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Anger

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shaking fist

Have you ever felt abandoned by God? Not everyone has, but in recent days, I have had the opportunity to visit with some people close to me who have, or do. I found the conversations both sad and hopeful at the same time. One reason I am happy to talk about the subject is because – brace yourselves – I have felt abandoned by God. Even beyond feeling abandoned, I have been angry at Him as well. I don’t recommend it, but it can happen.

The most personal and specific example in my life was a stretch of time earlier in our marriage when my EC and I had four young kids in the home, ranging from two to eleven years old. During an eighteen month period we had a non-stop run of heartbreak and challenge. I say this knowing full well that to some of you, our challenges will look difficult, yet to others, they will look like a walk in the park. Everyone faces their own challenges, and they can be wildly different. Our challenges were kicking my butt.

To start off the stretch, we lost a baby to miscarriage. A few months later, my father-in-law passed away from a painful illness. Three months later, my mother died unexpectedly. Shortly afterwards, my father suffered a massive stroke that rendered him invalid. Finally, a few month later, my EC suffered a life-changing leg injury that left her confined to a hospital bed for three months, unable to walk for six.

It was during this last event that I remember how I felt. My wife was stuck sleeping on her back in an extra room in  a rented hospital bed, fuzzy from pain medications. The kids were upstairs asleep when I decided to go outside for a walk. I was so tired. Tired from playing nurse, tired of trying to keep a business afloat, and tired of taking care of a houseful of kids. I was still mourning my mom and dad, and just trying to keep my own head above water.

I vividly remember standing in our driveway that night and bursting into tears. Not tears of sadness, or exhaustion, but tears of anger. I was angry at God for abandoning us. I was angry that he allowed all of these life-crisis to pile up on us without even time to mourn or breath before the next gut-punch came. I felt cheated that our reward for doing our best to live righteously was to be repeatedly pummeled by tragedy. I felt alone and cheated.

It was an unfamiliar feeling to me.

As I tell this, I’m sure that many of you are nodding your heads and saying, “Been there, done that.” I also know that many of you are taken aback because you have never grappled with those kind of feelings. I do guarantee that someone you know and love has walked this path.

One of them is the prophet Joseph Smith. When he was suffering in Liberty Jail, his frustration and feelings of abandonment bubbled up, as recorded in scripture. He pled:

O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place? How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries? (D&C 121:1-2)

He went on to offer God a list of suggestions of how He could better do His job, but mostly his plea was full of questions. Where are you? Why aren’t you helping? Way aren’t you listening?

The greatest example of feeling abandoned in the scriptures is from the Savior’s own lips. As he hung on the cross, suffering more than any man ever would, or could, he called out to God.

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? (Matt 27:46)

Apparently it happens to the best of us.

The danger in harboring feelings of abandonment or anger towards God is not in that moment, but what it can lead to if unchecked. Something has to stop the slide before we find ourselves hurtling into the abyss of atheism or agnosticism. (Think of Tom Cruise sliding off that skyscraper in Shanghai.)

It would be both trite and naive to suggest that we just “snap out of it.” These challenges are real and can run deep. What I can suggest are some ways that we can stop the slide and climb back into a healthier relationship with God.

– Find something to grab onto to stop the slide.

Might I suggest this thought: Anger towards God is a personal testimony that you believe He is real and that He lives. You wouldn’t be angry if you didn’t believe in Him, right? Grab onto that basic, pure testimony that He does live, and begin to work your way back. As frightening as it is to think God has abandoned us, it is more frightening to think that He doesn’t exist. He does.

– Find a sense of proportion.

Nobody, and I mean nobody wants to be told that things could be worse, and I would suggest that you never, ever do that to someone who is suffering. Yet that is exactly how God responded to Joseph Smith when he called out to Him from Liberty Jail.

“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; And then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high; thou shalt triumph over all thy foes.

Thy friends do stand by thee, and they shall hail thee again with warm hearts and friendly hands.

Thou art not yet as Job; thy friends do not contend against thee, neither charge thee with transgression, as they did Job”. (D&C 121:7-10)

It was a gently rebuke, looking at the bright side – but then the Lord came back again, gave him a dose of proportion and dressed him down:

“And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good. (D&C 122:7)

The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?” (D&C 122:8)

– Find a sense of eternal perspective.

