I once delivered a speech to 200 parish volunteers, thanking them for their generous service and remarking how giving of ourselves to help others is one of the pathways to the promise that God is making us beautiful in our time (Ecclesiastes 3:11). It was a total feel-good, celebratory moment.
Until . . .
I was greeting well-wishers after my remarks when an old woman approached me. She started screaming, "Take off that damn hat of yours! It's rude to wear it!"
I thought she was joking at first, since I love hats and wear them everywhere. She continued screaming for several moments. I was like, Really? This, at a church volunteer event where there's so much love and laughter in the air. I seriously glanced around for Holy Water and a Crucifix lest her head start spinning and pea soup shoot out of her mouth.
I could feel an Instant Bad Mood launch from the pit of my stomach like mercury on a 110-degree day. Happy to furious in T-minus five seconds. The image of me responding to her incendiary comments like a pouncing cheetah flickered through my head.
These moments take the fight-or-flight instinct to a whole new twisted level. Meanwhile, no doubt, the Devil sits back and laughs at his handiwork.
The quickest and easiest reaction to a bad situation is anger. (Ring a bell, anyone?) We are often handed the Anger Option on a silver platter engraved with "Instant Bad Mood."
Every day, we encounter numerous situations that threaten to ignite our blood to boiling, incite comments we'll later regret, or cause us to act in ways that only make the situation worse.
Try these "Triggers to an Instant Bad Mood" on for size: The co-worker who annoys you; someone saying, "You gained a little weight there!"; the car ahead going at a snail's pace when you're already late; an arrogant friend-of-a-friend whose obnoxious and loud voice dominates get-togethers; whiny or pontificating Facebook posts; or the team member whose laziness threatens everything the rest of you are working hard to achieve. Or, a zit, a bad hair day, an unexpected breakup (via text), running out of almond milk when you really want a bowl of cereal at midnight. Or, ____________________ [FILL IN THE BLANK].
From the more serious to downright petty triggers, our human minds have been wired from the beginning to be susceptible. A few pages into the Bible we see Cain succumbing to triggers of jealousy and desire with murderous results. "Why are you furious? And why are you downcast?" the Lord asks him.
Once I understood my own vulnerability to everyday triggers, and (to the amusement of my friends) coined the resulting "Instant Bad Moods," I realized no one was benefitting from my anger and annoyance, especially me. Pouncing cheetahs belong in the jungle, not in our hearts and minds.
I better understood that by divine design, Instant Bad Moods are tests -- daily practices in cultivating our patience, love, compassion, and humility. Proverbs 12:16 lays it on the line: "A fool is quick tempered." Ecclesiastes 7:9 lends further credence to the sentiment: "Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools."
The takeaway: Don't be a fool!
Which brings me back to the old woman at the volunteer event. While she was still in mid-rage, I smiled and gave her a big hug.
Her response: "TAKE OFF THAT DAMN HAT!" She then turned and stomped away. She had completely missed the point of my remarks that night, and of my smile and hug.
I took a deep breath and returned my attention to the circle of well-wishers.
I have since come to learn a lot about this woman whom I had never met before. Admittedly, she intrigued me. How does someone become that angry?
In the following days, I put on my Sherlock Holmes hat and discovered that while the woman attends mass every day, she has been a constant thorn in everyone's side, from the priests to fellow parishioners, treating them the same way she treated me. Also, during her unwed teen years -- in a very different era, she suffered the mysterious death of a baby. And, she later worked for a prominent family, which skewed her sense of self-worth and power over others. I believe all of this has culminated in a crushing weight -- a perpetual Instant Bad Mood -- she has carried on her shoulders for almost 80 years.
If Instant Bad Moods are tests to advance our love and compassion, this woman proved to be a big exam. Hearing her back story though, I was reminded that I've never walked in her shoes (just as she has never walked around in my hats). Her example turned an Instant Bad Mood into a valuable lesson for me.
As a result, instead of harboring anger, I say a special prayer every day for her. May God have mercy on her troubled spirit and help her to find some peace of mind -- some beauty -- in these final years of her life.
Now, anytime I feel the tick, tick, TICK countdown to an Instant Bad Mood, I fall back on the advice of James 1:19-20, which I've learned firsthand: "Be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. For the [Instant Bad Mood] of man does not achieve the righteousness of God."