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.

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Meet Bill and Ted, my Premature Furry Babies!

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For “baby” names, we wanted something simple and symbolic–a dynamic duo. I think Bill and Ted was an excellent choice, don’t you?

When we decided to have a baby, I didn’t plan on getting two puppies with the deal. Alas, my house is filling up with testosterone faster than I can keep up!

Ever since our dachshund, Hope, died last December, my husband has been bringing up the subject of more dogs…and when my brother-in-law found these two darlings abandoned on the side of the road last week, well, all signs pointed to our house.

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Bill is the white one, Ted, the black one. If you’ve seen the movie, though, you might have guessed that!

I was initially hesitant to get more dogs, because I knew I’d be the primary caregiver. I knew we’d get more dogs at some point, but I wanted to guard my last few months of freedom before baby. However, I’ve discovered my life is not my own anymore (never was, it turns out), and God is preparing me for motherhood by way of these puppies.

Some life changes I’ve had to make are:

  • Getting up in the middle of the night for potty breaks. Of course, I have already been doing this frequently for awhile, but the pups make it a little less easy to just flop back into bed.
  • Getting up earlier for “feedings.”
  • Putting up baby gates.
  • Cleaning up poop and pee.
  • Having to make arrangements every time I leave the house.
  • Worrying all the time what the “babies” are doing; trying to keep them in my sight.

I know there are some larger spiritual applications to all this motherhood training, but today I may be in too much of a hurry to see them. You see, it’s almost noon, and I haven’t even gotten down to the business of working on my memoir yet. As I thought about how my morning had gone so far, I realized I could either get frustrated that I hadn’t gotten any “work” done yet, or I could change my expectations for myself, because—hello—my life is changing pretty drastically.

I could choose to see my day so far as worthless because I haven’t yet  worked on my profession, or I could choose to see what I’d done as worthwhile because I am a wife and mother taking care of her household.

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Bill and Ted are interested in whatever we are doing, especially if it involves food!

Since getting up, I have fed the puppies; spent much needed time with the Lord; knocked on the doors of two neighbors trying to get to the bottom of two large (and scary-looking) dogs that wandered into my backyard this morning (protecting both my puppies and the neighborhood); baked a loaf of banana bread for my college-age niece who stays over on Tuesday nights; and I have put ingredients in the bread maker for French bread for my husband, who told me he wanted a spaghetti dinner tonight.

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Although they like to fight, Bill and Ted still aren’t too “grown up” to show one another affection. I love it when they sleep like this!

I have never really defined myself as a homemaker—I haven’t wanted to be the one who stays home and sees to it that everyone else is fed and clothed and clean and sane for their careers, because I wanted to have my own career. I still want to. I want to be a writer and a teacher, just like I’m doing (with more or less success, depending on the day). But the Lord is teaching me it’s okay if some of my days are spent doing homemaking things instead of career-building things. In fact, I know that the homemaking is probably ultimately more important. How quickly I forget that if there’s not happiness in the home, life is dismal. My home was unhappy, my life dismal, for too many years growing up, and because of my beautiful marriage today, I sometimes take for granted that a happy home is well worth the investment.

But each day I’m learning to take a little more joy in the simple things: puppies, babies, sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows…you get the picture! I continue to thank the Lord that he is straightening out my priorities, and my roles. Now, if I can just figure out how to balance them all!

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So far Bill seems to be Buc’s dog and Ted, my dog. Bill is more laid back, while Ted has a hard time sitting still (and a temper that flares up sometimes at Bill)…hmmm, yes, the analogy works!