The Plan of Happiness does not always mean “Instant Happiness.” it is a plan for playing the long-game. Studying that plan, and what God desires for us, helps us weather the inevitable storms life brings. The immediacy of our current struggles sometimes overwhelms the reality that this life is indeed a “blip” on the eternities. While that perspective does not reduce the pain, it can make it a little more tolerable. It helps to know that God is aware, and that he loves us – even when we can’t tell.

President Boyd K. Packer taught, “Do not suppose that God willfully causes that which, for His own purposes, he permits. When you know the plan and the purpose of it all, even these things will manifest a loving Father in Heaven” (link)

– Find some blessings.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed,
When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
Count your many blessings; name them one by one,
And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
Do not be discouraged; God is over all.
Count your many blessings; angels will attend,
Help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Sure, it’s a little cheesy, but the concept is sound. When we focus on gratitude, we become humble. Humility helps us in the next step:

– Find some grace.

President James E Faust: In the many trials of life, when we feel abandoned and when sorrow, sin, disappointment, failure, and weakness make us less than we should ever be, there can come the healing salve of the unreserved love in the grace of God. It is a love that forgives and forgets, a love that lifts and blesses. (link)

As the Lord pointed out to Joseph Smith, “the Son of Man hath descended below them all,” placing the Savior in the remarkable position of having total empathy, understanding and compassion. Turn to Him. By seeking healing through the atonement of Jesus Christ we can mend our strained relationship with God.

I testify that the Savior invites all of us to come and partake of His Atonement. As we exercise our faith in Him, He will lift us up and carry us through all of our trials and, ultimately, save us in the celestial kingdom. (Elder Evan A. Scmutz)

– Find common ground through prayer.

Standing in the driveway that night, I had a one-sided conversation with God, and it wasn’t pretty. But at least I was having a one-sided conversation with God. Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorite plays/films. The lead character Tevye, walks through his life in a constant running dialogue with God. It is not only funny, but exemplary. I’ll admit standing in a driveway – full of tears and rage – is not the best way to converse with God, it is at least an honest attempt, and the best I could muster at the time. The next step would be to dial it back, and search for a two-way communication that involves much less complaining, and much more listening and searching for understanding.

Elder Bednar added this counsel: “Discerning and accepting the will of God in our lives are fundamental elements of asking in faith in meaningful prayer. However, simply saying the words “Thy will be done” is not enough. Each of us needs God’s help in surrendering our will to Him.

“Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other.” Humble, earnest, and persistent prayer enables us to recognize and align ourselves with the will of our Heavenly Father. And in this the Savior provided the perfect example as He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “saying, Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. … And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly” (Luke 22:42, 44).

Ultimately, when we are angry at God, or feel abandoned by Him, we are focusing on the idea that we know better – that things should run according to our plan. Until we let go of this false sense of control and actually submit our will to His, we will be at odds with God. It is a lifetime challenge, and tougher to embrace when we are mired in struggle.

To those who are suffering, I feel for you and hope you can stop the slide and climb out. To those of you who have never experienced the feelings of abandonment and frustration with God, I am happy for you, and hope you never do.

God does live, and He does love us – even though sometimes we can’t see it.

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23

Exploding Lawnmower

I mowed the lawn with my son on Wednesday. (One of the joys of living in the desert – year-round lawn mowing.) We were getting the job done, when the mower started to make strange noises.

My son stopped mowing and let go of the release bar so the engine would stop. It ground to a halt, but not without making ugly noises.  He and asked me if I could hear it.  I definitely could, and it sounded bad, like the blade was whumping against something, and might even be coming loose.

(Here is where the story suddenly becomes fiction)

He asked me what he should do. I said, “Start it back up and finish the yard.”

“Really? Are you sure?  Don’t you want to look at it?”

“Nah, just keep mowing.”

“What will we do if it explodes?”

“If it explodes, Then we’ll need buy a new one!”

“From where?”

“Probably Sears, or Lowes.”

—Does anyone buy this story?  Me neither.

It does sound ridiculous that I would ignore the problem at hand, and instead talk about how to pick up the pieces after the disaster. But that was a curious thing I noticed a couple of weeks ago.

I wrote a post requesting marriage advice for my son and his new bride. Here’s the link: Share Your Secrets to a Happy Marriage.

