Did you successfully complete your humility challenge last week? Did you apologize to someone? Did you have a friendly debate? If so, I’ll bet it tested your patience. It sure did mine.
Therefore this week’s “V” topic is how to use the virtue of patience to overcome the vice of wrath. Developing the “patience of a saint” to avoid the “wrath of God.”
Wrath is angry, violent, or stern indignation. Anger, rage, fury, outrage, displeasure, annoyance, irritation, ire, madness. Until thinking about this vice in more depth I equated anger with wrath. In fact, I usually used the word anger instead of wrath in my talks since it is the more relatable term. Upon further review though, I see a very important difference.
In my daily bible reading I came across a verse that had never stuck out to me before. It states, “Be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). Apparently anger alone is not a sin. Makes sense now that I think about it. Jesus was sinless yet he got angry a few times as I recall. Like overturning the money changer’s tables in the temple. Or calling the religious leaders of the time hypocrites quite often.
Jesus’ anger was righteous indignation at sin that was being committed. Of course he was angry at the sin, not the sinner. He obviously showed great love for the sinner. We are called to do the same, to be angry at the sin we see in the world. That anger is designed to spur us to action to avoid sin ourselves, and to not put up with it in others as well.
But we must take care to hate the sin, but love the sinner. To judge not, lest we be judged. Remember, He will forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.
So what exactly is the deadly sin of wrath then? Anger directed at a person is wrath. And anger that is generated by something other than a sin is wrath. Well technically maybe it’s not wrath unless you act out in some way. But even just feeling angry is detrimental to your spiritual, mental, and physical health.
Here is my personal wrath test. When I am feeling annoyed, disturbed, upset, disappointed, or angry about something I ask myself:
Is this feeling the result of a sin that has been committed by myself or someone else?
If you allow yourself to get angry about situations that should just be forgotten, you risk being upset and unhappy most of your life. Why would we do that to ourselves? But many of us do.
Similarly, even when there is a good reason to be upset, if you don’t take some action to alleviate the pain, you are at high risk of letting your anger fester and grow into wrath, hate, and rage.
Usually it is so very easy to get over our anger. It involves two simple steps; forgiveness and gratitude. Forgive yourself or the offending party. Remember what really matters and be thankful for all the good in your life.
Here are a few hypothetical situations to illustrate the wrath test:
Situation 1 – Your spouse has the television remote control. You are enjoying watching a recorded show together. She, oops, I mean they keep forgetting to fast forward through the commercials. You politely remind her, ah, them several times but it keeps happening.
Test – Are you annoyed? Yep. Angry? Getting there with each commercial break. Is it a sin not to fast forward? I guess not … okay, definitely not. Did you manage to keep your mouth shut and just go with the flow? Amazingly yes. Nice work, no wrath…this time. Keep up the great work, that takes true patience. Maybe the patience of a Saint? Not really…but it’s a start.
Situation 2 – You are driving and approaching an intersection as the light turns green. As you are about to pass through you notice that a cross-traffic driver is speeding through their formerly yellow, now very red light. You slam on the brakes to avoid a collision. The driver of the other car honks and makes an obscene gesture at you. Seriously?!
Test – Are you angry? YES! Was a sin committed? Yes, wrath was directed at you. So you can be rightfully angry at the sin, but what are you going to do about it? Don’t react with your own wrath. Instead, say a quick prayer for the other driver to get over their wrath and to arrive safely at their destination. Forgive them. And also be thankful that there was no accident. That you are both okay and you don’t have to go through the hassle an accident brings with it. Nice job, you avoided turning your anger into wrath and showed love for your neighbor.
I could go on with examples for days. In fact, a friend and I often joke about starting a daily podcast where we talk about things that annoy us. We invite the audience to call in to do the same. We allow them to vent about their situation and provide some useful advice. But mainly we respond by telling them how trivial their problem is and by giving them a much bigger one to think about. Kind of a feel good by knowing how much worse it could be type of show. We’re still working on the title. Got any suggestions?
Here’s a recent relevant example. Protests and riots. Protests are ideally a response to the sins of others. According to the test, if the sins are real, the anger and protests are justified. But if they become riots where property is destroyed and people are hurt, the actions have crossed over to the deadly sin of wrath. Peaceful protests demonstrate the virtue of patience.
Patience is the capacity to endure pain, difficulty, provocation, or annoyance with calm. Tolerance, restraint, composure, indulgence, resoluteness, fortitude, serenity, stamina. Think before you act or react. Serenity now.
I thought about becoming a doctor but I have no patience…or is that patients. Sorry, bad old joke. But truly, I struggle with consistently demonstrating patience. And I know exactly why. Expectations. How I set them in my head occasionally sets me up for impatience. Here’s an example.
Do you like to fish? I can’t stand it. I have no patience for it. Why? My expectation is to catch fish, and many of them quickly. I want the result, not the experience. My results orientation and unrealistic fishing expectations creates my impatience. So I choose not to participate in order to not annoy myself and others.
By contrast, those who truly enjoy fishing love the whole experience, not just the catching part. Their expectation is to relax in nature and maybe catch a few fish. The only thing that could make them impatient is fishing with someone like me.
Managing your expectations will help you to become significantly more patient. Here’s how it works. Whenever you set out to do something, imagine the best possible outcome. Then develop a plan to achieve that outcome. But also think briefly about all the things that could go wrong along the way. Now go forward with your plan expecting the best, yet being aware of and mentally prepared for the worst. Prepare for the worst, but expect the best.
For example, every time I drive I expect people to obey the laws and to be courteous. But I drive defensively knowing that will not always be the case. When something goes wrong I am then mentally prepared, and therefore more apt to be patient.
You can use this patience strategy on anything that could potentially annoy you. That’s your challenge for the week. List all of those things. Then pick one to work at. Personally, I’m going to give Melanie full control of the television remote for a week. I declare this “Patience of a Saint” week. Take care to not let your anger become wrath. Remember, patience is a virtue.
One last note. Do not use the managing expectations strategy to reduce your anger about sinful acts. Instead, channel that justifiable anger into redoubling your efforts in striving to become the saint you are meant to be. And to show others the way.
And one last time, always remember to hate the sin, but love the sinner, including yourself, as God does for us.
Godspeed (which is an expression of good wishes to a person starting a journey, a patience journey in this case), Scott