My anger antennas are rattled when I have to wait in lengthy queues or when confronted by bad service at a restaurant. They quiver when that driver in traffic rudely cuts in and as fellow moms will attest, when the inevitable run-ins with cantankerous baby sitters takes its toll.
It takes a different angle when the antagonist has a name and a face that I have to look at every so often…then it will depend: is it a minor or a major offense? Are they first time offenders or repeat offenders?
The heat is turned up a few notches higher when I have to deal with the latter. Yes, those people whom I let off the hook the first, second and third time and they still manage to rub me off the wrong way. How much patience can one have? They that give those halfhearted apologies that really don’t meet the threshold of being sorry. Those that ignite the anger pot, allow it to cool with or without making amends, only to take it back to boiling point again!
Not so long ago a sermon on anger, reminded me of a recent experience with a multiple offender.
This offender had said some degrading words to me. Corrupting words that had several connotations and inspired a cocktail of emotions within me. Curious words that implied there being a fault with my appearance and refuted the truth that, I hold, that I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Careless words that purported to cast aspersions as to the wellness of my mental and physical health. Empty words that my mind replayed over and over again, for days!
In those few days, misery knew me by name. I could not eat or sleep without undertaking a futile mind exercise to implore into the meaning and implication of each venom laced word. For every analysis, I had opened a red mental file which I was carefully filing every thought and accusation. First point on record was that my offender was an acclaimed Christian. “Really! I thought “All those years as a Christian and you are that tactless in basic conversation?” I seethed in the safe confines of my mind. “What a fraud, a hypocrite, a liar and a _” I went on and on leaving no detail out of my record. “Then surely, at that age, you should have known one or two things about thinking before speaking…” I added scornfully. My file was getting heavier by the day but I was determined to see to the logical conclusion of this matter! I diligently compiled this damning evidence, hell-bent on building a rock solid case for which I would claim a hefty compensation.
Of course, there was my most prized fact- a non-repentant repeat offender! I had actually been on this person’s receiving end twice previously. “Go get me those files”, I ordered my faithful ‘brain-archives elves’ never-mind that my offender had been ‘forgiven’ for past offences, the files closed and archived. You see, we are not dealing with a novice here, this one seemed to have mastered the art of stabbing, and driving word-daggers ever so slowly, into their victim’s heart while twisting them and looking straight into their eyes. The old files were brought to me and slowly dusting off the covers, I opened the files and studied them, furiously taking notes of the previous offences, charges levelled, and penalty delivered.
“What was the judge thinking in issuing such light penalties to such heinous crimes and on the basis of vague defenses such as ‘no offense was meant’, and “surely they are Christian and meant no harm” Unbelievable! “No, these must be appealed and prosecuted afresh!” “They had gotten off too easily…” I shook my head resolutely as I eagerly went on to prepare comprehensive submissions. I had been aggrieved. This person owes me and they must pay! I need an apology and not just any apology. An apology generated from a point of abject shame, presented by the offender in sackcloth, ashes on their face, crawling down on their knees and begging for mercy. And I, on the judge’s seat relishing the scene before me up until such a point when I would deem my anger satisfied. This was my idea of perfect justice. “Now, how do we achieve this?”
The following few days with are laden with my frenzied attempts to beat an imaginary deadline to achieve my desired justice. I obsessively edited and re-edited the submissions and with each passing day, the heat brewing within me was gradually growing to toxic levels. Rendering me a battery of nerves. I was a smoldering volcano waiting to erupt. At the same time, in my daily conversations with Jesus, there was no mistaking the elephant looming large in the room- the precious file clutched tightly against my chest. This situation made me uncomfortable, to suffocating levels, stole the joy of my treasured moments with Jesus and of course with others. All the while Jesus being the perfect gentleman was waiting for me to hand in my file and trust him to be the Judge. But I was trying to convince Him to ‘trust me’ instead, to finish what I had started. “I have worked so hard on it Jesus, it is actually an open and shut case that am sure to win”, I pleaded. Of course I was sure to win because I was multitasking as the Star Witness, the Prosecutor, the Judge and the Executioner in this case. My offender had no defense and if they dared raise one, I had my gavel raised ready to overrule it! They did not stand a chance.
I reasoned with Jesus that indeed it is prudent to overlook an offense where none is intended, but what do I do when the offense is intended? Surely, I had the right of reply from my offender on exactly what they meant and a right to lay down the foundation of a high wall between them and myself. This had to be done for boundaries to be respected and for peace to prevail in our unavoidable future interactions.
Those were few but hellish days. I could not believe how much thought I had given to my antagonist. I reasoned, “The matter is too trivial to have such an overbearing effect on me.” Admittedly, it was my pride that was wounded. I was coming my senses, I thought, until I saw my antagonist a few days later and my festering sore was split open. Seemingly unaware of the murder charge pending in court against them, the accused person pranced around like they didn’t have a noose around their neck. Looking at them, unchristian thoughts erupted out of my mind like ants from a can and I had to firmly hold down the lid to secure them in. My conscience was darkened yet there they were, smiling at the sun and appearing to be at peace with their world while mine was smoking from the ravages of the volcano that had just exploded! They might as well have been pouring petrol on it as I helplessly watched.
I realized that I had become a creditor at the mercy of her debtor! An innocent person imprisoned while the actual felon was running around scot-free! It was not fair. I had all the evidence sufficient to lock them up for a long time, yet here I was, the one behind bars in black and white stripped pajamas.
I knew right then that something had to be done and it began with a confession. My confidant pointed me to the place I knew to go from the beginning but had lacked the will to go. I picked up the heavy file held it close to my heart and began the not-so-long trek to Calvary. I was exhausted from the burden of my file and had barely enough energy to walk let alone speak. My tears ran freely when I saw Him waiting for me, at the foot of the old rugged cross. Yes, He was there, always had been, always will be. Looking tenderly at my tear drenched face and the sheer bulk of my file, my Lord started, “What needless pain you have borne my child…” My feet could no longer hold me but He caught me before I could hit the ground and gathered me in a warm embrace. The familiar warmth and peace I knew so well, slowly enveloped my senses, as I wondered why I had not come sooner.
Jesus then sat me down and played one of our personal all time favorite songs, “forgiveness” by Matthew West, gently reminding me of the far that we can come together-my Jesus and I. He expressed his unwavering love for me and reminded me that together we can overcome anything that comes my way. Reminding me that the cross was built for such and heavier burdens and therefore I should never bear unnecessary loads by myself. As I gazed into His glorious face, a smile broke on my lips and all I could say was thank-you Jesus!
Right then, I looked at my file, now harmlessly lying on the ground beside me and let out a quiet laugh! What was I losing my mind about? With no hesitation and with a measure of detachment, I handed the wretched file to the perfect Judge Jesus. He is the one who, once and for all, paid not only my debt but also the debt of my antagonist! It was surprising to learn from Jesus that, while my offender owed me an apology, I owed them forgiveness! Jesus lovingly told me that he had forgiven the both of us. I was free and so were they!
Relief mingled with joy washed down on me like healing rain to a drought-ravaged land. What was dark and bleak was now bathed in radiating sunshine and I could hear little birds singing sweet melody in my ears. The old prison gates creaked open as the prisoner finally walked out of her self-inflicted bondage into freedom! I looked into my hands, they held a bunch of keys, keys to every prison that I might be lured to, Jesus had said. I looked at the gleaming silver key written, forgiveness and could not stop smiling…I still smile when I look at it now.