Lots of fun and good advice, but of the 142 comments, by far the biggest discussion and the most repeated advice was…

#1 “Don’t go to bed angry.”

#2 “It’s OK to to bed angry.”

…Well, there you go, best of luck to the new couple!

Monkey

In the dozens of comments about going/not going to bed angry, nobody really gave the really important advice: Don’t get angry.

It is possible, and if there is anything needed in a marriage, in all our dealings, and especially in an election year, it is the ability to not get angry.  If we can get to that point, then the decision about whether to go to bed or not will never need to be made.

What does going to bed angry, or not going to bed angry have to do with exploding lawnmowers? Anywhere besides this blog, there is no connection, but I’ll give it a shot.

• If my son and I are discussing where to buy a new lawn mower, before we even look to see what is wrong with it, we are dumb.

• If the discussion is about whether or not to go to bed angry, then we’ve already blown it.

What should the discussion about the lawnmower be? Stop, take a minute and figure it out how to keep it from exploding.

What should the discussion about fighting with your spouse be? Stop, take a minute and figure it out how to keep it from exploding.

You might be saying, “No way – that’s crazy talk.” or “Yeah right. Like that is even a possibility.”

Difficult? Sure.  Impossible? No.

Here is an important perspective: The moment anger enters the discussion, IT (the anger) instantly becomes THE problem, not the original issue that provoked it –  no matter what the original issue was.

Let me copy and paste that so you will have to read it twice (I’ll even put it in bold): The moment anger enters the discussion, IT (the anger) instantly becomes THE problem, not the original issue that provoked it –  no matter what the original issue was.

When we realize that, the dynamic changes.

What happens when we get angry? President Thomas S. Monson said,  “To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible.  (“School Thy Feelings, O My Brother,” October Conference, 2009)

In the Joseph Smith translation of Ephesians 4:26, Paul asks the question, “Can ye be angry, and not sin?

So, whether the fight with my EC is about something big, or something petty, the moment I feel anger enter into my heart, I know that I am entering a state of sin*. That changes everything.

Suddenly, the issue is not about who is right and who is wrong, it is about how quickly I can humble myself and repent for the sin I have embraced.

I’m 54 years old. I’ve been a husband for almost 30 years, and a father for 28. I know myself pretty well by now. I know exactly when, and what it feels like when anger enters my heart and mind.

• I am aware of it physically – I can feel my body respond – pulse and BP elevate, etc. (And at my age…)

• I can recognize it mentally as the wheels begin to spin faster and the gentleness leaves my voice.

•  I can recognize it spiritually, if I am living in tune, because the Holy Ghost will not hang around with an angry person.

There are times that I notice these transformations and am able to pull back before they manifest themselves. Sadly, there are times when I embrace them and let them take me where they will.

Hulk

But the honest truth is that I do know when anger is bubbling up. At that moment my agency kicks in and I can ignore it, or I can embrace it. That is the moment of truth.

There are some things that can interrupt the process:

Looking deeply into my EC’s eyes and remembering that she is the most important person on the earth to me. (And when I do that I recognize that she sees I am flirting with sin, and that calms me down quickly.)

Distance. Taking a break is helpful for me. Taking a walk or doing something physical can be helpful. But the most helpful break I can take when I am feeling anger coming on, or I have already embraced it is to take a break and get only knees and repent. Because if I am angry at my wife, I am in sin. Even if I am right.

There is an expression that floats around sometimes when talking about marriage: “It is better to be happy, than to be right.” When it involves anger, I believe that saying to be correct. It is better to be repentant, clean and forgiving – happy – than to consider myself the victor of some petty argument.

There is a wonderful preventative measure mentioned in the scriptures. Resisting the urge to be angry is called being “not easily provoked.” And there is a lot of provoking going on in this world, and in our homes.

It comes from a Moroni’s teachings about charity: “And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provokedthinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all thngs, hopeth all things, and endureth all things.” ( Moroni 7:45)

If we ask for charity, and live to deserve it, that specific gift can act as a first line of defense so that anger doesn’t happen. When it does, a happy man (or woman) repents fast, and forgives faster.

The world right now is a seething hotbed of anger. So many people are trying to live Christ-like lives, but we can get so caught up in anger- in sin – that it will bleed into every other area of our lives.

