Friday, August 16, 2013

My Battle with Anger and Rage

I thought parenting was going to portray my strengths, never realizing that God had ordained it to reveal my weaknesses. ~ Dave Harvey

God has been writing this post in my heart for about the last 6 months (just take a glimpse at how long it is and you won't doubt that for a minute!). A recent sermon at my church on ‘using anger wisely’ really sparked me to know it’s time! It’s time to share about how the Lord has been disciplining me in this area, and how He has helped me to ‘get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger…’(Ephesians 4:31).

I was relieved to learn the truth in that recent sermon that anger in itself is not sin. God created us in His image. God gets angry. Jesus got angry (Mark 3:5; John 2:13-17). God can use anger for good and for His Kingdom purposes. Anger can spur us to rebuke evil and sin, call out lies, stand up against injustices, and boldly proclaim the truth, all of which bring honor and glory to His name. And as I believe the prophet Jeremiah revealed, anger in the form of zeal can be the fuel that allows us to prophesy with passionate conviction, in full confidence of the Lord’s messages that He would speak through us….

I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me. Whenever I speak, I cry out proclaiming violence and destruction. So the word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long. But if I say, ‘I will not mention Him or speak any more in His name,’ His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot (Jeremiah 20:7-9).

There is such a thing as righteous anger.

But we humans can take anything that God ordained to be used to glorify Him and His Kingdom purposes and instead turn it into something evil that becomes sin.

Anger in itself is not sin. It’s what comes after our anger, how we manage it (or don’t manage it) that can entangle us and give the devil a foothold in our lives (Ephesians 4:26-27)….and worse, destroy those who are in our line of ammunition. And for us moms, many times, that becomes our children.

It is my own children’s sin that provokes my anger. When I observe their self-centeredness...thinking/acting like the world revolves around them, direct disobedience to authority and disrespect of authority, self-seeking attitudes…it’s those kinds of situations (and many more) in which my anger starts knocking down the door. I’ve heard the ‘advice’ before to not get offended by your kids’ sin. For myself I consider that hogwash. Of course I am going to be offended when they sin! I am their mother. A wise son brings joy to his father, but a foolish son grief to his mother (Proverbs 10:1). I have a responsibility to train and instruct them in the way they should go. It is repulsive, offensive, and grieving to me when they depart from the way of life. I was SO thankful that in his sermon our pastor pointed out that our children’s sin should make us angry. He noted that the opposite of anger is apathy….the man who is angered by nothing cares about nothing.

But, all that said, herein is where my problem lies: my anger triggers a physical reaction inside of me. I can literally feel a rush of adrenaline begin to rise up in my chest ready to explode. It’s like a power surge. If you plugged me in at that moment I could give electricity to the entire town. You can imagine what this gives way to when in those moments I am supposed to discipline and shepherd my children in love. What instead often comes out of me has been something so ugly, so dark, so sinful, so shocking, that it absolutely repulses me. RAGE. Impulsive actions. Venting my anger. Allowing words that destroy, cut down, and dishearten to come carelessly flying out of my mouth - instead of words that shepherd, encourage, and lift up. And all of that, stemming from anger. In me, anger turns into rage.

You didn’t know I had it in me did you? Yeah, me either. The fullness of this wasn’t revealed until I became a parent….and the full fullness wasn’t revealed until the past 6 months when I became a full-on mother of 5. But the other thing is that this sin is so easy to hide. Moms can hide it at play dates or on the playground or at family gatherings. But get us home alone with our kids and you’d see it all in full view. I know the devil would have me to believe that I am the only mom who struggles with this. But in my current bible study group, as I’ve become transparent about warring against this sin of rage, instead of being met with dead silence and crickets chirping or seeing judgmental looks of condemnation, I’m hearing “hallelujahs” and “amens” and seeing heads nodding yes. So, I’ve come to realize that it’s not that I’m the only one struggling with this. It’s that this is a widely un-talked about topic within the church….especially among women. It feels shameful and awful to share these things as a mom….especially to other moms. For one, our worldly culture so desperately tries to invite us to compete with each other and compare to one another. To put on the ‘I’m a good mommy mask’, keep our failures to ourselves, lest we show that we don’t measure up. It’s safer to keep these ugly things hidden and to instead share recipes and talk about potty training strategies. Second, isn’t the word ‘rage’ a long ways off from defining the essence of Mommy? I am supposed to be the warm, cuddly, gentle, sweet, patient, maternal one, aren’t I? Aren’t those the traits that are supposed to come naturally to moms everywhere?  Yes I felt those things when my children were infants.  But slam with me an 11 year old, 7 year old, 6 year old, 5 year old, and 2 year old and oh, how my inner nature begs to differ. Now I see what other natural traits are in me, and it ain't pretty. Yet, as a Christ-follower, I know the King I follow. He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. God would rather have me bow down low in my failures, humble myself and confess that I need Him, and use my transparency to encourage and help others going through something similar. I hope this post can be that for someone.

