Last Updated on June 22, 2018
I used to be such an agreeable person.
Has anyone else been amazed by the force of emotion your children can produce within you? I admit with shame that one of my greatest adjustments with having multiple children lies simply in dealing with the irritability and anger I can feel:
- The dog wants out when I am late going somewhere (again),
- my blood sugar is low from forgetting breakfast,
- and my sleep-deprived mind takes in my disaster of a living room
- while my infant cries ceaselessly, pulling my frizzed-out hair
- as I nearly break my neck on another rogue Matchbox car
- while my toddler has a potty accident on the carpet
- and my preschooler does something mean-spirited I’ve specifically requested he NOT do that basically results in some dumping of a box full of toys with seventy-two educational little pieces.
I find myself there on autopilot, doing things that won’t work in an attempt to just get everything to STOP and OBEY, for the love of Mike, like trying to find the snooze button. In fact, I do occasionally hear myself telling one of them “Please, please just stop that.” or “Why are you doing that?! Please, NO!” or something equally effective, like “Why are you crying?” to a child who won’t be able to communicate with words for another nine months.
Now, if I stop and think, then I remember that I have been blessed with training that can actually help me to deal with these things in a godly, productive, even divinely patient way. Instead, too often I find myself asking my kids for forgiveness yet again for overreacting, being impatient, not being angry in a godly way, and generally NOT acting like Jesus—or in a way I’d like them to act when they’re angry. (As a sidenote, it does not help that I don’t really remember my own steady mother flipping out.)
I remember feeling a great deal of empathy as I read Gary Thomas’ Sacred Parenting (highly recommended!), where he opens his chapter “Burning Love” with the illustration of a pastor who gave a sermon on anger and asked for church members who needed special prayer for this to come forward. He apparently had nineteen members respond—all of them mothers of young children.
Anger is such a forceful emotion. God, as Thomas iterates, had a reason for giving it to us. God’s own anger is against sin:
“This means that motivation is everything when it comes to anger. The difference between righteous anger and unrighteous anger ultimately comes down to why we feel angry, what we feel angry about, and what we do with our anger.”
Thomas essentially describes anger as a tool—a force that can motivate us to do that right thing, and “requires a certain spiritual sophistication to wield it appropriately.”
And I love this:
“God gets angry because he cares. God gets angry because the stakes are so high … The greater our emotional involvement [as parents], the greater our potential to get really angry, because we care so deeply about what happens to those we love and to our relationship with them.”
But, he cautions, acting out of woundedness toward our children makes it all about us. God calls me to act in such a way that it’s all about our children, and their relationship to Him
With a statement like that, maybe you feel like me. I hate anger. It’s pretty much a sealed deal that I’m going to sin. Royally. Thomas counters,
“[I]f we want to become mature, we have to learn to walk in an alley where sin appears inevitable but ought to be avoided. We are told, ‘In your anger do not sin’ (Psalm 4:4, Ephesians 4:26) … I believe we are to treat anger like a potentially toxic, yet highly potent and controlled, medicine. At times it must be prescribed, but we should handle it carefully and limit its use.” Love, after all, is not easily angered (1 Corinthians 13:5).
I still find myself searching for very practical methods of keeping myself in check, and would very much welcome your ideas that work for you! For me—leaving enough time so I’m not late (i.e. not attempting to do too much before I rush out the door); getting rest; not skipping a meal; asking my husband to handle a situation I can’t; and (duh) keeping in step with the Spirit so I’m already in an attitude of prayer when my son steps on my foot as he argues with his brother, who chucks one of my knicknacks at his sibling—which misses him but hits me and the baby.
Thank you Lord, for loving my holiness enough to give me kids.
Janel Breitenstein graduated summa cum laude from John Brown University and began her career with NavPress, where she worked on The Message Bible. After having four children she resumed her professional career (around her momlife) by serving as a writer for FamilyLife. In January of 2012 Janel and her husband, John, packed up their family of six and moved to Uganda to serve with Engineering Ministries International (eMi), an organization that focuses on poverty relief and development, providing structural design and construction management for Christian organizations in the third world. Join us as we all learn first hand, through Janel’s posts, what it’s like to go from suburban America, to answer God’s call in Africa!