I don’t want to deal with deciding to go to bed angry or not.

I don’t want the “Natural Man” to win, and drag me into sin.

I don’t want to live without the Holy Ghost until the election is over because I am angry about the people and the process.

And I don’t want my lawnmower to explode.

So MY advice to my newlywed kids? Focus on learning how to not get angry – not the sleeping arrangements for after you’ve blown it.

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* There are some who would teach that emotions are neither good nor bad, and that we should embrace and feel anger instead of repressing it.  Dangerous false teachings. One of our purposes on earth is to learn how to deal with our “Natural Man” instincts. If you think that embracing your anger to maintain “emotional integrity” is “honest,” merely substitute the word “lust” for “anger” and see if your theory still holds water.

 

Don’t go to bed angry. OK, go to bed angry. Nevermind, I’m gonna go mow the lawn.Anger is not a new topic for me. If you would like to read any back articles, here are some links:

Anger. We’re in the Wrong Business.”

Temper, Temper.

Anger: Mission Impossible?

Clearing Things Up.”

The Orange Juice Story.”

 

24

Knife in Back

It is inevitable: Some person is going to say something rude, condescending, judgmental, or mean to you. Maybe even today. People can be cruel and thoughtless. Feelings get hurt. If you don’t believe me, hang out on Social Media for a bit – you will read how people have had terrible things said and done to them. You will also find articles and comments about how mean and judgmental people can be. It is all around us on a regular basis.

How do we react when these things come our way? I decided to help. I have taken it upon myself to make a flow chart we can follow when taking offense for something someone says, or does.

All we have to do is start at the top of the chart, and choose our responses. Easy-peasy!

In addition, for your reading pleasure, I have numbered the different steps, and included supporting documentation from prophets and scriptures to back up each step. (You can click on the chart to make it bigger and easier to read.)

Good luck!

Final Flow Chart

 Here is some supporting documentation – there is much more…

*1 Choose to Be Offended

“When we believe or say we have been offended, we usually mean we feel insulted, mistreated, snubbed, or disrespected. And certainly clumsy, embarrassing, unprincipled, and mean-spirited things do occur in our interactions with other people that would allow us to take offense. However, it ultimately is impossible for another person to offend you or to offend me. Indeed, believing that another person offended us is fundamentally false. To be offended is a choice we make; it is not acondition inflicted or imposed upon us by someone or something else.

In the grand division of all of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13–14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of moral agency, the capacity for independent action and choice. Endowed with agency, you and I are agents, and we primarily are to act and not just be acted upon. To believe that someone or something can make us feel offended, angry, hurt, or bitter diminishes our moral agency and transforms us into objects to be acted upon. As agents, however, you and I have the power to act and to choose how we will respond to an offensive or hurtful situation.

“You and I cannot control the intentions or behavior of other people. However, we do determine how we will act. Please remember that you and I are agents endowed with moral agency, and we can choose not to be offended.”

Elder David A. Bednar “And Nothing Shall Offend Them

 

“The Lord said, “Thou mayest choose for thyself.”

I promise you, as you choose not to be offended or ashamed, you will feel His love and approval. You will know that you are becoming more like Him.”

Elder Neil A. Anderson “Never Leave Him.”

 

“It is reported that President Brigham Young once said that, ‘He who takes offense when no offense was intended is a fool, and he who takes offense when offense was intended is usually a fool.’

It was then explained that there are two courses of action to follow when one is bitten by a rattlesnake. One may, in anger, fear, or vengefulness, pursue the creature and kill it. Or he may make full haste to get the venom out of his system. If we pursue the latter course we will likely survive, but if we attempt to follow the former, we may not be around long enough to finish it.

Elder Marion D. Hanks, “Forgiveness: The Ultimate Form of Love.”

*2 Become Angry

“For verily, verily I say unto you, he that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.

Behold, this is not my doctrine, to stir up the hearts of men with anger, one against another; but this is my doctrine, that such things should be done away.” (3 Nephi 11: 29-30)

“Anger is a yielding to Satan’s influence by surrendering our self-control. It is the thought-sin that leads to hostile feelings or behavior. It is the detonator of road rage on the freeway, flare-ups in the sports arena, and domestic violence in homes.

