ORLANDO – Scott Smith admits that sometimes he gets very angry. But he knows what he needs to do to cope with that anger. He looks to a higher authority, and prays for guidance.
And it works.
“When I stop and I pray, it’s almost like God is telling me ‘That’s not who you are, that’s not who I created you to be,’ ” Smith said. “Prayer doesn’t change the other person so much as it changes me. It gives me the opportunity to pause and reflect.”
Smith is the pastor of the Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport, where he’s provided spiritual guidance to parishioners, including some with hot tempers and anger management problems.
“That’s when you say things and do things that are stupid, that you regret later on, that you do in anger,” Smith said. “That’s the kicker — how to help people recognize the emotional response and how to learn to step back from it. Prayer can help, but before prayer you have to have some kind of self-recognition. How many times have you been cut off on U.S. 27? There’s a deeper issue of why are they getting angry. Are you really angry about being cut off, or is there a deeper issue?”
According to a new study published in the online journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers found that praying after getting very angry can help prevent someone from becoming aggressive. Prayer, it was found, could enable people to cope with and even soothe their temper.
Smith said he’s definitely seen instances where this is true.
“I would agree with you that prayer helps you with anger,” he said. “There’s nothing wrong with anger. Anger is actually a good emotion. There are things we need to get angry about. We need to be angry that kids are living in cheap motels on U.S. 192.
“But the key to anger,” he added, “is how do we respond to anger? I think we have to talk about how prayer can help us in how we respond to anger.”
Most importantly, he said, prayer can be an alternative method, when someone is ready to blow their fuse, of counting to ten, taking a deep breath, and taking the time to reflect on what it is that made them explode in the first place.
“In my own life, if I pray before I do something, I get a better response,” Smith said. “One of the things we’re doing at our church is passing out red dots on the days leading up to Easter. It’s a reminder for us to stop and to pray. I’m trying to remind myself that when that person cut me off on (U.S.) 27, maybe I need to keep in mind that I want to get home and I need to get there safely.”
Smith said he’s known some parishioners who have serious anger control issues, and it takes more than spiritual guidance to help them.
“We try and help people who have a tendency to fly off the handle, and counsel them on what is causing this,” he said. “One of the main things we do is refer people to counselors. If you’re a hothead and are always flying off the handle, there’s a reason for that. There’s something in that moment when they got so mad, they hit their spouse.”
By seeking counseling and guidance, he said, “What you’ll discover as you look deep into yourself, is there’s a lot of baggage you’re carrying into this.”
He recalled the example of one parishioner who was constantly yelling at his children.
“He wasn’t angry at his kids, he was angry at his boss, but he couldn’t yell at his boss, so he yelled at his kids,” Smith said. “One of the techniques we told this guy to use is every time you pull into your garage, if you’re angry at your boss and had a horrible day at work, take everything out on a tree. Yell at the tree, so when you go in the house it’s just you and not the anger. He said that was a great visual reference.”
Most of all, Smith said, prayer enables him to cope with the challenges that life throws at every one of us on a daily basis.
“Over the course of a day, as I pray to God, it allows me the ability when anger comes to respond in a positive way,” he said. “I need to pray so when I get angry, I have the capacity to respond in the right way.”
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