My son, and admittedly myself, tend to giggle like idiots whenever we open up a bottle of seltzer and find that it’s been shaken up too much beforehand. Laughing throughout, we flailingly reach to tighten the cap as quickly as possible as we get covered in carbonated water. As a result of increasing pressure inside of the bottle with nothing to let out the pressure, the bottle was just waiting for our hands to get a hold of it while the pressure was temporarily contained.
Similarly, while a teenager, I made quite the wicked discovery that if I combine water, sugar and a certain common chemical in a soda bottle and shake it up, it explodes with quite a bit of force, as the reaction inside is stronger than what the plastic container can hold back. Inside this container, the pressure continued to build until it could either be contained or released, and since the bottle was too weak to contain the pressure inside, it would explode at great decibels. My friends and I had a number of misadventures with that discovery, with thankfully no repercussions in our lives or in the lives of others.
Pressure also builds up in our relationships and interactions, and just like these containers, unless something or someone comes along to release that pressure, it will continue to build until it eventually explodes when it can’t be contained any further, and not always in the best of ways.
In my last devotional, I recounted a story about an email fight I had with an art gallery over a failed purchase that went from inquisition to threats to personal comments to almost public shaming. It was at that point, right before I was about to post my public review, that I saw how the pressure had built up in these interactions, how all parties were so concerned with being right and having the last word, that the pressure just kept building between us. We really seemed out to destroy one another, even though we had never met, and I wasn’t sure where it was going to end, either. False bravado, hubris, cockiness, whatever you want to call it.
Additionally, I noted the physical toll that these interactions were taking on me. I felt heavier, as if these words were physically weighing on my shoulders. Slouched over at my computer, I angrily typed, pounding down on the keys while furious grimaces crossed my face. The thoughts of what I wanted to do to these people, making them pay for their words, ran rampant in my head, and I’m pretty sure that the other party was feeling and doing the same exact things.
Thinking about how a tea kettle, as it builds up steam, needs to vent that steam or else it will explode, I was certain that at some point, someone had to let the pressure out of this situation. I suddenly realized that I had the power to do it, so I composed that final long email of unwarranted reconciliation. As I wrote, I felt progressively and significantly lighter, free of our words, as if they were being lifted off me. When I wrote, I wasn’t expecting anything and didn’t even think I would hear back from them. I just knew that I didn’t want to carry that burden any more. I was tired of being angry.
Carrie Fisher once said that resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die. Anger towards another does nothing but destroy ourselves. So, to break free from the cycle of anger, we need to find a valve, something or someone that lets out the steam. Unfortunately for Kim and Julia, they couldn’t find one between the two of them.
These two senior students had been bickering with one another for a day or so. Towards the end of my class, it started up again, but was increasing in intensity. For every biting comment one had, the other had an even stronger one. It would go back and forth until each of them was yelling at the other. Thankfully, being the end of the period, the bell rang and acted as the steam valve. However, it started right up again the next day, right at the beginning of the period. From snarky looks, to sniping comments, to hostile body language, to screaming insults, I finally stepped in to let the steam out and release the pressure. I excused one from the room and relocated the other to a different part of the room, telling each one not to talk to the other. It worked, for the moment, so I met with each of them later that day to help them let out more steam and pressure. After talking reasonably with them and imbuing some patience, they calmed down and realized how each one’s comments and actions were escalating the situation, and how they needed to learn to deescalate, or else ensuing disaster and self-harm would follow: each one was getting so worked up over the other that it was staring to take a personal toll on their individual selves, not each other.
Proverbs 16.32 teaches us that it is “better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” To conquer a world, anyone with enough strength and armies can do that, but to be patient, listen, and calmly go about life takes special finesse and skill. The latter is much more difficult as it involves craft and aptitude, whereas the former just takes brute force. So, the next time you find yourself escalating to anger, look for that steam valve and choose patience. It won’t be easy, as everything in you will want to bring forth anger, so create preexisting paths to help you calmly go about your way. Find what helps to let out the pressure and deescalates the situation before the containment explodes. When angry, some count, others visualize something pleasant, some seek out other people, and others flip the situation around to create an empathetic standpoint. Whatever works for you, seek His guidance and His model for how to approach the situation, and you will find yourself conquering not worlds but your own emotions. Amen.