Understanding the connection between agency and anger is the first step in eliminating it from our lives. We can choose not to become angry. And we can make that choice today, right now: “I will never become angry again.” Ponder this resolution.”

Elder Lynn G. Robbins, “Agency & Anger.”

 

*3 Retaliate

“But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheekturn to him the other also.” (Matthew 5:39)

“Finally, be ye all of one mind, having compassion one of another, love as brethren, be pitiful, be courteous: Not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing: but contrariwise blessing; knowing that ye are thereunto called, that ye should inherit a blessing.” (1 Peter 3:8-9)

“The Prophet Joseph Smith demonstrated this courage throughout his life. Though he “suffer[ed] severe persecution at the hands of all classes of men, both religious and irreligious” he did not retaliate or give in to hatred. Like all true disciples of Christ, he stood with the Savior by loving others in a tolerant and compassionate way. That is Christian courage.

When we do not retaliate—when we turn the other cheek and resist feelings of anger—we too stand with the Savior. We show forth His love, which is the only power that can subdue the adversary and answer our accusers without accusing them in return. That is not weakness. That is Christian courage.”

Elder Robert D. Hales, “Christian Courage: The Price of Discipleship.”

 

“Whether accusations, innuendos, aspersions, or falsehoods are whispered or blatantly shouted, the gospel of Jesus Christ reminds us that we are not to retaliate nor contend. “Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath.”

Elder Marvin J. Ashton, “Pure Religion.”

 

*4 Pass Judgement on the Offender (Becoming the Offender)

And now it came to pass that when Jesus had spoken these words he turned again to the multitude, and did open his mouth unto them again, saying: Verily, verily, I say unto you, Judge not, that ye be not judged.

For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

Or how wilt thou say to thy brother: Let me pull the mote out of thine eye—and behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

Thou hypocrite, first cast the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (3 Nephi 14:1-5)

 

“The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Romans, said that those who pass judgment on others are “inexcusable.” The moment we judge someone else, he explained, we condemn ourselves, for none is without sin.”

“This topic of judging others could actually be taught in a two-word sermon. When it comes to hating, gossiping, ignoring, ridiculing, holding grudges, or wanting to cause harm, please apply the following: Stop it!

It’s that simple. We simply have to stop judging others and replace judgmental thoughts and feelings with a heart full of love for God and His children.”

President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Merciful Obtain Mercy.”

*5 Complain About the Offense to Others

“Gossip is the worst form of judging. The tongue is the most dangerous, destructive, and deadly weapon available to man. A vicious tongue can ruin the reputation and even the future of the one attacked. Insidious attacks against one’s reputation, loathsome innuendoes, half-lies about an individual are as deadly as those insect parasites that kill the heart and life of a mighty oak. They are so stealthy and cowardly that one cannot guard against them. As someone has said, “It is easier to dodge an elephant than a microbe.”

President N. Eldon Tanner, “Judge Not, That Ye Be Not Judged.”

“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go andtell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother.” (Matthew 18:15)

“A little tendency to gossip can lead not only to bearing serious false witness, but more often to malicious whispers which, unfortunately, “memory will warehouse as a shout.”

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, “Settle This in Your Hearts.”

*6 Refuse to Forgive

“I the Lord, will forgive whom I will forgive, but of you it is required to forgive all men.” (D&C 64:10)

“Nevertheless, we must let go of our grievances. Part of the purpose of mortality is to learn how to let go of such things. That is the Lord’s way.”  President Deiter F. Uchtdorf, “The Merciful Obtain Mercy.”

“I submit that it takes neither strength nor intelligence to brood in anger over wrongs suffered, to go through life with a spirit of vindictiveness, to dissipate one’s abilities in planning retribution. There is no peace in the nursing of a grudge. There is no happiness in living for the day when you can “get even.”

President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Of You It is Required to Forgive.”

 

*7 Be Held Accountable Before God

“Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.” (D&C 64:9)

“But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14–15.)

*8 Enjoy the Peace of a Personal Victory

“If we can find forgiveness in our hearts for those who have caused us hurt and injury, we will rise to a higher level of self-esteem and well-being. Some recent studies show that people who are taught to forgive become “less angry, more hopeful, less depressed, less anxious and less stressed,” which leads to greater physical well-being. Another of these studies concludes “that forgiveness … is a liberating gift that people can give to themselves.” 

