Releasing anger and irritation before the sun goes down is a mercy worth ritualizing
28) Create a short end-of-day ritual to ask for (and extend) forgiveness with those you live with. “Do not let the sun set on your anger” (Eph. 4:26). — 56 Ways to Be Merciful During the Jubilee Year of Mercy
Women’s magazines are always stressing the importance of not going to bed with your makeup on. It’s true – unless removed with gentle cleansing, makeup residue left to linger overnight can attract dirt, clog pores, and eventually trigger flare-ups of inflammation and ugly blemishes.
In our everyday spiritual lives, the opposite is true. Scripture warns us against going to bed without making up. “So then,” Paul writes to the Ephesians, “putting away all falsehood, let us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” (Ephesians 4:25-27).
Spiritual advice can sometimes be complicated, but this is one teaching that makes pure and perfect common sense. The effects of not reconciling with one another – our family members, friends, coworkers, even ourselves, and especially our God – on a regular basis are much like the effects of leaving makeup on overnight. Grudges held attract the dirt of more anger and irritation. Withholding forgiveness (or stubbornly refusing to ask it from those we have wronged) clogs the pores of the soul and the arteries of the heart. The smoldering embers of anger will inevitably stir into explosive flames of rage when we least expect it, and give rise to outbreaks of sin’s ugly blemishes.
Don’t believe it? Think about the last time you took your spouse’s head off for installing the toilet paper roll facing the wrong direction.
Making up – acknowledging and forgiving and setting ourselves free of the day’s burden of aggressions, micro and macro – is more than just good spiritual and psychological hygiene. It’s a mercy, a participation in God’s merciful making up with humanity in Christ Jesus, every day until the sun shall shine no more. And as such it is an act of spiritual combat, because the devil is defeated when we make peace.
Those magazine articles about removing makeup before going to bed stress the importance of making nightly skin care a habit. If you build in the time to cleanse your skin and do it regularly for a couple of weeks, it will become routine. You will be less likely to skip the step “just this once,” because you’ve made the practice of removing makeup consciously important.
In other words, you’ve created a ritual.
This week’s suggestion for how to practice mercy in the Jubilee Year prompts us to think about doing the same thing with making up: “Create a short end-of-day ritual to ask for (and extend) forgiveness with those you live with.” That is, don’t just have a general good intention not to go to bed mad. Act, with conscious deliberation, to clear the decks of anger each day before the lights go off.
“Creating a ritual” doesn’t have to mean composing a liturgical office, wearing special forgiveness vestments, and selecting suitable hymns. (Good luck with that last one, in any case, because getting any two Catholics to agree on what constitutes a suitable hymn is more likely to trigger an all-out war than to celebrate reconciliation!) No, the important thing is doing something that is meaningful to you and yours, over and over again, until it becomes second nature. Your ritual will depend a lot on who you are and who you live with, but here are just a few ideas to get you started:
- Before falling asleep, hold hands with your spouse, look into each other’s eyes, and say “I’m sorry. I forgive you.”
- When praying bedtime prayers with your children, take a minute to mention and let go of the crankiness and arguments and sulks of the day. Let kids do this with one another and with you as parents.
- When things have been particularly stressful, invite family members to write notes to place on one another’s pillows. The message can be as simple as “Let’s make tomorrow better.” Children can draw pictures.
If you live alone, adapt these ideas to your circumstances. Sometimes that will mean calling or texting others at the end of the day to ask “Are we good?” Often it will mean finding ways to let go of the old angers that keep you isolated and lonely. Always, it will mean asking God to help you make up with yourself and with him before the sun goes down.
“Do not make room for the devil” – or the nasty pimples of rage. Say goodnight, Gracie, with grace and mercy, every night.