Many of us follow one of two paths in anger: either we lash out in the moment or we brood on it for awhile, which often results in a lash out at some point in the future. Both of these approaches cause us to feel embarrassed with our behavior. They also leave behind a trail of damage that we must undo if we are to live with the integrity and unity that we are called to in the gospel.
We find wisdom in scripture to find a different way. In Ephesians, in a paragraph about being false towards others, Paul writes, "Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil" (4:26-27). It is clear that Paul believes we can be angry without yet sinning; it is what we do with that anger that leads to sin. If we immediately lash out against another, we have sinned; we have acted inappropriately with our anger.
It is also clear that prolonged, unprocessed anger creates space for the devil to creep in. The longer we brood and meditate on an issue or person that caused us anger, we become angrier and bitter towards that person, perhaps lashing out later. In this case, also, the inappropriate use of anger has led to sin.
Paul provides a solution for us to ponder. Many of us believe that anger is a sin by itself, so we question how we can be angry without sinning. Paul writes, "Do not let the sun go down on your anger." Paul's exhortation to us is to process our anger, to pray about it, to work through it, to seek forgiveness and reconciliation.
Paul's exhortation is an application of Psalm 4:4, where the psalmist admonishes that "when you are angry [disturbed; NRSV], do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent." His teaching, picked up by Paul, is that in the night ("on your beds"), when you have time for reflection and prayer (most Jews observed evening prayer as a disciplined practice), pray about and work through your anger. Paul reflects this idea when he says not to let the sun go down on your anger.
Prayer is a help with anger. In our anger, we are most often focused on ourselves, how we have been offended and wronged. We often do not think about how we might have contributed to the problem, and we do not often seek reconciliation and forgiveness in the heat of anger.
If we follow the admonition of Paul and the psalmist, then we will turn to prayer in our anger, which is really a turning to God. We will process our anger in prayer, seeking the Lord's guidance, with a much better possibility of an outcome that includes peace, reconciliation and forgiveness.