“The Savior has offered to all of us a precious peace through His Atonement, but this can come only as we are willing to cast out negative feelings of anger, spite, or revenge. For all of us who forgive “those who trespass against us,” even those who have committed serious crimes, the Atonement brings a measure of peace and comfort.”

President James E. Faust, “The Healing Power of Forgiveness.”

“There is no peace in reflecting on the pain of old wounds. There is peace only in repentance and forgiveness. This is the sweet peace of the Christ, who said, “blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” (Matt. 5:9.)

President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Of You it is Required to Forgive.”

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65

This is probably, maybe, hopefully the last post about anger for a while.  To loyal readers, I hope that discussing anger has been an interesting process for you, as it has for me, as I work through something that I find challenging.  If you are new to this blog, here are some of the links that led up to this one.  Check out the comments as well.

Temper, Temper
Clearing Things Up
Anger: Mission Impossible?
The Orange Juice Story
The Virtue of Parsley

This post is long. It has to be.

I left off with the big question, “Is the spark of anger a sin?”  I think many of us agree that acting in anger is a sin, and dwelling on angry thoughts is a sin, but what about the “spark,” the inception?

–Before proceeding, I need to clearly state that I personally believe that a current teaching that is floating around the pop-psychology world, and making in-roads into the Church is blatantly false, and spiritually dangerous. The teaching is the idea that emotions are neither good, nor bad, they are merely “neutral information” that we need to process – hence, you should allow yourself to feel the emotion, and not repress it in order to maintain your “integrity.”

Nonsense. I defy anyone to tell me that the emotion of love I feel towards my EC is not good. I also defy anyone to justify that feeling lust towards some lady I see is “neutral information,’ and not bad. How do I know this?  God said.  I refuse to justify my struggles with putting off the ‘Natural Man’ by pretending good and evil do not exist within me.  I know there are those of you who disagree. All I can say is that if you can find a single theological justification for this concept, I can cite you back a thousand quotes and scriptures that teach just the opposite.

I do understand why that concept would be attractive. It lessens guilt, as it removes a major, difficult struggle that we all contend with. Please be careful, and walk, don’t run from any teaching that tells you not to worry about things the Lord has told you to avoid.

— OK, I’m back.  Sorry, that kind of stuff really “pushes my buttons.” I need to work on that.

Quickly: I am proceeding with the resolve that feeling a spark of anger is a sin.  Why? Two quick quotes:

President Thomas S. Monson: “To be angry is to yield to the influence of Satan. No one can make us angry. It is our choice. If we desire to have a proper spirit with us at all times, we must choose to refrain from becoming angry. I testify that such is possible.”  (“School Thy Feelings, O My Brother,” October Conference, 2009)

Elder Lynn Robbins: “Understanding the connection between agency and anger is the first step from eliminating it from our lives. We can choose not to become angry. And we can make that choice today, right now: “I will never become angry again.” Ponder this resolution.” (“Agency and Anger,” April Conference, 2008)

Feel free to read these quotes again, or the entire talks they come from. Both can be life-altering.

The prophet says that getting angry is our choice. The prophets, and the Lord also teach us that this is not just an issue of emotion, it is an issue of agency. (That was the point of my orange juice story.)

So, the way my brain, and my heart, process this, is that if I use my agency to choose what God has deemed wrong, is a sin. (That was a long way to go to tell you what you already knew I thought.)

Therefore…from this point on, I will proceed with the following stipulations:

1) Anger is a sin – all three forms:  The spark, the fuse, and the explosion.
2) It is an issue of agency. We chose to be angry – or not.
3) It is possible to “never become angry again.”

(I might need to go take a nap now…)

That’s a pretty high bar that’s been set, isn’t it? Never get angry? Yet I believe it is possible.  Why? Because I have achieved it. Yes, that’s right, I, MMM, have experienced the ability to completely excise anger from my life, to the point where not even the spark could ignite. Impressed?  Don’t be.

Twice. It happened twice. (That I can think of.) Oh no, it is not a current, or frequent state of being for me. But it did happen!  Two quick stories:

Story #1  When I was called to serve as a bishop, the week preceding the call, and the week after, were two of the most spiritually intense periods of time that I have ever experienced.  There was a little problem with timing.  When I was set apart, the very next day my family and I left on a week-long vacation that had already been planned, and paid for.

