Mommy Is Angry (Thank God for Forgiveness!)

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Photo from Creative Commons

A common occurrence in my household recently has been me verbally exploding on my three-year-old and, shortly thereafter, asking his forgiveness. “Mommy is angry,” I explain, “because you hit your brother/didn’t obey me/yelled at me [fill in the blank]. But I should not have yelled like I did. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?” Praise God that Sam always forgives me, and so does God.

Thank God for forgiveness!

Not until I became a parent did I realize quite how sinful I am—and how in need of forgiveness I am—from my family and from God. Now that I’m here, where I am squeezed all day long (no naps for Sam, sadly), I regularly lose my temper, act unlovingly, and do things I don’t want to do. I know exactly what the Apostle Paul talks about in Romans 7. Unless I maintain a proactive connection with God, praying through the day and asking Jesus’ words and attitudes to replace my own, I’m in danger of exploding, nagging, criticizing—sinning—all the time. And every day, I do sin. Every day, I fail. I’m learning much more about God’s grace than I really wanted to know, because I am just so darn sinful. Thus, there’s no other way for me to function—to move past my guilt, to repair my relationships, to regain my peace—than to beg God’s, and my family’s, forgiveness.

Thank God for forgiveness!

I’m learning, begrudgingly, that all of my really close and important relationships—spouse, kids, God, parents—hinge on forgiveness. My forgiveness to them, and their forgiveness to me. That’s because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are not perfect, and we are all going to screw up, especially when we live together . Ever notice how the closest relationships are the ones that hurt the most? They are also the relationships that make life worth living. If we have any hope of salvaging them, we have to forgive (and pray to be forgiven).

As I work out my relationships with spouse and children at this stressful, “squeezing” stage of life, I am finally beginning to understand the gift of God’s forgiveness towards me. Where I once despaired in my relationship with God because I couldn’t get it right for even one day, I can now rejoice. You know why? It’s because of the forgiveness I have seen demonstrated in my own family.

I have now seen in flesh in blood, through my three-year-old, and through my husband of twelve years, that my relationships can grow despite daily screw-ups…as long as confession, forgiveness, and the intention toward improvement remain in operation. I can sin day after day, I can nag, criticize, and explode at these precious people—and yet, when I humble myself, confess my sins to them (and God), and communicate my intentions to do better, they forgive me, like God forgives me (1 John 1:9). They accept me, and they love me. Our relationships grow.

My family’s sweet forgiveness, like God’s forgiveness to the repentant sinner, makes me want to change. And I am changing. Slowly. It’s a journey. Changes in my relational life, like changes in the life of a new Christian, come in response to grace we’ve received. Forgiveness is not permission and license to keep sinning willfully. It is a free gift, undeserved, that should soften our hearts. The proper response for the well-intentioned Christian, the well-intentioned mother or spouse or brother, is to accept the gift and do better out of gratitude, and out of a desire to continue growing the relationship.

Unfortunately, because we are sinners living in a sinful world, we won’t always behave nicely (my kids or myself). But what we can do, when sin invades our lives, is to ask forgiveness, extend forgiveness, and start again. Again and again. And as parents, we can model this process for our children. As we extend forgiveness to our children and ask them to do the same for us, we will be teaching them the power of God’s love to redeem sinners and restore relationships. And we can show them that relationships still grow, even when we screw up. (Perhaps this is when they grow the most.)

Thank God for forgiveness, and thank God for growth!

Be Angry and Sin Not—Yeah, But How?

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What I saw in my kitchen this morning made me instantly angry, and I most certainly would have sinned, again, if I had not been meditating for the past two days on the Apostle Paul’s instructions to “Be angry and sin not” (Eph. 4:26).

The puppies tore up my rug, again, the one I had just fixed with duct tape (don’t laugh); and their water and food dish was empty, again, showing that my husband had shirked his duties for these puppies he wanted, again.

As I sat stewing at my dining room table, contemplating what to do with this welling anger (magnified greatly by past-due pregnancy hormones), I stroked my Bible. This was supposed to be my morning devotion time, but I was tempted to wake my husband and yell at him: “See what they did? You clean it up. See their empty food and water dishes? You fill them.”

I was also ravenously hungry by this point, and getting angry, yet again, that Buc has never in nine months of pregnancy made it a priority to get up and eat breakfast with me on the weekends. He always has to shower first and look at his news, which seems extremely selfish when I’m about to pass out. Because he won’t rearrange his routine, we miss eating breakfast together—because often I just can’t wait.

Anyway, this morning I had a decision to make. Was I going to pause and pray, or just react? Because I’d been mulling over Ephesians 4 for the last two days, I heard these words in my mind: “Be angry and sin not.” “Forgive others as Jesus forgave you.” “Speak only words that will encourage others, not tear down.” I also remembered an anecdote I’d just read about how Abraham Lincoln once advised a general to deal with his anger at a colleague. To summarize, Lincoln told his general:

Write a letter to that man in all honesty, in all nastiness, to express your feelings.

But…

When you are done with the letter, DO NOT send it. Reread it to yourself, then burn it. Now, write a new letter.

While my first impulse was not to pause and pray, or to write a letter, I asked Jesus for strength to overcome my instincts, my unreasoning hunger, and my prego hormones. And then I popped in a toaster strudel to tide my appetite, and pulled out a clean sheet of paper.

