This last weekend was a special one for me. I was invited to go skiing in the beautiful and challenging mountains of Breckenridge, Colorado, where my mettle and heart were tested against the elements. Though I am not completely new to the activity, I’m hardly an adept skier. So when I was brought up against my first bowl (to the layman, this is just a large, open expanse of steep mountainside terrain), I was flattened by its difficulty. It was only a Blue, and I’d been tackling Blues all day up to that point, so I deemed myself worthy of the challenge. The long and short of it boils down to… I got ravaged. My perspective from the peak was a daunting fisheye of cascading white, with a steepness and depth far surpassing anything I’d attempted up to that point, and when it came time for ski to meet powder, I could do nothing but eat snow as I accelerated far too quickly, spun out, and bolted down the mountain a couple hundred feet, unable to stop my descent in the wake of its breakneck incline.
This one moment instilled a fear in me for the rest of the trip, a fear only reinforced as I tried again and was met with mostly the same results. Twice I spilled and thrashed against the mountainside, unable to grasp how someone could traverse such a steep run without similar consequences. Too afraid and worn to try again that day, I went to bed and was jolted awake more than once at dreams of crashing, losing my footing, or hitting rocks. I attempted the route once again the day after (the technical name for the run was “Bliss”) and found myself stricken with an insurmountable anxiety the entire way up the lift. The cold had entered and spread through my chest, combining with my fear, until I was little more than a trembling child. My well-meaning friends tried to help or give me advice, but ultimately could do nothing but let me face Bliss on my own. This third time, I fell again… before I even started the run. One look at the sweeping plain of frozen currents was enough to make me fall over myself, without even needing to begin the descent. I was paralyzed. And when I did gather the nerve to try and tackle Bliss again, it was at the pace of a slug. I didn’t fall, but I didn’t really ski, either. I was inching my way down, afraid of what would happen if I tried again.
Now, Bliss might have provided a more visceral battle with fear than I’ve known in the past, but make no mistake, I’m hardly a stranger to feelings of anxiety, fear, and weakness–a common ground I believe most people share. In keeping a long story short, I was confronted with similar feelings in my adolescent years. Being overweight, socially awkward, and having what basically amounted to no real skills (all I ever did was play videogames), I rubbed shoulders with low self-esteem and uncertainty for my future on a daily basis. In sum, I was scared. But eventually, through dozens of influences, a self-imposed change in my cognition, and resolve, I began to change those things. I’d taken my fear, and ground it down into anger. In spite of what might have been good for me, I shoehorned improvement into my life. I began to actually work hard in gym class, and when I should have let my body rest to rebuild, I pushed it even harder. I shirked my studies in favor of drawing or writing in my notebooks. I did things I wanted to do, things I felt I could be good at if I tried. Between God, my friends, and an infinite supply of cool, relatable, motivating fictional characters (kudos Naruto), I established a stronger, healthier identity. I found I wasn’t too bad at this whole “writing” thing, and drawing was a blast, even if both of those skills could always use more work. I lost almost fifty pounds between two semesters, and with the general increase of confidence, a number of other things improved as well. My social life filled with an arsenal of diverse people, my charisma began to germinate, and my spiritual life was even taking new leaps and strides.
This trend continued into my university years and beyond. When confronted by new things that startle, perplex, or frighten me, I pray and meditate on an almost contradictory request: “God, please help me. Give me the anger to overcome this.” Why anger? Because “resolve” and “determination” aren’t accurate enough when they stand alone. Cognitive-behavioral therapy supports the idea of using anger as a coping mechanism against things that make us uncomfortable.
Time and time again I’ve demonstrated to myself that when I’m angry, I get things done. You’re feeling suicidal? Suicide is a weak, worthless poison, and you’re awesome. I’ll help you. Kids are starving across the world? I would say I don’t have the money to help – that I have enough debt to crush a spirit – but who cares? God will take care of that somehow, so I’ll worry about helping you. Now I support a mother & child survivor program and a boy named Turjo from Bangladesh through Compassion International. It’s awesome. Nowadays I work in an Intensive Resident Treatment Center, where I’m in a locked facility with adolescents who specialize in being aggressive, hateful, impulsive, rude, sexually inappropriate, argumentative… lonely, confused, sad, and afraid. Having trumped my fear and figured out ways to navigate stress in spite of myself, it has now become my responsibility to be a sponge: to absorb their wrath and anxiety and loneliness, and expel it in appropriate ways, while helping them find new, more mature ways to deal with the problems they encounter. I’ve been given great help, so I must return the favor. Luke 12:48 says “When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required.” So with a mission and a commission, I thank God for what he has done in my heart and mind, and I will gladly use my weapons – my experiences – to help in any way I can.
In no way do I mean to sound impressive or self-glorifying. No. I say this, because I’ve met enough people who were like me. Crippled by the wrong emotions and wrought with fear. I’ve simply learned to harness the anger appropriately, using it as an instrument against what would otherwise destroy me. And, yes, control is important. I’ve born witness to the ramifications of untamed anger, especially in the youth I work with. Finding wisdom elsewhere, I am fond of a quote by the Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta: “You will not be punished for your anger; you will be punished by your anger.” If I do not come to God as a source for His divine anger, I run the risk of letting this very human emotion get the better of me, and I simply cannot let that be allowed.
So the final day of my trip to Colorado, I challenged the Bliss run again. Now my fourth attempt, I failed again. But this time, the entire way up the mountain, and in looking upon the frozen expanse of the bowl, I did not feel afraid. I had convinced myself of things that were not true, things I knew from time and experience would make me angry, so as to crush the fear that tried to stop me. I told myself that my daughter was in danger, and that I couldn’t waste time failing anymore. I don’t have a daughter, but a deep-seated paternal device within me helped warm my chest and stop the trembling. My fifth attempt, I won. I successfully traversed down Bliss. Upon reaching the bottom, you can bet I gave a hearty cry of victory, too. And because I didn’t care for the shenanigans that bloody mountain put me through the last couple of days, I went and did it again. For kicks.
All of this is to say, don’t be afraid of anger itself. Anger untamed is dangerous, but when harnessed by godly or wholesome motives, it can prove not only harmless, but also one of your greatest tools for fighting injustices within yourself and the world at large. Anger is a sword worthy of respect and attention. Wield it like one.
God bless, you are not alone, and always remember to smile.
**(The following is a link to Compassion International’s website, where you can sponsor a child today, from numerous regions across the globe, or help with one of their other support programs. The cost is low, and the payoff is high. It has my highest recommendations.
VERSE OF THE DAY – Ephesians 4: 26-27
“In your anger do not sin, do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
SONG OF THE DAY – “We Won’t Be Shaken” – Building 429