Lessons from Daniel Tiger: What Do You Do With the Mad That You Feel?

DanielTigerWe all get made at times. Daniel and his friends have a hard time dealing with anger in an episode at the music store. They don’t always get a turn right when they want it, and the adults (who are always wonderfully on the same page with each other) advise the kids to “take a deep breath, and count to four.” At no point do the grown-ups invalidate the kids’ feelings. They don’t tell Daniel and friends to just get over it. They acknowledge and respect their kids’ feelings and give them a coping mechanism to help. It’s reminiscent of the old Mr. Rogers song What Do You Do WIth the Mad That You Feel? where he suggests positive outlets for negative feelings.

I’ve noticed that we Christians have a hard time with anger. On the one hand, I’ve known many Christians who just seem angry at the world in general. They harbor negative attitudes and will then lash out at seemingly small things. A songleader pitched a song too high. There are some wrappers in a pew. Someone took a verse out of context. Whatever it is, that becomes the target, and whoever is responsible for the misstep had better watch out. In this situation, it’s wise to remember Proverbs 19:11: “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Also James 1:19-20: “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” We cannot let anger define us, and we have to put away angry attitudes, so we can focus on the hope before us.

On the other hand, it’s just as important that we don’t completely repress our angry feelings. It’s possible to be angry without sinning. Otherwise how could Paul write, “Be angry and do not sin,” in Ephesians 4:26? It’s not that we feel angry at times that defines us; it’s how we deal with those emotions. In Mark 3:4-5, Jesus is angry at a group in a synagogue, upset that they will not answer a serious question of His about doing good on the Sabbath. He does not rail at them however. He does not degrade them or put them down. Instead, He makes His point by healing a man with a withered hand. He teaches His lesson through an act of mercy that I’m sure left the others feeling slightly abashed, and it was a more effective lesson than had Jesus berated them or vented His frustrations.

Another time, Jesus does show His anger when He finds that people are profiteering in God’s temple. The key here is wisdom. In Jesus’ entire ministry, we only have one recorded instance of Jesus “losing His temper”. Three years, one outburst. I’m not inclined to believe that the one recorded instance was a result of Jesus losing control either. I’m sure His display of anger was was very intentional and all the more effective because of the peace and calm He wore the vast majority of the time. His anger was effective because its evidence was rare. With Jesus, wisdom comes before anger. Can I say the same about me? Do I let Christian conduct and wisdom help me manage, overcome, or express my anger in healthy ways?

In Mr. Rogers’ song, he sings about how we cope with anger in terms of maturity.

I can stop when I want to

Can stop when I wish.

I can stop, stop, stop any time.

And what a good feeling to feel like this

And know that the feeling is really mine.

Know that there’s something deep inside

That helps us become what we can.

For a girl can be someday a woman

And a boy can be someday a man.

How we deal with angry feelings speaks as much to our spiritual maturity. It’s not inherently wrong to feel anger, and we should never discount those feelings in ourselves and others. (Although it is worth asking myself, at times, if I am getting angry over something that really matters, or if I am letting worldly priorities inform my emotions.) It’s what we do with the anger. Is my response constructive or destructive? Am I furthering Christ’s work with the way I respond to anger, of am I placing stumbling blocks before myself and others? We have a Savior who is slow to anger and quick to love. We have a Savior who chooses grace and mercy over vindictiveness and retribution. Let’s be quick to follow His example, and always remember what Daniel Tiger says – “If you feel so mad that you want to roar, take a deep breath and count to four.”

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