ARE YOU TOO ANGRY TO PRAY?
I heard a TV news commentator say he was too angry to pray after the recent devastation of human life at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida.
“Praying doesn’t help, so I’m gonna be pissed,” he declared.
Moreover, beyond the murder of 17 people in the Florida school shooting, the law enforcement family has lost nine officers to line of duty deaths in the past two weeks—all but one came from the gunfire of an assailant. Flags are flown at half staff as peace officers seem to have a black band permanently affixed to their badges.
So Mr. TV News Commentator, I’m angry too, but I implore people to pray. Yet before I share the benefits we can receive from praying, let’s talk about the positive attributes of anger.
“Why do you want to be a police officer?” I asked this question more times than I can remember while interviewing entry-level candidates. As you can imagine, the answers varied.
The response I gave when being hired included my internal sense of justice. I wanted to catch “bad guys” and put them in jail. However, I did not articulate it that way. I’m sure I said something similar to most candidates—something correlating with “public service.”
I am an expressive person. As an expressive individual, I love others with great compassion and, on the flip side, can become angry rather quickly. As I become older, and hopefully wiser, I learned my professional drive and sense of justice were motivating factors connected to the emotion of anger. When channeled positively, it fueled me to peak performance adding sustainability—I didn’t want to wave the white flag.
We often associate anger with self-destructive behavior, and with good reason. Anger has led to foolish and irrational decisions that have gotten many of us in trouble. We also see it on the wrong side of the law every day for the same reasons. But for illustrative purposes, think of anger like a weapon.
Most in law enforcement have enjoyed firearms recreationally, but we all have experienced them professionally. We know when used properly, they are invaluable—a demonstration of strength and power. When in the hands of those who are evil, or out of control, they wreak havoc—a display of chaos and disorder.
Human emotions have strengths and corresponding weaknesses, but we typically have negative impressions of anger. That is because anger, and its bi-products, such as bitterness and resentment, become personality traits in far too many people. But when used as a primal reaction to fear, threats, and injustice, anger is motivating.
We simply need to channel the motivation gained from anger to fulfill our obligations and ensure we remain professional and do not cross the line—a challenge that takes tremendous self-control and discipline.
Think about your last foot pursuit or use of force incident. Did anger motivate you?
Actually, it may have saved your life! I had to explain this process while providing a voluntary statement following a fatal shooting I was involved in. Was I angry that someone tried to take my head off with an axe? You better believe it.
Did anger fuel my will to survive? Absolutely!
Were my actions justified? By the grace of God, yes!
What about really difficult sexual assault or murder investigations you’ve encountered? The internal drive to push through barriers might be anger—and thus useful. I would argue some controlled anger toward dreadful crimes is appropriate. Without it, we tend to become robotic and look at crime statistics as numbers rather than real people who have been victimized.
“Don’t take it personal,” is the conventional wisdom. I’m not arguing against it, but I took many things personal and it was a driving force during my professional career.
Blue Bloods is one of my favorite television shows. NYPD Homicide Detective Danny Reagan, played by Donnie Wahlberg, demonstrates righteous anger in pursuit of justice nearly every episode. His strength clearly has corresponding weaknesses, which could be another article, but I can identify with him. Can you?
We are emotional beings engaged in a volatile vocation. No matter how much we try to remain psychologically detached, it is bound to happen. The purpose of writing is to bring it to your attention, distinguish it for what it is, channel it to a favorable conclusion, and recognize there is a point where anger transitions from constructive stimulus to destructive impulse. The stoic among us will have much less use for this information, but if they supervise others, it is informative nonetheless.
I recognize this article might scare some supervisors, managers, and chiefs. Let me emphasize that I do not condone or encourage any form of anger that leads to caustic behavior or unprofessional conduct. Many things that upset the professional in all of us are usually worthy of irritation, but the inability to control emotions is what leads to violations of policy and law. The lack of self-control is typically the problem, not the emotion of anger.
Do Not Neglect Your Duty
Think of it this way. If I tell every criminal violator to turn from his wicked ways out of love, instead of enforcing the law as I have sworn to do, is that a problem? Sure it is. It is called dereliction of duty.
Do I have a “love” problem? No, I have a “neglect of duty” problem and will find myself unemployed if I cannot see that love also means accountability.
I believe officers need to recognize anger as a worthwhile emotion that will be present in the performance of duty, but it needs to be harnessed.
Back to my firearm illustration, … a weapon can be used in a justifiable homicide or murder. When used lawfully, it can preserve life. If used unlawfully, it can destroy a person and likely lead to a loss of freedom and prison. If anger is treated with the same respect as our firearms, it is likely to be helpful, not hurtful.
What If . . .
Imagine you respond to a call for service at a well-attended, makeshift market place because a man is knocking over tables in local businesses. The man has done so in anger. As the tables fly, so do goods, livestock, and money. Would you make an arrest?
If so, you just arrested Jesus of Nazareth. Regardless of what you think of him, few would argue that he did anything to flaw his unblemished record. He told the moneychangers, “Is it not written, ‘my house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations?’ But you have made it a den of robbers.” In other words, the merchants were violating prescribed spiritual laws—God’s Ordinance—and Jesus was mad. He confronted unscrupulous individuals and sought justice for the sanctity of the temple.
Anger as an Ally
If anger was used to motivate a perfect man to pursue justice, I believe each one of us can use it to right the wrongs we encounter without feeling guilty by its’ presence. If self-control is teamed with a righteous anger and used appropriately, it can be our ally not our enemy. Love is described as the greatest gift. To exercise love in our capacity as sheepdogs, anger may be required to confront the wolves. May we all navigate the waves of anger predictably present in our profession with wisdom, self-control, and discernment.
If the rain falls on the just and unjust, what good does it do to pray? Isn’t this simply a “religious preoccupation” that has no bearing on current circumstances?
While I cannot extend my faith to others, I would like to share why prayer is invaluable to me.
Keeps Me Focused
Prayer keeps me focused and helps my anger from becoming bitterness. When I pray it channels my attention away from my selfish ambition and to the needs of others.
Reminds Me That I’m Not Abandoned
We often feel like God has abandoned us as evil people take loved ones from our midst. Yet as I pray during times of trouble, and meditate on God’s Word, I’m constantly reminded of four things:
- Life on earth is temporary, which is why death is so painful. We want our loved ones to be with us forever.
- God’s eternal perspective is something I grasp more and more as I grow older and mature in biblical faith.
- Regardless of what the “prosperity gospel preachers” declare, God never promised anyone a life full of creature features—comfortable luxuries. He is far more interested in our character, and the values attached to it are rarely developed in success, but sorrow.
- I believe permanent healing from pain and suffering arrives in eternity for those who have surrendered their life to Christ. Therefore, the mourning is for those left behind.
Hope is like air, you can’t see it but it’s there in one form or another. Remove hope or the oxygen found in air and death arrives.
Ironically, when the storms of life blow, you can see both. I cannot always explain biblical doctrine or Christian theology as well as I’d like, but God has given me confident assurance that I am his child and no one can take that from me.
“And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Because I Can
“Why are you arresting me,” is something I was asked more than once during my career. For that matter, it’s a question cops hear every day.
“Because I can” was occasionally my snarky response.
So why do I pray? Because I can! . . . Yet I mean that with all sincerity . . . and you can too!