Ephesians 4: 25 – 5:2 The Short Fuse You Can Choose to Lose August 8, 2021


The Short Fuse You Can Choose to Lose

Ephesians 4: 25 – 5:2


During the 1980s and early 1990s, I was what people today call a stay-at-home mom.  With three young children at home, my life was mostly about doing things with the kids: building with Legos, going to story hour at the library, organizing play dates, and of course, laundry, laundry, laundry.  Every day by 5:00 I was tired and ready for a break.  So I was glad to turn on the TV to public television. As I cooked dinner, I would eavesdrop as the kids watched “Misterogers’ Neighborhood.”


Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister who used television brilliantly to help young children cope with the ups and downs of life.  Millions of youngsters learned to handle difficult emotions by watching his show.  Millions of parents listened along with their kids as Rogers or one of his puppets sang about fear, or sadness, or anger.


Maybe you were one of those youngsters or one of those parents.  Maybe you remember a song that began like this, “What do you do with the mad that you feel, when you feel so mad you could bite?”  Rogers encouraged children to talk about feelings like anger, to put their feelings into words.  He helped children express emotions in appropriate ways.  Rogers believed that talking was important.  He said, “If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.”  He believed that it’s better to talk about angry feelings than to let them smolder inside.


Our New Testament passage for today, from Ephesians, also offers some help for dealing with anger.  Paul wrote this letter to the new Christian community in the city of Ephesus.  Men and women there were on fire with the message of Jesus Christ.  They wanted to follow in Jesus’ loving ways.  But they were not finding it easy to live together, in loving ways, as a church.  Even though they were inspired by Jesus to treat one another with love, they continued to struggle with all kinds of human emotions.


In the letter, Paul says that following Jesus doesn’t mean you never get angry.  But following Jesus does mean that you don’t let your anger get the better of you.  The New English Bible has a colorful way of saying this: “If you are angry, do not let anger lead you into sin…leave no loophole for the devil.”  Just being angry, just feeling anger, is not the problem.  All of us are angry at times.  But, if we want to live by the loving ways of Jesus, we can’t let anger make us do things that hurt others or ourselves.


So how do you handle those angry feelings when they come?  Maybe you have a short fuse, like the father of one little boy.  The boy’s family often took car trips together, and the father usually drove.  But one day the father stayed home and the boy went out riding in the car with his mother.  After a few miles, the boy became puzzled because it was so quiet in the car.  He turned to his mother and asked her, “Mommy, why do the idiots only come out when Daddy drives?”


Like that father, you might have a short fuse.  Or you might go to the other extreme.  Maybe you’re not the type to push back when somebody pushes your buttons.  So you hold the anger inside.  You’re fuming, but you keep it all to yourself.  Instead of letting it out, you seethe and simmer and sit on your anger.


Kathleen Norris writes about what happened when she held anger inside.  In her book, Amazing Grace, she describes the fury she felt when she was treated badly as a teenager.  It was her first day in a new school.  She was hoping to meet some new friends, but in the hallway outside the classroom she overheard some girls talking about her in the nasty way that teenage girls can talk sometimes.  She writes, “they busily dissected me.”  They made fun of her hair, her weight, her shoes, her clothes, her voice, everything about her.

Norris was hurt, but she decided not to confront them.  Instead of tackling the problem head-on, she kept her anger to herself.  She writes, “I refused to let my enemies know – already they had become my enemies – how deeply they had wounded me.  But the emotional armor that I had to [put on] in order to enter that classroom became a chip on my shoulder, and a resolve to endure whatever my classmates could dish out.”


Norris says that there was a cost to keeping that chip on her shoulder.  She writes, “Had I recognized my anger for what it was, and [confronted] those girls, the incident might have blown over in a shouting match liberally sprinkled with tears.  But I had not the insight, nor the emotional resources, for such a confrontation.  Instead, I absorbed the blow, accepted my role as an outsider, and let my anger build a carapace around my inner most self that deeply marred my adolescence”  (Norris, Amazing Grace, pp. 51-52).


All of us feel anger at times.  Feeling anger is part of being human.  When we’re angry, we might think we have only two choices.  One of the two is to bottle it up inside as Kathleen Norris did, depriving ourselves of friendships.  The other is to fly off the handle, to lash out and cause a lot of hurt.  But as people who would follow in the loving ways of Jesus Christ, you and I have another option.


Paul calls it living in love.  Living in love means handling anger in a way that doesn’t hurt other people and doesn’t hurt ourselves.  We can be angry, but then we can come to terms with it.  Coming to terms means owning up to the anger we feel and talking about it.  It means calmly and firmly letting someone know when they’re pushing our buttons.  Once we’ve come to terms with anger, we can let anger the go.


Letting go of anger isn’t the same as pretending you were never angry.  Anger is an understandable human response in some situations.  All of us get angry at times.  But once we’ve come to terms with it, we can let go of anger.  That will be good for us because letting go of anger opens the way to healthy relationships.  It’s what we’re called to do as followers of Jesus Christ.


Friends, because we’re human, you and I are going to feel the heat of anger sometimes.  That’s an understandable reaction.  Anger can be tough to handle, but we can come to terms with it and let it go.  Letting go of anger is hard work.  It takes self-discipline.  It takes practice.  But, as people who would follow in the loving ways of Jesus Christ, you and I can come to terms with anger, let it go, and move on.










Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Pentecost 11