How to Turn Your Anger Into Healthy, Holy Action

Should Christians get angry? And when they do, how should they handle it?

Attempting to answer those questions on a recent episode of the More2Life radio show, Bill Donaghy, senior lecturer at the Theology of the Body Institute, pointed to a scene near the climax of the Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace.

Two Jedi knights are battling the evil Sith Lord, Darth Maul. Their lightsaber battle rages through a power plant until a “laser gate” suddenly closes, separating the two sides. As they wait for the gate to open, the Sith warrior paces back and forth like a caged animal, twirling his double-bladed lightsaber and glaring angrily at the Jedi. One of the Jedi reacts very differently, though: he falls to his knees and closes his eyes in a kind of prayer.

The scene illustrates two very different ways of handling anger, Donaghy told Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak, and points to a key Christian insight about anger. Feeling anger isn’t sinful: “Be angry, but do not sin,” St. Paul told the early Christians (Ephesians 4:26).

Instead, it is what we do with our anger that matters.

Anger vs. Wrath

“Anger is meant to be a gift that calls our attention to an injustice and motivates us to act in proportionate, appropriate, and productive ways so that we can heal whatever that injustice might be,” Dr. Popcak said.

Anger that is appropriately channeled into setting things right—“righteous anger”—is better than unreasonable patience with evil, St. John Chrysostom, a doctor of the Church, once said: “He who is not angry when he has good reason to be, sins. Unreasonable patience is the hotbed of many vices.”

Wrath, on the other hand, is sinful. Wrath is “anger that is inappropriate, disproportionate, and unproductive,” Dr. Popcak said. While righteous anger aims to restore and heal, wrath seeks to destroy.

If anger is a gift from God—a signal that something is wrong that needs to be put right—then how do we handle this powerful emotion in a way that serves the good? Here are a few tips.


Don’t React; Instead, Step Back

The key to handling anger well is to avoid being reactive. Instead of launching into a hasty response fueled by the chemicals flooding your brain, pause, step back, and consider what is really driving your anger.

Is it really the thing in front of you that is provoking your anger, or is the thing in front of you stirring up old wounds? Is your child’s whining the real problem—or is the deeper problem that you are hungry and exhausted?

Understanding the real source of your anger is critical to addressing it in a proportionate, productive way.


Sublimate Your Anger to God

As you are collecting your thoughts, pray for the grace you need to handle the situation well.

“Anger isn’t so much a call to action as a call to prayer,” Dr. Popcak said. “Without prayer, anger can cause us to feel stuck, powerless, and perpetually outraged with no solution in sight.”

“We have to stop and say to the Lord: ‘Lord, I’m a mess,’” Lisa Popcak added. “’Everything is dysregulated inside of me because I feel like there’s an injustice happening. You went through the worst injustice possible. Show me what to do with this.’”

In the language of the Theology of the Body, your goal should be to sublimate your anger to God. Sublimation is not about repressing or denying your anger, Donaghy said; it is about “lifting it up to God, giving it to God and asking God to come into it.”


Learn to Express Anger Constructively

Righteous anger focuses on setting things right and finding solutions. In other words, it has a constructive purpose.

Setting boundaries for a respectful discussion can help. In a conflict with your spouse, for example, you might agree that each of you has a right to express their thoughts and feelings, but that it is not acceptable to express those thoughts and feelings in a disrespectful or destructive way.

Similarly, constructive anger focuses on finding solutions that address the concerns of all parties involved. The priority ought to be healing, restoring, and strengthening relationships, not “winning,” which only fosters resentment and fuels the cycle of angry conflict.


Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help

Sometimes, dealing with anger —yours or someone else’s— requires some extra help. You can find Dr. Greg and Lisa Popcak’s advice about handling anger in many of their books, particularly Parenting with Grace (for handling kids’ anger), Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heart (for anger as a gift from God), How to Heal Your Marriage & Nurture Lasting Love (for handling anger in a marriage), and God Help Me! These People Are Driving Me Nuts! Making Peace With Difficult People (self-explanatory, really).

