Overcoming Anger: The Final Spiritual Struggle

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overcoming anger

overcoming anger

We feel it everywhere: Anger. Whether a seething whisper or bellowing roar, resentment, anger, even rage, feels like the fuel of this brand new year as the second decade of the twenty-first century heads south.

The source is anyone’s claim. An endless laundry list of injustice, victims and causes. Here in what is arguably the safest country in the world. Here in a country where close to twenty percent of the population receive free food, where the government spends more money on its citizens than does any other country. Millions of Americans believe it’s not enough.

Remember that axiom, “May you live in interesting times?” Certainly this last election qualifies for the category of interesting times. As do its consequences.

I grew up with it. The youngest child of a mother who seemed slightly to very discontented for the majority of her time on this planet, I began my acquaintance with anger at an early age.

But it was an article by the OMI priest Ron Rolheiser ( I have used Fr. Rolheiser’s title here) which helped me grasp some of what was going on with my Mom. And maybe with many of us as we age.

“This is hard for me to talk about, and even just to admit, but lately I’m finding myself filling constantly with anger. It is hard to describe exactly because it is not so much that certain things trigger it, but that I find myself growing bitter. I’m resentful at my husband and family because they take me so much for granted and I am angry at the world, I guess, for the same reason. Also, and I don’t understand this at all, I have resentments towards God. I can’t word this exactly, but I’m angry at God – angry about some things in my life, angry because life is so unfair at times, and angry that everything is so hopelessly the way it is. I don’t understand this, I never was an angry person when I was younger and now I’m filling with anger. How is it that now, that I am older, I am getting more immature?”

Rolheiser quotes a woman’s confession told him in the last few minutes before Mass began. Different from the usual list of sins, the memory of her words stuck. Her long ago words take the priest to a story told by the Greek author Nikos Kazantzakis in his autobiography. Kazantzakis wrote about guidance sought from  a spiritual master, an old monk named Father Makarios.

“Do you still wrestle with the devil, Father Makarios?” I asked him. “Not any longer, my child. I have grown old now, and he has grown old with me. He doesn’t have the strength. … I wrestle with God.”

“With God!” I exclaimed in astonishment. “And you hope to win?”

“I hope to lose, my child. My bones remain with me still, and they continue to resist.” (Report to Greco, p.222)”

The anger is not new. It’s lived by our side our entire life. When we were young, perhaps it served us well. Maybe it provided energy to complete a degree or manage life as a single Mom. Or maybe it merely made us unhappy, critical and mostly joyless, like my Mom.

As the years accumulate, the important work of age crystallizes: We must deal with the realities of the losses, the unlived dreams, make peace with the rapidly diminishing time left. And make a crucial decision: How do we spend the time we have left? The words of Father Rolheiser provoke, challenge and penetrate.

“…..Like the older brother of the prodigal son, we are now acutely aware that someone less deserving than ourselves gets to dance and eat the fatted calf.

But this must be understood for what it is, not a sign of regression, but a critical new moment in the spiritual life. As we age and become ever more aware of our wounds, our wasted potential, and the unfairness of life, we come face to face with the final spiritual hurdle, the challenge to become mellow and gracious in spirit. The spiritual task of midlife and old age is that of wrestling with God, namely, of standing inside all of the ways in which life has disappointed and betrayed us and, in spite of that, there, understand what God means with the words: “My child, everything I have is yours, but we must be happy!”

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