After the vacation, my EC asked FOML#1, “Does Dad seem any different, now that he is the bishop.”  My daughter responded by saying, “Yes, he is different. We went on vacation for an entire week, and he never got mad at anyone.” (This is a far greater feat than you might think.)

Story #2  One time FOML#1 (again) borrowed my truck for a road-trip and promptly plowed it into the back of a semi-truck – full speed on the freeway.  We were terrified. When we were able to talk to her she was worried about the truck, and terribly apologetic. I could not have cared less about the truck at that moment, and told her so – I was worried about my girl.  I never gave it much thought, but apparently she did. A little later, she thanked me for not getting mad at her. I was surprised, because it had never even crossed my mind to get angry. I guess that spark could have had an excuse to be lit – but it wasn’t.

In both instances, my mind, heart and disposition were such that the expected sparks never lit – and sadly, it was so out-of-character that even my loved ones noticed. But the anger-sparking mechanism was effectively suppressed. It wasn’t that I felt anger, but did a better job dealing with it – it was that I did not have angry thoughts.

Why?  What had changed?  I think these two stories exemplify two concepts that can make the seemingly impossible, possible.

1)The presence of the Holy Ghost, and 2) The gift of charity.

A scripture from Moroni about charity: Moroni 7:45 And charity suffereth long, and is kind, and envieth not, and is not puffed up, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, and rejoiceth not in iniquity but rejoiceth in the truth, beareth all things, believeth all thngs, hopeth all things, and endureth all things.

I don’t know if Moroni could do bold text with metalwork tools, so I took the liberty of highlighting terms in this verse that I think have a direct application to anger.  Yes, most of his definition of charity is included.

It would seem that having charity in our hearts can turn off our natural response mechanisms. This is one of the goals of earth life, right? I think we would all agree that anger is a natural human response.

Mosiah 319:  “For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be forever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him…”

(Again, I took the liberty of bolding some things that have direct application to anger, and again, most of the scripture is anti-anger)

What do we do with “natural” responses? We put them off. We don’t embrace them, evaluate them, and coddle them. We trust the power of the Holy Ghost to help us get rid of them and become more saint-like.

Remember a long time ago, at the beginning of the post I mentioned that something “pushes my buttons?”  We use that term a lot to describe how certain things and people seem to have an ability to trigger the spark of anger in our hearts. Some people are really, really good at it – often the people we love most.

We spend a lot of time as saints, and as a society, figuring out ways to handle the results of those buttons being pushed. That’s what anger-management is. We work hard to control our actions, our reactions, our words, our aggression, all based on handling the response to our buttons being pushed. It is a huge expenditure of our emotional energy.

Maybe we are in the wrong business.  Perhaps, instead of being in the “Button Suppression Business,” we need to be in the “Button Removal Business.” If we get rid of those buttons, nobody can find them to push them. If nobody can find them to push them, then we don’t need to deal with our reactions, because there aren’t any!

In my experience, we spend way more time in thought, prayer, and counseling trying to overcome the way we respond to our buttons being pushed than we do in trying to remove those very buttons. I know I have prayed more for the Lord to help me CONTROL my temper than I have for Him to REMOVE my temper. But, as we discussed, it is possible to remove those buttons.

How? The Holy Ghost can change our hearts and remove those buttons. The gift of charity can soften our hearts and change our view of those around us. That is the only way I can see how following Elder Robbin’s challenge is remotely possible.

Here’s a big question:  Do we have enough faith in the sanctifying power of the Holy Ghost that we believe he can re-wire our minds an hearts so that thoughts of anger, pride, lust, envy no longer occur? Or do we think His power to sanctify us is limited? It is one or the other.

Now I’m not saying we don’t need to keep working on controlling our responses, but we need to give equal time to button removal.  Here’s a couple of tips from Mormon and Moroni:
But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.  Wherefore my beloved brethren, pray unto the Father will all the energy of heart, that ye may be filled with this love which he has bestowed upon all who are true followers of his Son Jesus Christ. (Moroni 7:46-47)

And…

After the remission of sins bringeth meekness and lowliness of heart; and because of the meekness and lowliness of heart cometh the visitation of the Holy Ghost, which Comforter filleth with hope and perfect love, which love endureth by diligence unto prayer… (Moroni 8:26)

The button removal process, as I see it, is this.