And for more in-depth, one-on-one help, reach out to one of the many pastoral counselors at

Decisions, Decisions… How to Be Confident in The Face of Uncertainty

From big to small, we are faced with decisions every day. Sometimes when we are at a crossroads between two–or more–options, we become paralyzed by the uncertainty and fear of decision making.

When we don’t know what to do, the Theology of The Body can help us gain clarity. St John Paul reminds us that every decision we make should help us, as he put it,  “become what we are”–the whole, healed, godly, grace-filled person God sees when he looks at us. In any decision of any importance at all, if we’re confused about what to do, the be way to be confident in our choices is to look for the option that seems to give us the greatest chance of doing three things.  First, using our gifts to bless others. Second, enabling us to make our relationships healthier and stronger. And third, using the situation to become a stronger, healthier person.

It is these three qualities, meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue, upon which an abundant life rests. We can never guarantee the outcome of what we do, but we don’t have to. We just have to be able to be confident that we have a good and godly process that we use to make our decisions. If our desire is to avoid evil, to be loving and responsible in our decisions, and make choices that lead to what we prayerfully believe will increase our chances of growing in meaningfulness, intimacy and virtue, then even when we feel uncertain, we can be confident that, through God’s mercy,  we are making the right decisions.

Let’s look at a few practical ways to be confident in the face of uncertainty:

1. Focus on the Process, Not the Feeling–You will rarely feel 100% certain that you made the one right choice.  If you wait for your feelings to tell you that you are doing (or have done) the right thing, you will be waiting a very long time, indeed. When making a decision of any sort, don’t take your cue from your feelings, focus on your process. Have you taken the decision to prayer? Are you trying to avoid doing anything bad? Are you trying your best to be loving and responsible in your decisions? And finally, are you trying to choose the option that seems to increase your chances of living a more meaningful, intimate, and virtuous life?  If you can answer “yes” to these questions, then your decision making process is solid no matter what your feelings say. Trust the process, not your feelings, and know that God will be pleased with your effort and get you on the right path by means of his mercy.

2. Indecisive is Worse Than Wrong–You already know that being stuck isn’t working. As long as you are genuinely trying to make a meaningful, intimate and virtuous choice, even a wrong decision is better than staying put, because even a wrong decision will give you new information to work with. Very few decisions are irreversibly wrong, and those are almost always decisions made rashly, and emotionally instead of trying to intentionally pursue greater meaningfulness, intimacy or virtue. When you make a decision, don’t look back. Instead, look at the new information your decision has given you and look for the next step that allows you to pursue meaningfulness intimacy and virtue. Staying put gets you more of what you’ve got. Making even a wrong decision that reflects an active attempt to pursue meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue will draw you closer to God who, in his mercy, will get you on the right path. Grace can direct you when you’re in motion, but grace can’t move you if you are committed to staying put. Indecisive is always worse than wrong.

3. Don’t Feed the Goblin–Assuming you’ve followed the steps above, the voices of doubt that remain in your head after you make a decision are never from God.  Even if you made the wrong decision in good faith, God will gently guide you forward on the right path. As Jesus said, “I did not come to condemn but to save.” Those self-critical voices of condemnation that make you second-guess yourself are not from God, they are what St. Ignatius referred to as desolations. This is the voice of the Enemy trying to cause you to stay stuck and refuse to take any actions that God could use to draw you closer to him. Reject these voices and focus, instead, on the next step that leads to greater meaningfulness, intimacy and virtue. The more you refuse to feed the goblins of doubts, the more you will grow in the confidence that comes from stepping out in God’s grace.

For more resources to help you make decisions that will lead to greater meaningfulness, intimacy, and virtue in your life explore!


Quick links and resources:

Unworried: A Life Without Anxiety 

Broken Gods: Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of The Human Heart 

What Does God Want Me To Do?


Just Wait a Minute! (Why Patience Isn’t What You Think)


We were talking about patience on More2Life Radio today.  What it is, what it isn’t, and how to get more of it.

Patience, of course, is the virtue we all love to hate.  We all know we need it, but we sure as heck don’t want to ask God to give it to us.  And yet, perhaps some of that reluctance is due to the fact that we don’t really understand what patience is.

