Veronica Zundel confesses to having moments when she feels like lashing out – and suspects she is not alone

In Truman Capote’s haunting novella Breakfast at Tiffany’s, there is a moment when Holly Golightly, the ‘heroine’, declares she has “the mean reds”. This is, she makes clear, quite different from the more common ‘blues’. I know just what she means.

They might be related but, while the blues just makes you sad, the mean reds make you nasty and vicious.

Now I’m sure that you, my readers, are generally nice people. I don’t get hate mail from you and I suspect you are faithful and kind to those who have the good fortune to know or live with you. But if you’ve ever had the mean reds, you will know what I mean.

Sometimes I find it really difficult to be kind, forgiving and accepting. I want to lash out and punish someone, anyone, for how I am feeling. It’s quite possible that I’m the only Christian who ever feels this way, but somehow I doubt it.

Jesus taught us to love our neighbour and also to love our enemy (sometimes they’re the same person). This sounds very desirable, but actually it can be really hard.

Even more so if we have not experienced the forgiveness of those around us, or find it hard to believe in God’s forgiveness.

My late mother was very forgiving in the sense that she would never, ever think of breaking off our relationship. And yet she never forgot an offence, however young I was when I committed it, and would bring it up decades later.

She used to tell the joke about the difference between a Jewish mother and a Rottweiler (the Rottweiler eventually lets go). She could tell it against herself, and laugh, but to actually practice its lesson was beyond her. I never felt forgiven.

Recognising the effect of our tongues

Perhaps there are those of us who are quite naturally forbearing and never speak or do anything unpleasant. Or else we have learned, over years of being a Christian, how to control our tongue and do no harm to others. I would not count myself in either of these categories.

I have been a Christian for 53 years, but I am still capable of throwing a tantrum like a two-year-old, or saying something quite unnecessarily hurtful – to put it bluntly, of being a real bitch. I don’t want to be that way, but I am.

St Paul described this so well: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7:19).

I can well imagine the academically trained rabbi, who before his conversion took so readily to being a persecutor, might have had a scalding tongue when he chose. But he threw himself on the mercy of God: “Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24-5).

In other words, neither he nor we have the power to change our sinful nature, without the strength given through the transforming Spirit of Jesus. We will always be, as Luther put it: “simul justus et peccator” – at the same time righteous and a sinner.

This does not in any way excuse us from aspiring to be more righteous as we grow in Christ; but we also have to acknowledge that this side of death, we will never reach perfection in word and deed.

Of course different personalities will have different weaknesses that they fall into again and again. My Enneagram type is ‘the romantic’ and, as I’ve come to know very well, the disappointments of life are very apt to turn the romantic into the cynic. And when one has a facility with words, it is so easy for the wrong words to slip out and beget more wrong words.

I noticed this particularly during the second and third COVID lockdowns; I seemed to have been in a perpetual state of barely suppressed rage, particularly at people not wearing masks on public transport (or worse, people wearing masks over their mouths but not their noses, or slung casually round their chins, as if the fact of merely having a mask would protect others!).

The thing is, it isn’t at all pleasant for the sufferer to be in this state. I notice increasingly that when I am kind to people, I feel better, and when I am nasty I feel considerably worse.

The mean reds are as destructive to those who have them as to they are to those who find themselves on the receiving end. So please have mercy on me when I have a case of them and, if you can, remind me that it is in fact generally nicer to be nice.