown in our own anger. Lent is an excellent opportunity to reform ourselves from being angry people to channelizing our anger and expressing rightful and righteous anger like Jesus did, for the people of God. May we be able to deal with our anger pangs and anger issues this lent. Let us try an anger fast where we consciously tell ourselves that we won’t get angry with anyone unless we are talking for God's people and not just ourselves. Amen.