Everyday Ignatian is a new monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
November 26, 2019 — I once saw a leopard in a zoo who had paced the same line for so long there was a distinct trail of dead grass that extended across her containment area. That was exactly how I felt as I crossed the living room back and forth for the twelve hundredth time this evening. In my case, it wasn’t a 20-foot fence but the mission of getting the baby to fall asleep that kept me bound.
Upstairs, my husband Eric navigated a zoo of his own as he put four little boys to bed for the night. I could tell from the whines, fights and yelps that it wasn’t going particularly well. When finally all was quiet, Eric came down the creaky steps looking exhausted. Despite the mind-numbing nature of my relentless pacing, we both knew he got the short end of the stick tonight.
“Remember, we need to sign the permission slip and return the school pictures,” I noted, carefully feeling out his mood. He half-heartedly grunted a reply in response. I decided to cut to the chase. “Are you mad at me for staying down here with the baby while the big kids gave you hell?”
My husband sighed, eyes tired behind his glasses, and thought about it. “I don’t know,” he answered honestly. We continued talking and reached the understanding that no one was necessarily in the wrong, we were both just depleted from the demands of a big and young family. Before long, we were snuggled up on the couch with snacks and Netflix.
But what Eric didn’t know was that his answer had sparked a curiosity in me. When he answered that he didn’t know if he was angry, I noticed a response within myself that was about me and not about him. I took the feeling to prayer.
Before I went to bed I pulled out my Examen cheat sheet, a little laminated card with brief reminders about each of the five stages of Saint Ignatius’ reflective prayer. I keep it in the drawer of my nightstand to close the day with God before falling asleep. This time, as I recalled the events of the day and the feelings they evoked, I let my mind settle on the conversation with Eric in the kitchen.
It was his inner freedom that had intrigued me, his decision to not rush to dismiss feelings of anger for the sake of keeping the peace. As I let the Holy Spirit speak to me through that moment, I noticed I have a habit of suppressing or denying my anger. Now sure, my temper can flare with the best of them from time to time, but normally the bigger problem for me is not expressing anger but ignoring it. When I found myself startled by my husband’s freedom, I realized my habit of pushing my feelings aside was not commendable — it was actually unhealthy.
I opened my Bible and searched for the first account of Jesus’ anger that came to mind: the cleansing of the temple in John 2. As I read, I imagined walking into the Jerusalem temple with Jesus and his disciples, happily chatting with one another as we prepared to enter into a time of reverence and worship. I pictured Jesus’ face changing as he processed what he was seeing; the money changers and sellers getting rich off the desperation of the poor. With great emotion, he demonstrated his anger by pouring out coins, turning over tables and driving people and animals out with a whip. I saw Jesus, the very real human, visibly welcoming his very human emotions. And I was struck by how foreign this felt to me.
Somewhere along the way I, like so many Christians, took in a message that to be holy is to be cooperative, convenient and pleasant at all times. To fill that tall order, I tend to push down any experience of anger, leaving no space for such a complicated feeling that might make me appear less likable to others. Through my prayer, I could see that trying to avoid feeling angry has ultimately only made me resentful and out of touch with myself. And I’m finally learning that to be out of touch with myself is to be out of touch with God within me.
I know I’m not called to literally turn tables over every time I get mad, and obviously there is a big difference between anger being directed in righteous versus unrighteous ways. But in the life of Jesus I see a healthy integration of emotion. He was not a one-dimensional caricature of a person; he was fully human and unashamed of what that meant. Jesus integrated emotions into his relationship with God and others so that he could live in freedom to love and serve, with no inner entanglements to hold him back. His wholeness was his holiness. What would this look like for me as a mother, spouse, daughter and friend?
By the next day I had resolved to do better — and a good thing, too, because that evening required me to solo parent. Between bouncing the screaming baby, scooping dinner into bowls and derailing the toddler’s mischief, I felt myself beginning to unravel. I noticed the months of repressed anger and frustration simmering into resentment. With my free hand, I picked up my phone and sent my husband a text right in the middle of a big work event he was organizing.
“I’m not doing well and have a lot of pent-up anger to work through. Could you take the morning off tomorrow to give me some alone time?”
Ten minutes later he responded affirmingly, and the next morning found me soaking up some much-needed silence and solitude. By the time I jumped back into parenting duties later that day, I was refreshed and ready to savor my kids again. Since I was honest about my anger and what I needed to help me manage it, the anger itself had diffused. Of course, the baby still fussed, the toddler was still a rascal and the big kids still bickered, but my heart was lighter. I felt freed to serve my family without resentment, for now that I was finally being just as caring with myself, there was nothing to resent.
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Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.