The trouble with rage

In the process of preparing myself for a Jesuit lifestyle, I’ve started trying to integrate not only more prayer in my day, but specifically Ignatian types of prayer. One of my favorites is the examen. In short, the examen is a type of prayer that lets you focus on this specific day of your life, being thankful to God for it, and then processing it moment by moment looking for your strengths and weaknesses. (Here is a more thorough explanation.)

In doing the examen, even with my horrible irregularity, I’ve noticed that it’s not hard for me to pick out a lot of sinfulness. In fact, on any average day I’d say I could take down 5 of the 7 deadly sins (in thought if not in action). It’s not something I’m proud of, quite the contrary. It’s a difficult thing to face each time I do it, but each examen brings a new opportunity to change and grow. That’s what it’s all about, right?

But that’s not what this post is all about. This post is about something else, something I wasn’t expecting in these last few weeks. I’ve been putting off writing this post specifically because in my recent examen experiences I’ve noticed a new sin brewing in me. Wrath.

I’m not a hateful person, and though I enjoy awesome, mindless action films like the next guy, and though I really enjoy fantasy novels and role playing games, I am not an altogether violent person. I’m find martial arts fascinating, the art of fencing, in particular, but not for its violence as much as its skill and technique. It’s the same with shooting; I enjoy it for the meditative focus and skill, not for the violence.

The past few weeks, though, I’ve been having a lot of trouble with truly violent, angry feelings. It’s all wrapped up in the drama of this latest move to Pennsylvania. I hired a local mover to take my things up here, and it’s turned quite disastrous. I’d rather not go into details since it only seems to rile me up. Needless-to-say, the movers have been the target of all that rage.

Now I know it doesn’t help anything to be so angry. I’m not making the situation better and I’m certainly not making myself feel any better. In fact, all that anger inevitably turns itself inward and gives me a big stomach ache.

When I was younger, I didn’t have any control over it, and I would lash out, speak out, get into fights, or any number of destructive things. As I got older I learned to hold back, but not in a healthy way. Like many people, it became natural to just bottle it up and press it down, smothering the anger with self control. It seems like a functional method at first glance, but it has its cost. All that rage doesn’t just go away when I hold it in. Like any strong emotion bottled up, it eats at you from the inside. Bottled up worry gave my mom ulcers. Not good stuff. There’s also the matter of what happens when the feelings boil over. What happens when you can hold any more inside? I think we’ve all experienced explosions like that before.

The past couple weeks have had me trying new things with my anger. I tried praying about it in my normal ways, but the emotions kept me from focusing. So I tried saying the Rosary and actually found some decent relief in it. It’s like my spiritual director in Atlanta told me not so long ago, when you don’t have the energy to pray anything else, sometimes a memorized prayer is exactly what you need.

I’ll keep doing what I can to let the feelings pass back out of me. I keep telling them they’re not welcome here anymore. Anger is stubborn, though. It doesn’t like to listen to logic.