Early on in our marriage, I handled my emotions like a two-year-old trying to carry a full glass of water! There were lots of spills and messes. During the second night of our honeymoon, we set out to find a restaurant for dinner in Traverse City, Michigan.
“Where do you want to eat?” I asked.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter,” my wife Ruth, responded.
After naming several restaurants, it became apparent she really did care. She knew all the places she didn’t want to eat, but couldn’t seem to give any input on where she did want to eat. Lacking any sort of emotional or spiritual maturity, I increasingly become more and more irritated and angry. The tone of my voice and the look on my face said it all.
And then it happened.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash. Ruth had pulled out her camera and taken a picture of me. Perfect. That glorious moment was captured by Ruth and still today holds a spot in our “Just Married” scrapbook.
Unlike Jesus, we often get mad at the wrong things while failing to get angry at the right things.
Whether in marriage or parenting, our anger can lean in the direction of unrighteous anger – the sinful and self-seeking kind.
This is what the Apostle Paul was warning against in Ephesians 4:26 when he wrote,
“In your anger do not sin.”
Sometimes our unrighteous anger looks like:
- Explosive words
- Emotional outbursts
- Harsh demands
- Punishing with silence
- Throwing objects
- Cutting off a relationship
- Sulking or pouting
The list goes on. Each of these, and more, are all expressions of anger gone-bad. They are adult-sized temper tantrums, driven by sinful and selfish desires (James 4:1-2a).
Anger reveals more about what is on the inside of us instead of what is being done to us.
Throughout the New Testament, we are commanded to be careful of the wrong kind of anger.
- Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. –Ephesians 4:31
- But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. –Colossians 3:8
- Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. -1 Timothy 2:8
Changing our anger starts with allowing God to change our heart.
So what are some helpful ways to turn from anger? How do we allow the Holy Spirit to reveal the change that is needed in our hearts? How to we begin to turn from sinful behavior and walk in greater obedience? Start by asking some good questions. The next time you find yourself getting angry, consider the following:
- What am I not getting that I believe I really need, want, or deserve?
We get angry if traffic is heavier than we thought. After a long day, we get angry with our kids if they are not being quiet enough. Our spouse disagrees with us. Another interruption at the office interferes with our train of thought. Each of these can disrupt what our hearts really want – control, comfort, the need to be right, etc. The problem with most of our desires is that they are focused on us.
- What do I have that am I fearful of losing?
Sometimes anger reveals not what we want, but what we have, and are afraid of losing. Maybe it’s a sense of control, someone’s approval, or security. Often times when what we value most is threatened, we act out in anger to protect losing it. Is your anger revealing something you are fearful of losing?
- Do I really believe that God is at work in and through my life?
When life is not going the way I want it to, it’s easy for me to get angry. I can begin to make moral judgments about how life should and shouldn’t work. In essence, I am saying I know the plan for my life better than God does! I can be tempted to think God is indifferent, absent, or cruel. And so anger can often reveal a heart that is not trusting, waiting, and believing in God’s power to accomplish what he wants to in, and through, my life.
So the next time you feel angry, stop and ask yourselves some good questions. Pray that God would give you insight into what is really going on inside your heart. As God graciously gives you a glimpse into what is really ruling your hearts and leading to your anger, the answer is always to turn from your sin and turn to Jesus. In humility, we depend on his grace, the wisdom of his Word, and the power of his Spirit to overcome unrighteous anger.