So on with my personal struggle. I got to a point this summer where I was so sickened over this sin of rage in my mommyhood that I wound up in the closet (the only place in the house I can lock the door and receive peace and quiet) crying out to God that I was so weary of wrestling with this.  I told God I couldn’t do it anymore, and that it was like I had no power to stop myself. In their misbehaving times it was such a huge release to vent at my kids and respond on impulse, yet moments later I would feel awful condemnation and guilt over what I had just done, needing to apologize and ask for their forgiveness - only to know and expect that an hour or so later it would be happening all again. How can I lead and instruct my children out of their sin, when all they see in those moments is mine? The end goal of self-control wasn’t even on the radar. It was like I was stuck in this cycle of living in defeat. The devil had created a dominion of rule in this area over my life. I would wake up in the morning and say to myself “Ok. Today I am not going to lose it. I am not going to blow up on my kids. I am going to stay self-controlled and take deep breaths. I will not allow my anger to become rage.” But I’d fail by 10am, and the devil would be right there, snickering in my ear, confirming my deepest fear – that I was an incompetent, unfit mommy. “What kind of mom does that.” “Your kids don’t even want to be around you.” “They’re going to grow up to hate you.” “Your child doesn’t feel loved because you’re a terrible parent.” “They think you’re mean.” They’d go over to the neighbor’s house to play and the devil would whisper of my neighbor, “They wish she was their mom.” I had all of that and more rolling through my head as I talked with God there in the closet, trying to understand if I was going to be plagued with this the rest of my life. I told God that this sin repulsed me and I hated it. It was shocking to me that this vicious thing was living inside of me. I was becoming so grieved over it. I didn’t want it anymore. I even asked Him why I had to struggle with this sin. Why couldn’t it be some other sin that wasn’t as ‘horrible’? In my calculations it seemed that it would be a better idea if He just took me on up to heaven right then. I could not continue battling on in defeat….I was losing heart. I asked Him to rescue me from this body of death. I was ready to shed this earthly dwelling full of sin and yuck and get on with heaven. My plea was so honest and urgent that I fully expected that He may just shoot me right through the roof on up to glory in that moment. Didn’t happen. So I asked Him for a word of encouragement that would enable me to go on fighting this battle. I closed my Bible, and left the closet.

Later that day, in order to complete my ‘homework’ for a bible study I am in I was walking through verses in Hebrews chapter 11. As I often do, I started skimming around the surrounding chapters to catch more of the context. As I did, my eyes zoned in on Hebrews 12 and once I started reading I couldn’t stop. This is what I read:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,    
and do not lose heart when He rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one He loves,    
and He chastens everyone He accepts as his son.”

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:1-11).

Oh. Well that put things into perspective. I have not struggled against this sin to the point of shedding my blood as Jesus did…I’ve only shed a few tears. I can struggle and war against this more. And who else but God could lead me to a passage of scripture that spoke the exact words I had cried out to Him about…Lord, I’m weary, I’m losing heart, please give me a word of encouragement to help me press on. Those exact words were in that particular scripture. Only my King can do that….speak to my soul in such a personal way….and right on time. And God reminded me of something that I had been hoping to walk around and avoid instead of go through….His discipline is painful. He and I have places we need to go, promised lands to claim and enter, and this sin cannot go with us… was time for Him to expose this sin, rebuke me, and start the sifting process. In the end, being trained by His discipline would grant me the rescue and peace my heart was longing for, but for now I was still in His training grounds….ugly as it felt at the time.

In that set of scripture I had definitely received the word of encouragement I had asked for. But I still had one lingering question in my mind:

What am I supposed to do, practically, in those moments when that anger rises up in my chest as if it is a rush of adrenaline, an electric power surge, ready to explode?

Am I supposed to suppress that feeling? If so, then how do I suppress it? What practical steps am I supposed to take in order to deal with that anger that boils up,up,up, just waiting to make its appearance as rage? We hear verses like in your anger do not sin (Ephesians 4:26), and be self-controlled (1 Peter 5:8), and be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (James 1:19-20)…..well, ok…..but how practically do you accomplish that when the physical uprisal inside of you is screaming to do the opposite? With many other sins the answer is to avoid the temptation in the first place….to actually flee from it and run the other direction. But my trigger is my kids. I can’t just flee from them every time they misbehave. :) So what do I do practically in those moments?

God would give me the practical answer that week in my bible study.

