Ok, thanks for hanging in there! Here is the final part, as promised, and my prayer is that you feel a bit of hope dawning in your heart – like the first light of sunrise. This is certainly not my final time to discuss this topic here. I’m thinking it might be merely the beginning of a longer conversation. Also, please know that what I write is not merely “past tense struggle.” Today I was angry when two cranky girls pushed my buttons on our way home from church. The irony of it was that while my husband was preaching to the second service, I was losing it in anger towards my nap-starved toddlers at home. Oh, Lord, we need your mercy daily! Moment-by-moment. And thanks be to God in Christ Jesus that we have a guarantee of it – eternal, cascading mercy and grace. May you know that today wherever you are struggling.
As I began exploring my heart and God’s Word, since true change always comes as the two intersect, I discovered that God has a lot to say about anger. I found a sermon from a favorite preacher in New York City, Dr. Tim Keller, titled “Healing of Anger”. Once again, God used him to invite my heart to the beauty of the gospel as it connects to anger. Much of what I’m reflecting on here is from that sermon. A few key verses on anger:
- Psalm 86:15 – “But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.” It is not that God is angry, but He is slow to anger and His anger is over the right things that make God’s anger so different than mine. His slow anger means that I am not destroyed because of my sinful anger against my children. His slow anger makes room for grace, for abundant love and mercy. His slow anger made a plan for how to deal with the source of his anger: sin. And at great cost to himself – he would allow his own Son to be the sacrifice his anger demanded for sin. So that we (the sinners) could be called sons and daughters. God’s anger is always against sin, and yet he allowed Christ to receive his wrath against sin so that we could be counted righteous. So that we would not have to be enslaved by the sin that grieves his heart. This is my greatest hope as I battle anger.
- James 1:19-20 – “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” Yikes! What a contrast to God’s anger. Mine is hardly, rarely righteous anger, and it actually does not accomplish what God wants in my life – the righteousness He has given me and clothed me with in Christ. God’s anger is always against sin; my anger is usually because of personal discomfort. This is why I get enraged over a child not going to sleep at night but why I hardly blink to hear about the latest genocide in Africa. My anger is not righteous; it’s disproportionate. The injustice in the world that should anger me barely causes me to turn my head while I am disproportionately angry towards the person who cuts me off in traffic or the child who screams, “No!” when I tell her to come upstairs.
- Proverbs 15:1 – “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” When I respond with harsh words instead of a gentle answer, I make my anger and that of my kids worse.
- Proverbs 16:32 – “Better a patient person than a warrior, one with self-control than one who takes a city.” Being slow to anger will take tremendous soul strength, strength that I do not have apart from Christ. It’s compared here to the ingenuity, military prowess and planning necessary to take charge of a city. Patience will entail planning, fortitude, and strength – it will mean divine resources, available through Christ’s life and death on my behalf.
- Proverbs 25:28 – “Like a city whose walls are broken through is a person who lacks self-control.” No self-control leaves me vulnerable, without protection and susceptible to destruction like a city without the protection of its walls and gates.
- Ephesians 4:26-27 – “ ‘In your anger do not sin;’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” Sinful anger is toxic and gives the devil an opportunity he should not have. It is part of my old self, not my new self in Christ.
- Genesis 4:6-7 – “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” The very first instance recorded in the Bible of human anger is Cain’s anger toward his brother Abel that arose out of jealousy that Abel’s sacrifice to God was accepted and his own was rejected. The Lord here comes to warn Cain, and this story is a warning to me. Cain did not heed God’s warning, and anger gave way to murder. Anger’s natural unchecked consequence is death, and that means not just physical death of murder but the ways that anger unchecked always results in some level of relational death. In the power of the Spirit of the risen Christ, I will rule over anger or it will rule over me.
What does anger say about my heart? For me, it’s usually one of the following:
- I am not believing God is sovereign, good, loving, and personally involved in my life.
- There is something I want more than loving my kids and exercising Spirit-empowered self-control – I’m refusing to live in God’s kingdom and instead want to live in the kingdom of self.
- I have unmet expectations, desires that have become demands, and I need to reexamine those desires as well as readjust my expectations. Maybe I’m expecting more of my child than is developmentally appropriate. Maybe I have turned a good desire into a controlling (idolatrous) demand.
- I need forgiveness, and I need to repent. I need Jesus!
Hope is found as I agree with God about what he says about my sinful anger, confess to him and to others, seek the grace always plentiful and available in Christ through faith, and make Spirit-empowered choices that are different. This can include researching a good child development book so that I better understand why my children are responding in the ways that they are and adjust my expectations accordingly. It can include calling a friend who has similarly aged children and asking her how she’s dealing with a certain behavior or issue. It’s often included a conversation with a more experienced mom to ask for her perspective on this particular stage. Heart-transforming change always means coming before God in prayerful dependence, asking specifically for the help that I need and asking him to show me the “way out of temptation” before it comes. I have written verses I want to meditate on and remember on 3×5 cards and put them in highly visible places where I will see them during the day (my kitchen sink, car dashboard, etc). Most importantly, it means rehearsing the gospel story of redemption to myself again and remembering where I am in it: declared righteous by Christ’s death and resurrection and living a life no longer enslaved to sin in community with the body of Christ. I am awaiting Christ’s return to make everything right, to destroy sinful anger forever, and to restore all of his people to a perfect relationship with a holy and beautiful God. This is the hope that purifies me day by day, and it is remember my identity in this story that gives me courage to live out its beautifying truth. Even – and especially – as I battle anger as a mom of toddlers.