Straws, camels and self-improvement

You know the saying that ends with the words “the straw that broke the camel’s back?” It’s always referring to that one little thing that made you throw your hands up and stomp out of the room. What I love about these situations—after I’m done breathing fire, which signals the end of my reign of terror—is how it’s inevitably the dumbest tidbit that breaks that poor camel’s back. Observe:

Boss Man walks in and drops a stack of papers bearing a strong resemblance to the Leaning Tower of Pisa on your desk and requests a cumulative report for the following day. You show him your most dazzling Orbit smile and say, “You got it, big chief,” and go about your work. Five minutes later a coworker drops by your desk and asks you to email a client something. After singeing off his eyebrows with your heated glare, you not-so-calmly explain in a louder-than-necessary tone that you are not in this office for the sole purpose of catering to his every whim and conclude the exchange with a creative suggestion meant to discourage future requests.

Never experienced that? How about this:

Your girlfriend is upset because you forgot to do something that you promised to do. You assure her that your sudden forgetfulness is not the beginning of the end and all-around say most of the right things to dig yourself out of this hole. As soon as you patch things up, your mom calls. She still gets some of your mail and wanted to know if you had sent your new address to any of the companies whose letters were currently in her hand. You immediately turn green and yell at her to stay out of your life, slamming the phone down with the utmost indignation.

If nothing similar to either of these situations has ever happened to you, then I would encourage you to stop reading right now and return to life on Sunnybrook Farm. If it has, then welcome to life among the living.

In the two situations above, you know that you reacted badly to one light trigger. By this point in your life, you should also know that the anger always runs deeper and further than the most recent annoyance. It’s like a stream that begins small and slow, building until it’s a force of nature crashing against a dam made of toothpicks and chewing gum.

If you get to this point there’s no way you can hold it back. This anger is going to demolish your toothpick dam and slowly (or quickly if you’re not careful) erode all of the relationships you have. The only way you can preserve your relationships—and your sanity—in these clutch situations is to clamp your mouth shut and try to hold it in until you can spew it all over an idiotic driver on your way home.

My hope is that you don’t get to this point. I’ve got a couple of suggestions on how to stem the flow of the fury:

  1. Be self aware. This is one of my life mottos. Dead serious. If you’re not honest with yourself about what upsets you, how you react to things, your soft spots, etc., you will always struggle with knowing how to handle this anger. While it’s not always fun to know yourself like this, it’s so beyond necessary.
  2. Show a little love. I’ve found that when I try to be extra nice to someone who gets on my nerves, or when I try to see the situation from their point of view, I am 73% more likely to handle a pesky situation with logic and positivity instead of with grumbles and sarcasm. I basically have to treat whatever task I hate at the time like it’s a labor of love for someone else.
  3. Go to the Big Man. God knows how annoyed you are right then. He knows why you’re really mad and why you’re being hostile to those around you. He knows every rude and mean thought you’ve had, and He loves you in spite of yourself. Don’t let God be your last-ditch effort right before you erupt into a tirade that makes Madea look tame. Let Him be your constant reassurance that what you’re doing is for His glory, even when you can’t see it.

I don’t always handle my anger the right way. Anyone who knows me can attest to that. But I do follow these steps and believe so strongly in what I’ve written.

In this life, you’re going to get furious, and you’re going to express your anger the wrong way. That’s a promise. But you can lessen the frequency and the severity if you practice the proven remedies. Use mine, Gandhi’s or your Great Aunt Wynona’s—I don’t care. Just try. Self improvement is exhausting, but it’s always needed.

Margaret, The Rope Editor


Maggie Evans is a regular contributor to The Scroll. She also is special assistant to the editor for The Alabama Baptist/TAB Media. Maggie and her husband, Sam, are members of Iron City Church, Birmingham.


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