Anger’s Achille’s Heel
By Marlene Houk
The air crackled with his fury as she quickly swung herself off the animal and knelt. His stare stabbed her calm, almost cracking her resolve to speak. Their swords drawn, his soldiers hesitated, stunned by the beautiful woman, alone, talking softly to their leader. They could see the tension slide away from his shoulders as she lay prone on the rocky ground, completely vulnerable. Their swords jostling against their sides, they edged closer, listening to her quiet words as she filled their ears with her musical lilt. The miracle happening before them halted them in their tracks, horses snorting softly, the surrounding breeze and swaying green grasses slowly registering in their minds. They were frankly nervous because their leader raged out of control, and they had never experienced his anger at this level.
Curious, their gazes turned to her donkeys munching tender shoots close by. Abigail’s servants had slipped the mounds of food from their backs, and the soldiers’ mouths watered at the prospect of the preliminary gift that would curb their stark hunger.
Each soldier hoped for the best—food for their bellies and peace. They listened carefully, watching the interplay and praying for a solution to the standoff.
Her words slipped around his anger and gradually returned him to rational thinking as she reminded him of his royal destiny.
Diverting anger requires humility, wisdom, and quiet gentleness. In the story above, told in 1 Samuel 25, we discover how Abigail helps the future King David to avoid a fatal mistake while angry. David asked Abigail’s husband, Nabal, for any food he could spare for his hungry soldiers in reciprocity for guarding Nabal’s 3,000 sheep. Nabal responded by insulting David’s young men, treating them churlishly, and sneering at their kindness and generosity. His narcissistic cruelty enraged David, who promised to kill Nabal and all his men. Abigail’s servant told her about the crisis, and she hastily instructed them to pack several donkeys with a token supply of food—what David had requested. She rushed to meet David and his 400 soldiers as he raced to Nabal’s encampment for revenge.
Why did David swear to kill dozens of men rather than simply take the food that was rightfully his? David’s 600 trained men probably outnumbered Nabal’s untrained servants. But, anger out of control demands more, doesn’t it? David could have polluted the water or scared the sheep and made them run. He could have burned the wool or stolen it. David could also have Negotiations with the shepherds directly was an option. He could have lured Nabal’s servants away or asked Abigail to intervene, but he reacted to Nabal’s goading.
Abigail influenced David to change his beliefs about Nabal’s rejection, thus enabling him to look beyond Nabal’s evil and return to cognitive tasks. According to famed researcher Albert Ellis, “You don’t get frustrated because of events, you get frustrated because of your beliefs.”[i] When Abigail helped David to look beyond Nabal’s evil, she changed his beliefs about the crisis. She helped David to look beyond Nabal’s temporary thwarting and dismissal of his anointing to a time when God’s will would prevail. She demonstrated the truth of what modern behavioral research has discovered.
“Research suggests it is because both cognitive tasks and emotional responses make use of the same limited mental resources. That is, the resources that are used to perform a cognitive task are no longer available for emotional processes. Accordingly, people can rid themselves of unwanted feelings by engaging in a cognitive activity, such as doing math equations or playing a game of Tetris.”[ii]
How did Abigail redirect David’s thinking to cognitive tasks? She asked him to accept her gifts, a practical cognitive task. (1 Samuel 25:27) She asked him to remember her, not Nabal, a task requiring brain power. (1 Samuel 25:31) And she reminded him to continue to work with the Lord in His plan to make David’s house a “sure” house, choosing action over emotive reaction. (1 Samuel 25:28)
Abigail used behavioral science eons before it was defined by modern-day scientists. She enabled David to look beyond his anger and reengage his mental resources, thus limiting his emotional responses. Abigail abolished anger’s Achille’s heel, demonstrating that our brains cannot concentrate on intense emotion and cognitive tasks at the same time. She averted a bloody annihilation, saving many lives. David lived out her advice, shooting the arrow directly into his Achilles’ heel of anger by following her practical advice. Did he learn valuable life lessons from her that his Psalms express?
How do we apply Abigail’s advice to our situations? Like David, when we are consumed by anger at someone’s malicious goading, we can recognize God’s gifts of daily provision, godly counsel, and His Word. We need to practically look for ways to serve the Lord that leave little time for unbridled emotion to grab a foothold in our spirits.
I experienced a need to vent vindictively recently and then found myself creating a chocolate éclair cake for a meal. The simple mundane tasks of measuring, mixing, and creating delight offered a pause in the battle for control which allowed me to thank God for His gifts to me. Try Abigail’s secret to hitting anger’s Achille’s heel; it works!
Marlene is an author and teacher of Bible studies. She may be reached at Bible167@gmail.com
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Blue Ridge Christian News covers Avery County, Burke County, McDowell County, Mitchell County, Yancey County, and Madison County in North Carolina, and Christian news from around the country.