The study I am doing is called ‘Believing God’ by Beth Moore. On this particular week I was working through page 25 in the workbook which had nothing to do with anger, self-control, or the like, but actually was a message about faith being a quality of the fruit of the Spirit. However, in the author’s commentary, two sentences stood out to me like a sore thumb and spoke directly to my condition:

When we are yielded to the Holy Spirit’s authority, His personality fills us and eclipses our own. When we’re not yielded, we grieve the Holy Spirit and operate from our carnal (sinful) nature.

God spoke to me so clearly through those two tiny sentences. I have been governed by my feelings rather than the Spirit. When I allow my flesh to choose the reaction, I am smothering the Holy Spirit’s personality that wants to work through me, and I am instead choosing to operate from my own sinful nature. The practical answer in those heated moments is to YIELD/PAUSE right in the middle of the moment and submit and wait for the Holy Spirit’s response to invade me. I began to get a vivid picture of my afternoon drives to Ankeny which happen daily. One of the first parts of my route is merging onto the interstate. Many times lately I have been so lost in thought that I am literally gunning the gas pedal along the on-ramp while completely tuning out the yield sign to merge onto the interstate. More than once I have almost been knocked over by semis flying by that don’t have enough warning time to switch lanes before they see my car right there and merging….because I haven’t been observing the yield sign. I’ve just been gunning it right onto the interstate without thought. Hmmmmm. This is the exact thing happening with my anger. I’ve just been gunning it….and letting it go wherever it would take me. Not even giving thought to yield, submit, and merge with the Holy Spirit, allowing Him to take me onward instead. That same week, a magazine that we receive from our adoptions called ‘Thriving Family’ actually had an article entitled ‘Women and Anger’ included in it. Of course it caught my eye because I’ve never heard anyone address the topic before! And in the article, God confirmed this idea of yielding/pausing to the Spirit. The author of the article said:

When I yell, I communicate to my family that they have the power to make me act crazy. And I don’t want my kids, my husband, the family dog or anyone else to have that kind of power over me. So, in that split second before I yell, I try to insert a pause. Pausing reminds me that God gave me emotions to experience life – not destroy it. Pausing helps me look for a little perspective. And best of all, pausing allows for the Holy Spirit to intervene in my response. ~Lysa Terkeurst~

Alright. Pause for the Holy Spirit confirmed.

Although I had finally found the practical answer I was looking for, God was going to take me even a step closer to Himself through my weakness.

You see, for weeks I tried this pause method. Some situations I could do it. But many times I would find that I would fail, even though I now knew what I should do….yield. The physical uprisal of anger inside of me was just too strong and overpowering. And coming to that reality, that now I even knew what I was supposed to do, and yet still couldn’t do it, was something that God used to give me a reality check of my own show me my desperate need for Him. I started to see something profound: God didn’t want me in a place of self-sufficiency. Because then I don’t need Him. I was going to learn that I could not rid myself of this rage on my own. It was going to take something supernatural….His all-sufficient grace.

About this time that I was beginning to see that even with a practical method to avoid my sin, I couldn’t do it, I was now weeks further along in my bible study. And the author had put forth a challenge….ask God to consecrate our give us a desire to stop misusing our mouths. Yet, I knew I didn’t stand a chance at that if the source, my boiling rage, was still stirring around in my chest. My misuse of my mouth 95% of the time comes as a result of giving full vent to that physical surge that rises up. I had that in mind as we walked through the homework for the day. As the backdrop for the challenge we were taken through Isaiah 6:1-8 ~

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of His robe filled the temple. Above Him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
 the whole earth is full of His glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

As we looked up some of the words of the verses in the original Greek, I started to see something that I never had before. The words ‘taken away’ translated into ‘removed’ and the words ‘atoned for’ translated into ‘purged’. And then it dawned on me. I had never asked God to simply touch me and rid me, purge me, remove from me, the boiling rage that would rise up somewhere in the pit of my sternum. Could I approach Him and ask Him to touch me in the sternum, just as the angel did Isaiah’s lips with the coal, and simply remove it? Let it be gone? Let it not even be part of me anymore? The next verse we were led to gave me my answer:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16).

My faith was being stirred. Over the past 6 months I had so desperately wanted this to go away. It felt like I had tried everything, and yet through it, my insufficiencies were only highlighted all the more. I, in and of my own power, could not rid myself of this. And yet, that’s it, isn’t it? That’s the whole point of the gospel. That’s why Jesus came for us. We must learn that only God can take away our sin and heal us….we are insufficient to do that on our own. I started to get a visual in my mind. Of another who had faith to believe that if she could just touch Him, touch His cloak, she would be healed….