Patience—> Happiness

Psychologists refer to patience as the ability to delay gratification and we know from research that this ability is essential for a happy life.  In his famous Stanford Marshmallow Experiments, psychologist Walter Mischel studied a group of kindergartners.  He placed a marshmallow in front of each kid in his study and told them they could eat this marshmallow now or, if they could refrain from eating that marshmallow for 15 minutes while he stepped out of the room, they could have 2 marshmallows when he came back.   He recorded their responses and then continued to check in with his participants periodically into adulthood.  He found that the kids who were able to patiently wait for the second marshmallow, in high school, had better academic success and better SAT scores than the kids who ate the marshmallow right away.  As they entered adulthood, the kids who were able to patiently wait for the second marshmallow had lower incidence of addictions and obesity, and reported higher scores on multiple measures of life and relationship satisfaction.

The ability to practice patience is key to living a happy life.

What Patience Is and What It Isn’t

Most people think that patience is the ability to endure an injustice without getting upset.  But that’s not really what it is.  In fact, passivity is Satan’s plagiarism of patience.  To witness an injustice and feel nothing and do nothing isn’t a virtue, it’s the sin of sloth!   In reality, patience is the virtue that allows us to respond to an injustice in a thoughtful, measured, proportionate and responsible way.   Patience is the virtue that allows us to experience an injustice and, instead of lashing out and merely reacting in ways that ultimately make the problem even worse, step back and consider the best way to respond and then allow that good effort to germinate and blossom and bear fruit.

As I observe in my upcoming book, Broken Gods:  Hope, Healing, and the Seven Longings of the Human Heartpatience is an active virtue that allows us to respond in an appropriate way and then allow that response to mature and take effect.  It allows us to make appropriate adjustments along the way and wait to see how those changes effect things before we make additional changes.  True patience does not require us to disengage from the problem.  It challenges us to engage in a more thoughtful  and intentional manner.

Cultivating Patience…Painlessly.

It can become easier to practice patience when we stop seeing it as the call to simply grit our teeth and suffer without complaint.  “Practicing patience” is really not about suffering gleefully.  It is about responding to suffering and injustice in a way that allows you to be thoughtful and intentional and then, instead of complaining about it, stepping back and thoughtfully shepherding the good efforts you began to a fruitful and just conclusion.  Yes, patience involves restraining ourselves from  excessive complaining, pouting, and misery-making, but only so that we can save that energy we would waste complaining and instead be able to respond in a mature, productive way to the challenges we face, that God’s will might be done in our lives, that our needs would be met, and the injustices that plagued us could be resolved by his grace.

Seen in this light, perhaps we can allow patience to take it’s place in our lives as a key to happiness and well-being.


Are YOU Humble? New Study Identifies the Truth About Humble People

It might seem strange to think that people would study humility, but positive psychology (the branch of psychology that studies well-being) is interested in fostering virtue as an important part of leading

A slice of Humble Pie?

A slice of Humble Pie?

a happy and healthy life.  This is one of the first studies, however, looking at what, exactly humility is and how it benefits us.

Hardy’s analysis found two clusters of traits that people use to explain humility. Traits in the first cluster come from the social realm: Sincere, honest, unselfish, thoughtful, mature, etc. The second and more unique cluster surrounds the concept of learning: curious, bright, logical and aware.

Samuelson says the two clusters of humble traits — the social and intellectual — often come as a package deal for people who are “intellectually humble.” Because they love learning, they spend time learning from other people.

“In many ways, this is the defining feature of intellectual humility and what makes it distinct from general humility,” said Samuelson, who formerly served as a Lutheran pastor prior to his academic career.

The new study appears in The Journal of Positive Psychology.

This study dovetails with my own understanding of humility.  Humility is not the putative “virtue” of running yourself down or refusing to rejoice in the gifts you have been given.  Pride is defined as the vice that says, “I will NOT serve.”  Pride is an obsession with defining one’s own path to fulfillment, hoarding one’s gifts and refusing to be open to learning from the experience of others.  Humility, then, is the awareness that abundance can only be pursued by cooperating with others, sharing what one has with others, and learning from the experience of others.

