The Effects of Anger
I came across a story recently while cleaning out some files. I have no idea who the author is. I suspect this came in an email with no indication as to who wrote it.
There was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and a hammer and told him that every time he lost his temper he was to hammer a nail in the back fence.
The first day the boy drove 37 nails into the fence. Day by day the number dwindled as he discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into that fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all. When he told his father about it, the father suggested the boy pull out a nail for each day he was able to control his temper. The days passed, and the boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence.
He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. This fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger they leave scars, just like these. If you stick a knife in someone and draw it out, no matter how many times you say, ‘I’m sorry,’ the wound is still there. A verbal wound can be as bad as a physical one.”
A wise father! He taught his son a valuable lesson, one we can all profit from. I believe angry words have torn apart more families, more business relationships, more friendships—more churches—than any other force. And as the father pointed out to his son, the wounds can be impossible to heal.
James understood the power of temper. His metaphors for the trouble an angry tongue can cause are spot on. As one little spark can ignite a huge fire, as a small rudder can turn a much larger ship, as a small bit in a horse’s mouth can make it do the rider’s bidding, so can the tongue change the course of affairs—for good or evil.
Most of us don’t have a fence we can hammer nails into. Especially if we live in close quarters with our neighbors such a practice might not be convenient or welcome; but we can do two things to control our tempers. First, we can erect a mental fence, and see ourselves pounding in a nail whenever the temptation strikes to let our anger loose. The time it takes to visualize that fence might prevent us from saying something we will regret.
Second—and infinitely more important—we can make our temper a matter of prayer. We should begin praying about our anger issues when they are not imminent. Daily prayer asking for God’s help to curb our temper is hugely beneficial. The more we pray the more God will give us strength to resist setting the spark that will ignite a destructive fire. Also, if we pray about our anger issues when they are not an issue, we will be more likely to ask God for help when they threaten to become an issue.
Paul also understood the power of the tongue to cause trouble. He often listed anger along with murder and adultery as sinful behaviors. In his letter to the Ephesians (4:31-32) his instructions are even more pointed.
“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”