A large crowd followed and pressed around Him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind Him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering…..He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering (Mark 5:24-29,34).”

Her need was physical. A healing from the suffering of sickness. My need also felt physical….that yuck there in the pit of my sternum. Yet also a need for healing from the destroying work of sin…as was Isaiah’s need.

This was all it took. I went back to my closet and confidently approached His throne of grace. I can tell you that in those moments I felt so certain of what I was about to ask of my Savior. I literally, honestly felt like He had already whispered that the healing would be given to me before I even opened my mouth. I went for it. But this time, instead of asking Him to remove me from this body of death, I asked Him to physically remove the body of death from me. Not the anger. Not the zeal.  But the rage. I told Him that I had faith that He could just simply touch me, as He did Isaiah and the woman, and heal me, rid me, remove from me, the filthy, destroying work of rage.

And He did.

I didn’t see angels or a vision or anything with my eyes, or hear anything with my ears. But I can tell you that in those moments I simply felt tremendous peace and stillness. I knew that it had happened. It was a John 14:13-14 moment for me. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. I truly had not a doubt that God had removed it.

And it didn’t take long to find out for sure. The next day a misbehaving scenario came about that normally would have sent me through the roof. I still felt anger against the sin, but there was absolutely no rush of rage rising in my sternum to fuel me into fury and impulsive actions. It was awesome. I can only describe it as a stillness resonating inside of me that I have never known in situations like that before.

It has been weeks since God removed this from me, and the stillness is still there. It has been so awesome, so relieving, so freeing, so glorifying to God in my life, that I have at times started to fret that the rage is lurking around somewhere, just waiting to crawl back inside of me and chain me up in the pit again. Even in the days it took to write out this post, it felt like the enemy was doing everything possible to squander and discredit what God had done. In my Bible study the author shared with us that if you start to feel threatened once again by a past stronghold that the enemy has gotten a lot of mileage over in your life, you should speak out against it in those threatening moments. Renounce it. Literally with spoken words. She said that for reasons ultimately known to God alone, He has ordained that SPOKEN words carry a power, authority, and effectiveness that exceed words we simply think. When we get in the devil’s face, by speaking scripture out loud – verbally removing all attachment from the sin, we intimidate the devil. Renouncing is our loaded gun against our enemy. Using my authority with the spoken word saying scripture out loud like, “I renounce the secret and shameful way of rage (2 Cor 4:2), I am not characterized by it anymore. God has removed it. As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed my rage from me (Psalm 103:12)” has enabled me to get the devil out of my face and continue to rest in my healing.

I was not sufficient to rid myself of this rage on my own.  Nine years ago I put my faith in Jesus alone to rescue me from the eternal punishment that my sin deserves. And yet, today, I have become increasingly aware of how desperately I still need Him to rescue me from my sin. Apart from Him I am nothing, and can do nothing. Every hour I need Him.

I am able to bring beauty out of the junk of your mistakes. Thinking that you should live an error-free life is symptomatic of pride. Your failures as a mom highlight your dependence on Me. View your insufficiencies as doorways to a deeper reliance on Me. In My kindness, I am stripping you of self-reliance, of confidence in your own strength and abilities. Although the world applauds those things, I see things differently. I may choose to use your weaknesses and failures to glorify my Name. I may choose to give you ‘thorns in your flesh’ to acquaint you with My grace in ways that you have never understood before. Why? For, it is only when you arrive at that dreaded place of weakness that you will discover the place where you learn to depend on My power. (Tailored from Jesus Calling and 2 Corinthians 12:9)


Our Great Adventure said...

Thank you so much for sharing about something we have been learning about and struggling through. Thank you for not allowing the 'crickets' to continue, but for bringing forth and shining a light on the God who is able to do all.

Allison said...

Your honesty is beautiful. I've been struggling with anger and rage and it's torn me away from people I dearly love. This post was the encouragement I needed to trust God to remove the junk and still my anger. As James 1:19 says, be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.

susan said...

Thank you.

Sara said...

As I started reading this, I thought maybe you had been a fly on my wall. Everything you said is exactly what I have been battling with since my kids could talk back to me or choose not to listen to me. I always pictured myself when I was a little girl planning on getting married and having kids to be a mom that loved them, praised them, and taught them about God. I didn't know that I had this ugly monster on the inside of me until it started coming out. I think I might print this to read and re-read all the time. I am definitely going to God in my prayer time boldy to ask for His help and deliverance from this sin, this death inside of me. Thank you so much for writing this. All I can say is WOW!!!

Kristen Moore said...

Thanks for sharing the nice post. Anger need to be harnessed to make the best out of it. I have watched a video which I admire that it explains it all.