I’m just now getting to Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead. I’m only twenty or so pages in and I have already tasted its power. She begins the book writing as a dying father to a son, and one particular section of the father’s letter resonated in me:
“A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine.”
My mother’s father was a preacher, and my father’s father was, too, and his father before him, and before that, nobody knows, but I wouldn’t hesitate to guess. That life was second nature to them, just as it is to me. They were fine people, but if there was one thing I should have learned from them and did not learn, it was to control my temper. This is wisdom I should have attained a long time ago. Even now, when a flutter of my pulse makes me think of final things, I find myself losing my temper, because a drawer sticks or because I’ve misplaced my glasses. I tell you so that you can watch for this in yourself.
A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine. Above all, mind what you say. “Behold how much wood is kindled by how small a fire, and the tongue is a fire”–that’s the truth. [New York, NY: Picador, 2004), 6]
I don’t know what it is about age, but as I get older I feel the coals of anger burn brighter within. Some friends and I were talking the other day and they agreed. Glad to know I’m not alone.
Usually its small things: spilt coffee, looking for one book in a stack of books and not finding the one I’m looking for till I pick up the last one, an interruption, and those kinds of things. Sadly, in my worst moments, where it is not just me all by my lonesome mumbling at my computer that isn’t doing what I want it to, it’s toward my family.
Now, I don’t mean to blame a surge in anger on my age or on small unasked for circumstances, nor do I mean to turn this blog into a journal entry. I simply want to echo this fictional father’s advice to those who will listen, “A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine.”
Being a grumpy old man is not cute. And becoming one of the world’s many grumpy old men begin with being a grumpy young man. One of the things the apostle Paul told young Timothy, his son in the faith, to pursue was peace, and one can’t pursue peace and stay angry very long.
So, take watch over your heart, and when you find a little too much anger simmering there–flee it, for when unwatched it grows, and start pursuing peace (2 Tim. 2:22). Furthermore, recognize that the best way to pursue peace is by pursuing the person of Jesus who is our peace (Eph. 2:14) and redeems and forgives the angry.