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Anger Management Infused With Faith

Ronda Chervin on Ways to Gain Peace

HARDY, Arizona, JULY 8, 2005 (Zenit) - Anger problems often can stifle growth in the life of virtue, preventing the peace that Jesus promises.

So says Ronda Chervin, professor of philosophy at the College of Our Lady of Corpus Christi and author of "Taming the Lion Within: 5 Steps from Anger to Peace" (Café Press/FrancisIsidore).

Chervin shared with us how a self-help group and a strong faith life helped her heal -- and how others with tempers can move from anger to peace.

Q: What inspired you to write this book?

Chervin: Many devout Catholics have problems with anger.

We overreact when we are right, or burst out peevishly when we are frustrated or hold onto unforgiving resentment when we have been hurt -- not forgiving our debtors.

We also try to avoid engaging in the sarcastic ridicule that Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:22 can land us in hell. In spite of our efforts, our progress toward Christian virtues such as meekness and peacefulness is slow, if at all.

After years and years of struggle with anger issues, I ran into a self-help group for anger, fear and depression that provides intriguing and successful techniques for overcoming angry impulses. For the first time in 57 years I was able to smile instead of sputter, laugh instead of yell, excuse rather than accuse -- at least most of the time.

It became clear to me as I practiced the new strategies that these methods were closely related to our Catholic understanding of life. Undergirding the self-help group's psychological insights with the sacraments and prayer provided me with a synthesis in thought and practice I found even more helpful.

"Taming the Lion Within: 5 Steps from Anger to Peace" was written to reach out to other angry Catholics. In the year and a half the book has been released, I find that the Holy Spirit seems to be using my five-step approach with good results.

Q: What are the five steps from anger to peace?

Chervin: The five steps are these: admitting I am an angry person; identifying my type of anger; understanding my anger; taming the lion day by day; the lion lies down with the lamb.

The following are key questions an individual could ask based on these steps.

Am I in denial that I am an angry person even though other people tell me to lighten up or seem a little afraid of me? Could cold, unforgiving resentment be just as bad as fits and rage are?

Does having an angry vs. a laid-back temperament absolve me from having to improve? Do I think it is outrageous if anyone crosses me, as if I were a kind of king or queen who everyone else should cater to?

Are there situations where I have to let go of trying to win even if I am right -- choosing peace over power? What fears are underlying my anger -- such as fear of seeming to be a failure or of being rejected? Does roaring like a lion attempt to hide my real lamblike weakness and powerlessness?

Q: How do an individual's faith, prayer and sacramental life play into healing anger problems?

Chervin: In Scripture we have many instances of God being angry; Jesus is occasionally depicted as angry, as in the famous instance of whipping the moneychangers in the temple. St. John Chrysostom wrote, "He who is not angry where he has cause to be, sins."

Nonetheless, the preponderance of passages in the Bible about human anger -- such as Ephesians 4:29-32 -- are about the evils of anger for our victims and for ourselves.

Our natural impulse when thwarted is to retaliate. Of course, we should always try to bring about justice, but in many cases there is no way to achieve this goal. The greater our faith in our destiny with God's forgiveness and grace for an eternity of happiness, the more we can forgo vengeance -- hot or cold.

Frequent reception of holy Communion and the sacrament of confession are essential. Also necessary are two main types of prayer -- instant bringing of our daily emotions to the heart of Jesus so he can comfort and direct us, and long periods of quiet contemplation in a Eucharistic adoration chapel, at home or on solitary walks.

Given the busy schedule most of us have, we are in desperate need of times alone with Jesus where we can let his love permeate our frenzied, angry or hard hearts. It is not possible to sustain anger when we are immersed in God's love -- known in a leap of faith or in an experience of grace-filled peace.

Q: What are some practical ways to change the attitudes that prevent personal peace?

Chervin: In the self-help group that inspired this book, the members are given tools -- phrases to repeat to ourselves that lurch us out of angry attitudes. Here are a few: "Expect frustrations every five minutes, you won't be disappointed"; "It's not a 911" -- the number called in the United States for emergencies; "Self-control is self-respect."

Central to the process of moving from anger to peace is overcoming perfectionism. Wanting everything to go smoothly and well all the time is unrealistic. In a Christian perspective, after the Fall most people are broken, not perfect.

Serene people expect life to be difficult and work around the average obstacles of each day without undue stress and fuming. They don't grunt, rave, curse or withdraw every time someone or something holds them up. Saintly people accept crosses and try to bring God's love to those whose actions and words are annoying or hurtful.

Q: How have you seen these steps bear fruit?

Chervin: Changing life-long attitudes and opening our angry little hearts to peace-loving ways is a long haul. Many think, "I can't help being angry most of the time because everyone else is so obnoxious."

When we begin to see that it is not just others or life, but our own attitudes that feed our anger, we are surprised and interested in learning more. We realize that God can only help us become more peaceful if we are willing to accept his permissive will in surrounding us with imperfect people and situations.

How much better would it be for us and the world if there were more tamed felines and benign lambs than lions roaring at each other?

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Faith, Peace, Anger, Life, Virtues, Jesus, Chervin

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