1) Repent and be baptized. Weekly if necessary through the sacrament.
2) Gain and keep the companionship of the Holy Ghost.
3) Pray specifically for charity. Not once, but continually.
4) Let the Spirit do the heavy lifting as it strives to remodel our hearts.

I have met many people who have seemed to let go of their “buttons” as they have gotten older and wiser. I don’t know if it is from wisdom gained, or spiritual refinement. I think the latter. I do know, from my personal experience, that those buttons can be removed, or disabled – temporarily or permanently – if we have the Spirit with us, and pure love in our hearts.

It is possible to remove those buttons, because with God, all things are possible.

26

I was ready for departure. My seatbelt was fastened. My seatback and tray table were in their upright and locked positions. My backpack was stowed underneath the seat in front of me. My electronics were turned off.

I was ready to go.

The pocket in front of me held a paperback novel, my iPod, noise-reduction headphones, sleep goggles, and a bottle of water. My backpack held snacks, and my laptop.

I was prepared.

My shoes were already off, and I was wearing comfy socks. As was my custom (read here), I was wearing my BYU t-shirt. For pants I was wearing some loose, comfortable khakis.

I was comfortable.

The reason I needed to be ready, prepared, and comfortable is that I was on my way to Africa – and it is a long trip. The flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg is the third-longest commercial flight in operation.

17 hours. No layovers, no changing planes. 17 hours in one seat. Luckily I got an aisle seat, but it was still coach.

The lady sitting next to me in the center seat was not as prepared as I was. She was trying to get her things put away and fasten her seatbelt with one hand. The other hand held a large orange juice that she had brought on board from the McDonalds in the concourse.

She was flustered, so I offered her the use of my tray table while she got her things together. She set the orange juice down, and finished up.  She sat back in her seat and sighed. We introduced each other and exchanged pleasantries. If you are going to be sitting next to someone for 17 hours, it is wise to get off to a good start. She was a bit older than me, but not elderly, and she was friendly.

She noticed her orange juice was still on my tray table and thanked me. Somehow as she reached for it, she caught her sleeve on the corner of the table – it flipped it up – just enough to dump the entire contents of the orange juice cup into my lap. All of it.

Unable to jump up, or do anything quickly, I could feel the orange juice seep into my pants, and beneath.  I glanced over at the lady – she was aghast. She sat there motionless with her hand covering her mouth. I felt bad for her.

I picked up the cup, put up my tray table, and undid my seatbelt. As I stood up, I expected to see a puddle of juice on my seat – but there wasn’t one. Apparently my khakis and underwear were very absorbent. I looked over at the lady again and she was still frozen in place with tears in her eyes.  I told her “It’s OK, it was an accident. I’m going to go see if I can get this cleaned up.”

As I went to the rear of the plane to the bathroom, the aisle was blocked by a very stern flight attendant. “Sir, you are going have to return to your seat – we are about ready to take off.”

“Look,” I said, motioning to my crotch. I looked like a 3 year-old that had had an accident. She understood. “Oh no! Go ahead, but you only have a minute. Hurry.”

I went into the bathroom grabbed as many paper towels as I could and dropped my pants. I soaked up what I could (not much) and rinsed off what I could, (not much) in the brief time before the flight attendant started knocking and telling me it was time for take-off.

I pulled up my pants, rinsed my hands and went back to my seat. This was going to be a long, sticky flight.

The orange juice lady had regained some composure, and when I sat down she immediately apologized again. I told her it was OK.

Then she said something that really caught me off guard. “Thank you so much for not getting mad at me.”  I reiterated that I knew it was an accident, and that I was fine.

As we began to taxi, I mulled over what she had said. It was true. I had not gotten angry with her – it hadn’t even crossed my mind. Things had happened so quickly that I really hadn’t had time.

Then another thought crossed my mind, and I chuckled to myself, “If that had been one of my kids, or my wife, I would have let them have it.”

Then I stopped chuckling – because it was true: Had it been my wife, or one of my kids – the people that I love most in this life – I would have unloaded on them. Yet this complete stranger got a pass.

The flight was going to be long.

And sticky.

And pensive.