The well-tempered person

Controlling anger is a big issue for many people. “I’ll admit it,” they say. “I have a real temper.” But they’re mistaken. The problem is they have not been tempered enough.

“Tempering” is a process that increases strength and elasticity. The word is usually used in reference to glass or steel, but can describe an analogous process in people. A well-tempered person does not break under pressure; does not give up in despair or lash out in anger.

One of a parent’s main child-rearing duties is to temper the child: to train the child to keep on trying when things are tough and to remain calm when emotions are strained. Not surprisingly, this training tests the temper of the parent, and parents who have not been properly tempered themselves may give up in despair or lash out in anger.

A failure in tempering can continue for generations. It shows up in individuals and families who cannot face difficulties without caving in or adversaries without blowing up. The results – a long line of broken marriages, neglected children and failed careers – are a sad testament to the importance of tempering.

Anger is one result of a failure to temper oneself and one’s children. It is self-perpetuating. Anger begets anger, not just in the heat of a moment between adversaries, but from generation to generation within families. People who struggle with anger frequently have parents who had the same issues.

The Apostle Paul described anger memorably as the devil’s foothold. Knowing the dangers it presents, he warned, “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger…”

In commenting on this text, preachers often point out that anger is not, in itself, a sin, and they’re right. Anger isn’t necessarily a sin, just as fire isn’t necessarily destructive. But just as one shouldn’t go around lighting fires in the house, one shouldn’t go around pouring out anger on the family. Anger is a fire, and some people carry a veritable flame-thrower around their homes, torching relationships and wreaking destruction.

Anger keeps bad company with filthy language (both profanity and hurtful, damaging words), malice, gossip and strife. Anger has ravaged families all over the world, including those that consider themselves religious, and left them with constant strife, ugly words, and an alarming readiness to inflict pain.

When we are initially made to face our anger, our first step is usually not to abandon it but to justify it. “I have good reasons for being angry,” we say, and will explain them to anyone who will listen. But who cares to listen? Everyone has their own reasons for being angry. What we need is a reason to stop being angry.

The Bible offers many such reasons: For one, anger does not bring about the righteous life God desires or, for that matter, the happy life we desire. In fact it militates against it. Anger damages the soul. It leads to evil. It hurts others. It causes a person to act in ways he or she will later regret. And it leaves the angry person subject to judgment – both human and divine.

But if a person was not effectively tempered as a child, and struggles with despair and/or anger now, is there anything that can be done? Yes. First, get serious. People don’t overcome anger issues by accident. Unless you intend to be different, you will not be different. Take responsibility for your anger, resolutely choose not to act out of it, and tell others of your choice.

Then, get spiritual: turn to God and ask for help. Talk about your anger with a pastor. Pray daily, even hourly, for grace to overcome it. Practice appropriate spiritual disciplines.

Finally, get practical. Get advice from people who’ve been through it. Ask a friend to hold you accountable. Read up on the subject. See a counselor. And when you fail (and you will), start over. Tempering is a process, so give yourself time. Just don’t give excuses.

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 1/23/2015

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