What do you do with the mad you feel?

September 14, 2020

Welcome back! Pour up a coffee... Let’s continue to explore anger. I want to thank Neil Parker for the significant insights he has shared with me on this difficult topic.

After watching the movie, “it’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood”, I have a soft spot for Mr. Fred Rogers. Let’s circle back to our beloved, cardigan-wearing 1970’s TV personality!

While watching the movie, I was struck by two things:

  1. Fred’s attempts to cope with anger
  2. The way Fred reflects the character of Jesus

Fred’s attempts to cope with anger

After examining my own anger and laying it open, I have been asking myself how to deal with it wisely. I recognize that anger has the potential to sabotage me if I allow it to control me. As our pastor shared: “anger feeds anger. What you feed gets stronger and stronger.” So, how do I manage it in a way that it will not destroy me?

I have purposed in my heart WHERE to direct my anger. I lean into God, venting with/at Him. I beat on His chest and throw my head against His shoulder. He is big enough to handle it, and I discover that if I actually let Him, He will hold me tight.

At some point, a transference happens: He absorbs my anger, and in my soul, I hear, “that makes sense, dear one”.

I admit to God that I feel incapable of handling anger in a healthy way. And yet with His help and strength, I can release the anger in ways that are not destructive.

**Usher in Mr. Rogers, please!**

There was a point near the end of the movie that startled me. Fred was all alone on the TV set. He sat down at a grand piano (both he and his wife were concert pianists) and he started to pound on the piano keys. Loud. Sinister. Unsettling sounds. Somehow Fred seemed so much more real. The calm happy man struggled with anger! This fellow who we idealize and aspire to be like really grappled to cope with his own anger.

Apparently, Fred had a method for coping, and it was birthed out of his desire to own his anger: He made advance decisions regarding the expression of his anger.

  1. He Identified what he was angry about, bringing self-awareness (remember the 5 W’s and an H in the previous Herald article?).
  2. He chose constructive outlets through which he could productively express anger (swimming fast, praying, banging on the piano).
  3. Most notably, Mr. Rogers had pre-determined the kind of response he would consistently use with others. This is evident when antagonistic journalist, Tom Junod, repeatedly tries to make Fred angry. Fred’s gracious, empathetic and soothing reaction defies the natural instincts we all have to lash out when provoked. How did he do it?

Fred’s Life Reflects Jesus

I love how Fred is preoccupied with taking photos of all those he meets. Let’s flip the table and take a snapshot of him. What makes him tick? Fred genuinely desires to get close to people, making concerted efforts to get people talking. He listens. He works toward building a relationship. Trust develops, preparing the way for a person to further open-up to deeper discussion, being receptive to loving input and acts of kindness and care.

Mr. Rogers so beautifully reflects the character of Jesus. Let’s look at these significant attributes:

Genuine and unconditional acceptance. It is scary and risky to be vulnerable with others. Will I be rejected? What a shock and encouragement it was when journalist Tom Junod realizes that Fred is delighted to engage with him time-after-time. At one point, Fred makes a point of showing him off to the production staff on the set. Although Fred might not agree with what Tom is doing, there is no prerequisite to conform to a certain way of thinking in order to receive love and acceptance from Fred.

Kind. Fred remembers Tom and addresses him by name. Fred was soft-spoken and endearing to all he dealt with. His gentle voice had such a calming, disarming effect. He knew the power of giving a soft answer rather than angry one.

Available. Fred is very willing to meet with people, and there are no barriers in place. It didn’t matter if it caused inconvenience; he never felt rushed to shut down a conversation. Much to the chagrin of his production staff, there was no way to keep Fred on a tight schedule.

Forgiving. Fred practiced this regularly. With God’s help, he could let go of offences and carry on. He was able to keep a loving, generous attitude toward others. He managed to keep an open heart toward those who had set out to hurt him.

Loving. Mr. Rogers showed care and affirmation to others, regardless of the feedback loop. Tom made no bones about his frustration with Fred, but it didn’t shift Fred’s love and care for him. Love was foundational to all these other attributes.

Compassionate and patient. We see Fred communicating with a closed-off child. He gets right down to his level, gives him his full attention and patiently draws him out. His patient love draws the child out of his shell.

Pursued others. Fred makes concerted efforts to engage with those who are on his radar. I love the scene where the doorbell rings, and Fred shows up at a family gathering with a cake in his hands. Within a short time, Fred is sitting in the living room, listening and drawing out family members. He actively pursues others and then takes time to listen.

Attentive. Mr. Rogers had a wonderful (almost awkward) way of being fully present. He’d take his coat off, put all distractions aside, and focus fully on the person at hand. In that moment, there was no one more important than the one to whom he was talking.

I need these qualities in someone who will companion with me in the mad that I feel. I need to feel safe, cared for, loveable, accepted, forgiven. I need someone to be patient with me when I’m angry! Someone who will come after me when I lose it. Someone who is gentle and kind and zeros in on me. Someone who is always available to me with his full attention. We all need a “Fred” in our lives! As I reflect on Fred’s characteristics, I realized Fred is a lot like Jesus. I have discovered that I can be disappointed by those around me, but Jesus is the companion who doesn’t give up on me - especially when I don’t know what to do with the mad I feel.