“You’re Irritating:” Reflections on Anger and Patience

I remember an instance freshman year of high school where a peer was asking me a question. I don’t remember the question or why it caught me in the way it did. But I distinctly remember turning around and snapping at him, my face turning red. I can remember the heat on my face and the way the anger kind of bubbled up from my stomach and seemed to wrap itself around my heart like a tiny, evil, hate-filled dragon.

High school for me was characterized by sporadic instances of these outbursts. To do this day, I’m not entirely sure where they came from. But it was almost always a result of impatience.

I can count on one hand, though, my run-ins with anger in college. I thought this was because I am mostly an easy-going person–I am someone who is easy to get along with, I thought. I am someone that can see other view points with ease, I thought. I am someone who understands others’ problems, I thought.

And then I began to teach.

What I thought was the result of a good character was actually the result of a lack of conflict. For four years, I worked hard at a place where very little was demanded of me, where (even when I was in leadership roles) I managed very few people. I lived and studied in an environment where often my biggest conflict on any given day was if I was going to ask a girl on a date that weekend. And so when people talked to me about patience and humility and optimism, I thought well yeah, I have those.

What I’m learning now is that I was wrong about basically everything I once thought about myself. I am not naturally patient. I am not naturally optimistic. I am not naturally humble.

A student complained to me today about how I’m always angry. And I have been angry a lot lately. That tiny dragon is taking up permanent roots in my chest. I can feel him breathing fire into all the other parts of my life.

And the more I reflect on that, the more I recognize it as a problem. I don’t think I would listen to someone who was always angry. In fact, I don’t. Even if a person has interests and opinions similar to mine, it’s hard for me to take something valuable from him or her if s/he is angry. For my students, I’m some strange angry man whom they barely know who is teaching a subject matter with which they are frustrated. Of course they don’t want to listen. Of course they start tuning me out. Of course.

I’ve been waiting for my students. “I would be less angry,” I tell myself, “if my students were better behaved.”

But, my students argue, they would be better behaved if I was less angry.

My students sometimes hit each other (playfully) in the halls. It’s something I don’t get. I don’t remember so much physical contact in high school. The other day, I was talking with my class with which I have the best relationship, and a girl was complaining about how someone had playfully hit her and how she should seek retribution, and I drew a diagram on the board showing how this process was necessarily infinitely cyclical. My students thought about it carefully, and considered how always wanting revenge leads to more and more of the playful hitting, which none of them seem to really appreciate (unless they are doing the hitting).

I’m glad I could share this moment with my students, but I don’t follow this in my own daily life.  I am angry far too often. And my anger leads my students to want to be frustrated with me. And their frustration leads me to want to be frustrated and so on. If their frustration and discontent was always met with love and peacefulness and patience and humility, I think they might start thinking twice of their disruptions. Why be so mean to a person who is so nice?

Some days I think I need to teach my students how to be kind. But really, they are the ones teaching me. Their hearts are big; their memories small. I can kick a student out of class and by the end of the day, that student is able to have a productive, loving conversation with me. That’s a testament to the student, not to me. My heart is too small; my memories too big. MY memories, MY experiences, MY ego: I spend so much time thinking about these things. I never really understood how Jesus says you need to die to yourself to follow Him. I am starting to understand.

I Wish I Went to High School with Isaac

I don’t talk to many of my friends from high school anymore. It’s a bit of a shame because they are all really cool people, and they would all probably be a really good influence on me. Most of them are all super responsible, routinely get to bed before midnight, and know what they want to do with their lives.

I do this thing, though, when I am having a bad day. I cyber-stalk all of my high school friends. I do it because it makes me feel worse about myself. It’s the same line of reasoning that makes girls watch chick flicks right after they have been dumped. My high school friends are all incredibly put together people who are mindful enough not to be internet downers. It’s probably not true that their lives are perfect (because no one’s is) but that’s the way it seems to me.

It’s all really self-indulgent and annoyingly embarrassing that I do all of this.  I probs shouldn’t even be sharing it with you.

Anyway, I was reading some Genesis the other day. And I got to the part where Isaac meets Rebekah for the first time. A little background for you:  1. Isaac was 40 years old when he wedded Rebekah. I’m not sure how the whole maturing into adulthood thing worked in the Bible because, you know, people were living to be 175 and stuff, but we have that whole movie The Forty Year Old Virgin. That movie is funny because it is absurd to think that someone so old would be a virgin.

2. Isaac didn’t know Rebekah was coming. Abraham (Isaac’s father) sent his servant to find his son a wife.

So for over fifty verses leading up to the meeting, the narration has been focused on Rebekah. We don’t know what Isaac is up to. And the first mention we get about him is this:

Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. (Genesis 24:62-3)

Isaac was meditating when Rebekah came! He wasn’t worrying that as a forty year old he was doomed to be alone. He wasn’t stressing out about if he was ever going to get married. He wasn’t waiting for a wife. He wasn’t cyber stalking his friends and self-indulgently comparing himself to them. No, he was meditating. He was spending time with God. He was enjoying a beautiful evening.

I think I should be a bit more like Isaac.