When my boys were really young we moved from North Carolina to Pennsylvania where Lee had gotten a job as the preacher. Soon after the move, we were at a Super Bowl watching party at the church, and they had a big screen set up to watch the game and a projector. David was carrying a plate of food around the people sitting on the floor. He tripped over the cord, which made the game go off for everyone.
I was mad. Super angry. I grabbed his arm and pulled him toward me, whispering angry words in his ear. But why was I angry? Because a three–year-old boy did what was normal for three-year-old boys to do—trip over a cord? No. I was angry because I didn’t want to be at the party. I was angry because I was trying to take care of both boys by myself while Lee walked around and talked to everyone. I was angry because I didn’t know the church people well and I was very concerned they wouldn’t like me. I wanted them to think I was a good mom who had control over her kids.
Anger is the outward expression of a few different emotions. Your words, actions, and thoughts reveal your anger, but what’s at the root of it is often resentment, pride, selfishness, or frustration. When we feel ourselves get mad, we need to think about why we’re mad. In the example from the church Super Bowl party, I expressed my resentment, embarrassment, and pride as anger toward David.
And let’s be honest about something else that has to do with anger—it easiest to be angry toward those we love most. Or at least it’s easiest to take out our anger on those we love most. I may be angry about a comment thread I read on Facebook book or Lee could be angry about a situation at work, but we are more likely to take it out on each other than Facebook or the person at his office. Why? Maybe because we know the people we love most put up with the most from us.
But anger is a sin God speaks seriously about in Scripture. In Colossians 3, Paul writes about sins like sexual immortality and evil desire, and then he writes, “In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth” (v. 7 & 8). We need to recognize anger when it takes root in our lives and confess what’s causing the anger before we express that anger.
When we study our anger, we may even notice patterns to it. Does it happen when you’re hungry? It is a result of hormones? Is it triggered by a certain person or situation? When you’re aware of it, you can make changes to stop it before it comes out of your mouth.
When I was younger, I would get angry when anyone would point out a mistake I made or embarrass me. Why? Because I wanted to seem in control, knowledgeable, and independent. When I realized my pride was at the root of that anger, I could preach the gospel to myself—God loves me unconditionally, whether I make a mistake or not. His people will also love me, even when they realize I’m not perfect (maybe especially when they find out I’m not perfect).
When we take off anger, we can replace it with patience. It starts with patience for ourselves as we work to find the root of our anger. It extends to patience with circumstances beyond our control (like David tripping over the cord). And extends out to cover people who we can’t control either. Not with our anger, our strong words, or our passive-aggressive smoldering. All these details are under God’s control, and if we ask Him to teach us how to love better, we will have less anger.