If you want to be humble, the key is an openness to learn from others, to see the truth, goodness and beauty in the things they find true, good, and beautiful, and to be willing to give of oneself for the benefit of others.

The Four Components of Wisdom

I think most of us would like to be wise, or at least hope to become wise one day.  But I wonder how many of us could articulate what wisdom really looks like.  I suspect most of us know wisdom when we see it, but how many of us would be able to articulate the skills or abilities make up wisdom?

Wisdom: 4 Keys to Getting Unstuck

Today on More2Life Radio, we discussed “getting unstuck.”  When we encounter situations that leave us not knowing what to do and we feel trapped or stuck, it is wisdom that helps us find the way out.  In preparing for the show, I came across a study that identified 4 skills that the researchers considered indicative of “wise reasoning.”  I thought they represented as good an operational definition of wisdom as I’ve ever encountered.  The more you cultivate the following abilities in your life and relationships, the more likely it is you will be able to find creative solutions to even the thorniest problems.  Take a look!

1.  The Ability to Recognize the Limits of our own Knowledge.

If we are willing to genuinely acknowledge what we don’t know, then we know when its time to seek new skills, resources, or counsel.

2. The Ability to Seek Compromise

Compromise has a bad reputation.  Most people tend to think of it as settling on the solution that is equally dissatisfying to everyone.  That’s a bad compromise.  A good compromise assesses what everyone’s needs are and then tries to brainstorm solutions that take those needs into account.  That takes some creativity and patience, but the wise reasoner recognizes that anything less just won’t hold over time.  Unless everyone is satisfied with a solution, it is no solution at all.

3.  The Ability to Consider the Perspective of Others

When we become stressed, we get tunnel-vision.  Wise reasoners  intentionally force themselves to consider the perspectives of others by asking questions like, “What would this person think?”  and “How would I advise someone else who was dealing with this problem?”

4.  The Ability to Recognize All the Possible Ways a Scenario Could Unfold

Too often, we become married to our ideal solution and we think that every other possible outcome can’t help but disappoint.   The wise reasoner is willing to both look at all the possible ways a situation could play out and ask themselves how they might make the best out of each of those possible outcomes.  This ability to see how multiple outcomes could be worked to one’s advantage helps generate a sense that “all shall be well” and makes it safe to consider solutions that might, at first, seem less than ideal.

Let Wisdom Watch Over You

Proverbs 4:6 says, “Do not forsake wisdom and she will protect you.  Love her, and she will watch over you.”  While there are many factors that can contribute to the achievement of wisdom, consciously cultivating these 4 abilities can set you on the path to becoming the sort of wise-reasoner who is able to find ways to get unstuck from even the stickiest situations.


Coming Friday on More2Life Radio: What’s In YOUR Basket?

What’s in YOUR Basket?     As we enter into Holy Week and  get ready for Easter, we want to reflect on the virtues that help us rise up to live life as a gift.  We’ll look especially at the fruits of the Spirit (Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, and Self-Control) and explore ways to increase the experience of these and other virtues in our daily lives.

Do you have questions about being a more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, gentle, self-controlled person?  Then call in from Noon-1pm Eastern (11am-Noon Central) at 877-573-7825

Don’t forget to answer our M2L Facebook Q of the D:  If you had to choose one, which virtue/quality (for example:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, etc) would help you the most in your life and why?

Listen to More2Life live weekdays from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C). Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you? Tune in live online at, listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast!

Coming Fri on More2Life Radio–God Give Me…Patience(?)

COMING FRIDAY–God Give Me…Patience(?):  Patience (ugh).  We all need it, but very few of us want it.  Today on M2L we’ll explore the surprising benefits of patience and some ways to cultivate it painlessly. We can’t wait to talk with you (See?  We need patience too!)  Call in from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C) at 877-573-7825.

Don’t forget to answer the M2L FB question of the day:  What situations–or people–in your life are hardest to be patient with?

—Listen to More2Life live weekdays from Noon-1pm E (11am-Noon C).  Can’t get M2L on a Catholic radio station near you?    Tune in live online at,  listen via our FREE AveMariaRadio IPhone or Android App (Check your app store!), or catch the M2L Podcast!