He opened up our small group with a question: “What are you believing God for this week?” In my mind, I answered, “Deliverance from a sin in my life.” But I couldn’t say that, of course. I was new to this group and only two faces knew me well enough to put this statement in context of my life and not think I’m a weirdo. So I was silent.
The truth was, the week had been a tumultuous one in my spirit. This sin in my heart had come out in my actions over many years, like foreshocks to an earthquake. Though the “big one” hadn’t occurred in any noticeable way, I knew damage was still being done in my life and in those whom I loved the most.
Hello, I’m Jill, and I struggle with anger.
I’ve never had a problem with anger my entire life, until I had children, that is. I don’t recall ever losing my temper in years of customer service or managing employees. Even early squabbles in my marriage spoke more of miscommunication than an out-of-nowhere eruption of volcanic-like rage.
I also never witnessed anger growing up. It would be easier if I had an excuse, you know — if my parents yelled or fought. But they didn’t. Never once did I experience rage in my home like I feel in my heart.
Over the years I knew I had a problem, and I’ve worked really hard to keep it in check. I make a habit of not spanking my kids when I’m angry, and I watch my tongue and don’t say anything “below the belt” that I can’t take back. But the yelling and “losing it” at times has begun to take its toll.
I found myself going to God in repentance after a blow-up, vowing in my heart to try my best the next time, but how can I control that which seems uncontrollable? I knew it went deeper than self-control. But I hadn’t a clue what to do about it.
As I mentioned last week, my day of international travel sank me to the lowest of lows. Ironically, I didn’t lose my temper that day. But anger simmered under the surface like a wild bubbling brook. I called out to God: I can’t do this myself.
In the Atlanta airport, I recalled a little book I downloaded called, Losing It: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Overcoming Anger. I opened it in desperation, not knowing what else to do.
Immediately I felt like the author’s words could have been mine. I knew my issue wasn’t merely a behavior problem; it was a heart problem. But how does one control the heart? How do I change the source of my outbursts when I don’t even know that the sources are?
But this book. It identified sinful anger as the result of heart issues — specifically idolatry in one or more of three areas:
1. Threats to your sense of control
2. Challenges to your authority
3. Threats to your identity
This book was like sending a scope to my heart, identifying the cause of untreatable symptoms. The scope revealed the malignancy of numbers one and three.
My anger boils over when my kids threaten my sense of control: a peaceful home, a desire to do what I want to do when I want to do it, expectations of what good kids should be doing and not doing. “We had a plan, but one of our kids has interrupted that plan. We wanted to be productive, but we can’t seem to get anything done. We carved out a special time for some small comfort, but that time has been hijacked” (p. 43). I felt like I could have written those words myself.
My anger also boils over when my kids threaten my identity. When I’m feeling particularly insecure, I observe other parents with respectful children. And then when one of mine talks back or does something shameful, my anger erupts, not always because of the infraction but because of what it says about me. About my parenting. A good Christian parent’s child wouldn’t talk to their parents that way. I’ve failed.
Identifying the source of my heart issues was just one freeing step this book allowed me to make. The rest of the book urges us to repentance in the heart areas that are the root of anger and points to practical ways we can turn our hearts toward God in the areas where sin has had a stronghold.
I felt like I was on a hospital bed beginning to receive treatment. I wasn’t yet healed but healing was coming. Hope rose like riding a tumultuous wave, getting to the top, and beginning to glide down the other side to peaceful water.
Just yesterday I found myself smiling more at my children, listening to them, cherishing them in a way I haven’t known for quite some time. When I disciplined them, it wasn’t in anger, and they took the discipline well. I even think I saw a change in their behavior. Time will tell I suppose on that but for the moment I have to believe in their hearts they saw a change in their mother.
I’m sure choppy waters are still ahead. My heart is still sinful and prone to the same idols of control and identity, and I’m aware that they will come roaring at times I least expect. But at least I’m aware of them now and can call them out for what they are. At least now I have an escape plan.
My heart now is thankful and hopeful. Thankful that God heard my cry and rescued me — the God who knew my heart when even I didn’t. Hopeful that although I know I’ll still battle these heart idols, with repentance and the power of the Holy Spirit in me, change is possible.
And although it would be easier to rejoice in my deliverance in private, to keep my mouth shut now like I sadly did in my small group, I believe my struggle isn’t unique to me. Hopefully by sharing this with others, some may find deliverance like I did.
If you’re interested in the book I mentioned, it’s a short, 52-page read. Obviously I highly recommend it, and you can find the paperback on Amazon here or download it directly from the author’s website here.