What follows is a deeply personal post with some hopeful application for some of the readers. I’m being transparent here in admitting struggles and sins. But my main desire is to show forth the graciousness of a Savior who helped me, and my family, survive and grow out of a difficult time where my sinful patterns set the tone for my household.
So I lost my temper the other day. It was months ago now but the memory hasn’t faded much. Considering historical norms it was an outburst of smaller magnitude and a shorter time to repentance than most of my past. And it had been weeks or perhaps months since the last time I yelled at one of the kids. But it didn’t really matter.
I have had a temper for a long time. Sanctification, by God’s grace, has led to improvements. Huge improvements by comparison, but God’s still not done rooting out this particular sin. Doug Wilson (who I don’t unequivocally endorse) had a really great post about angry men a while back:
Some of what I am going to say will seem hard or harsh to you because for years you have used anger to keep any real criticism far away from you. So while I know it will seem hard, please know that every word here is written with your best interests in mind.
This is something I wish I’d had someone around who could give me the practical help I needed earlier in my marriage. Some of my children have grown up with similar anger difficulties and struggles, bearing testimony to the Proverb:
Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.
Source: Proverbs 22:24-25 ESV
God has finally been working on my temper long enough that I can see the progress. I know that I got in the way (“don’t quench the Spirit“) quite a bit and my pride kept me from both repenting in some instances and from seeking help in other instances. But as I said above, it doesn’t happen near as much anymore.
The older children, though, can still see when it’s close to happening. When I’m about to “lose it.” And sometimes, even if, by God’s grace, I am able to moderate my response I can see the look in their eyes of the reaction almost identical to when I actually did lose it.
That bothered me for a while, because it made it feel like they didn’t see progress or that it wasn’t worth changing if no one would notice. And then I figured out that it was something to be expected. I had a volatile, unpredictable response queued up most often when they were younger, and I lost my temper often enough that I should expect them to expect me to lose it this time.
I figured this out one day when we needed something at the dinner table and I asked if someone could grab it. Realizing that I was just being lazy and that I could get it myself, I jumped up when no one else responded immediately. But the reaction on some of the kids’ faces was one like I was mad, instead of joyfully doing what needed to be done. And it hit me that too many times I’d jumped up in anger to do something, selfishly thinking that someone else should have done it first, and made self-serving comments in the process. And it was wrong for me to expect that the kids would realize that this time I was doing it because I knew I was lazy and self-serving and I needed to get up and do it myself instead of asking them.
We had a good conversation about it that night, and I was able to let my kids know, again, that I know it was hard for them to have me as a father. And to point them to the Father who never loses His temper, never acts sinfully, and always loves and is gracious to us in all things. We spoke as siblings in God’s house, not as a dad to his kids. And someday they’ll, instead of reacting with fear about what might be about to happen, be along side me, encouraging me, and rejoicing in that change that has seemed forever to take root.
Whether it’s anger or some other sinful habit pattern that you’re caught in, God has grace for you. Grace of forgiveness, and the grace of sanctification. Forgiveness and peace in knowing that Jesus, if you’ve trusted in His life and death and resurrection, has paid the penalty for that sin. Grace of sanctification knowing that God is working in your heart and your life to make you more like Jesus. He can change you, and what often starts that process is your realizing that you’re powerless to change yourself. It’s all grace.
May God continue to purge both your and my sin from our lives, and may He use even our sin for His glory as He works out His plan in His providence.