“To my husband,” I began. “I am very angry at you right now…” From there I quickly filled up the front and back. I could have gone on, but interestingly, part of my letter ended up detailing my own faults. Trying to see things from Buc’s perspective, I found myself writing things like, “I know you would tell I am too easy on the puppies, letting them get away with ruining my stuff, and how will I discipline a child if I can’t even handle dogs? Maybe you’re right; I just wish you could appreciate how damn hard this is for me. I’m not good at discipline.”

I paused for a moment, considering how small this morning’s events really were in comparison to life’s bigger mysteries—such as my son’s impending birth—realizing how sad it would be to ruin a morning just for the chewed up rug and empty water dish. And then, remembering what I’ve learned about fruits and roots, I wrote: “Maybe a root of this anger is that I feel unappreciated and disrespected. I feel you don’t understand how hard certain things are for me [like disciplining the dogs] or how important other things are [like breakfast on demand]. I just wish you would try to see things from my perspective and not brush off these things that are a big deal to me.”

By the end of two pages, I felt less volatile, but I still didn’t trust myself to speak in love. Remembering a tip from Dr. Laura’s The Proper Care and Feeding of Marriage, I pulled out a second clean sheet of paper. (The basic premise of Dr. Laura’s book is to kill your spouse with kindness—actively love him or her so much through words and deeds that he or she can’t help but respond in kind.)

ImageNow, I listed all the GOOD things about my hubby I could think of. Blinded as I was by my anger, I needed to remember that my husband wasn’t intentionally annoying me; and I knew that compared with all his good traits, this little issue would fade.

After I wrote for that one page (why is it so much easier to write bad than good?), I cracked open my Bible and reread Ephesians 4 in The Message version (yesterday I read the NIV), and then I went on to Ephesians 5 for good measure. Very funny, God. Chapter 5 is the one about wives submitting to their husbands. In my reading, which took no more than ten minutes, I was reminded of these key ideas:

1. Because I have been reborn, I can rely on Jesus’ blood and breath flowing through me, and Jesus’ love for my husband. I don’t have to rely on my own strength anymore.

2. Also because I have been reborn, God wants me to be mature, not childish anymore (Eph. 4:14-16; 21-24). How mature is it (I had to ask myself) to make a fuss over a torn rug and an empty water dish, or my empty stomach?

3. “Go ahead and be angry. You do well to be angry—but don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t give the Devil that kind of foothold in your life” (Eph. 4:26-27).

4. “Make a clean break with all cutting, backbiting, profane talk. Be gentle with one another, sensitive. Forgive one another [husbands included] as quickly and as thoroughly as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:31-32). What a tall order this was! But compared to Christ, who forgave those who tortured and murdered him, what did I have to complain about?

5. “Figure out what will please Christ and then do it!” (Eph. 5:10). I was pretty sure it wouldn’t please Christ for me to explode at my husband or skip my morning devotional. I was also starting to feel that it would please Christ for me to, once and for all, admit that these frustrations with our puppies are largely due to me not preventing bad behavior I could, actually prevent. I figured it would please Christ for me to finally just deal with the problem so it wouldn’t waste any more of my time or energy. I resolved to submit to my husband’s good counsel (Eph. 5:21-28) and start being more assertive with the dogs, and not let them sleep in the main areas of the house anymore (we have a laundry room that will do as well) so as to avoid these unpleasant morning surprises.

When Buc sauntered into the kitchen, eyes widening at the fluff strewn all across the tile (I hadn’t had energy to clean it yet), I was just finishing my three-part anti-anger plan, and I had no desire to yell at him anymore. I also didn’t feel much like talking (which is sometimes the best recourse when you can’t say anything nice), so I left the list of good traits on the table and threw the nasty letter (ripped to pieces) in the trash. I went to take a shower, after which I started scrubbing the bathroom tile. Better to give myself lots of distance from the temptation to sin. After awhile, Buc approached me, and he lit up my day with three statements:

1. “Do you want to eat breakfast together?” (Yes, I did.)

2. “I found that list you wrote about me, and I know you’re mad at me, because you don’t write those good things when you’re not. But I appreciate the list, and I love you. And I cleaned up the dogs’ mess.” (I was gratified that he’d found the loving list, and he knew without me telling him that I was angry. I was also reproved by the fact that he thinks I don’t write good things about him unless I’m angry—something for me to work on.)

3. “I’m going to get cracking on organizing my closet and my gun supplies” (something I’ve wanted him to do for the last few weeks). “I appreciate you honey, and how you keep me organized.” (This made me feel especially good, because it told me he has noticed the extra efforts I’ve been putting in to get ready for our baby. I was also softened to see that Dr. Laura’s advice was working: I had chosen to be kind to him, and he chose to be kind back.)

Readers, this may seem a long post to recount a silly could-have-been spat this morning, but don’t take lightly how important these small moments of life really are. I believe our lives are made up of these small moments, these small choices (to yell or to pray, to speak kindly or to criticize) and they are the stuff our characters are made of in the end. One “silly” spat can ruin a whole day, just as the choice to submit to God in something as simple as pausing to pray (or to read, or to write a “fake” letter) can set off a full day’s worth of kind words and deeds.

I wrote this post for myself, to remind myself how important it is not to skip my daily time with God, but I hope I have reminded you of the same thing. Even born-again Christians need to be recalibrated on a daily basis.