I start with, "How many legs does an insect have?"
She replies offhandedly as if we hadn't just been talking about it, "I don't know."
I try again, pointing to the number 6 jumping up and down on the page, "A spider has eight legs, how many does an insect have?"
She counters again in the same casual manner, "I don't know."
I can feel the steam building, my armpits sticky and my face blushing. I'm half-amazed that she could not remember two numbers that we had just spent 5 minutes discussing and writing. The other half of me is irritated that my daughter is not taking me seriously. My voice is starting to grate, and I feel a lump form in the back of my throat. I tell her I am in earnest, and now is no time for fooling around. I continue to question her, unwilling to just move on.
By the end of the incident, I am red-faced and ticked off, and she is in tears. I am a n g r y. ANGRY. The temper that I didn't think I had rears its ugly head. I have it. And not just that time. When a sweet gift from a dear one, just received, is broken by careless hands. When the milk is accidentally spilled for the second time in five minutes. When the older ones make the youngest cry from unintentional roughness. When sisters provoke and agitate repeatedly. When I have been up countless times in the night and I am oh.so.tired, and little faces and hot, sticky hands will not even let me eat my breakfast in peace. In the heat of the moment, I feel so controlled. So controlled by my emotions. I say hurtful things, barbed words that stick in the soul, unfiltered by the Spirit and dictated by the demands of my passion. I'm exactly what I had purposed never to be--an angry, yelling mama.
Five years ago, as my belly swelled with the beauty of new life and dreams that I had thought might never be mine, I had pored over child-rearing books, and all of them agreed that anger has no place in the home. I knew it, mentally assented, and for the first few years, never struggled. Now, three precious bundles later, I still agree, but now I labor to live truth, stretched thin by the relentless onslaught of dirty dishes, clothes, and diapers, and the demands of loving, teaching, and caring for three little ones who take, but give little at this point. I've asked for help from friends and mature mothers, sought God's Word, and counseled with my husband. I'll share with you what I have been learning.
This was the beginning of small victories for me. I began to pray for the Spirit to give me an awareness of when I was about to blow up. Often, I was so caught in the moment, I had already reacted before I was even cognizant of my decision. The Holy Spirit is so good to me, and He has given me a real consciousness of my mental state. Proverbs 29:22 says, "...a furious man aboundeth in transgression."
- In the moment, just stop. Step back long enough to rationally respond, not instinctively react. You make the choice to allow anger or truth to determine your reaction.
As I name my blessings one by one, out loud, it is much harder to maintain an angry heart. Remembering that what I have is more than I deserve serves to humble my offended, proud heart.
- Choose humble gratitude.
I love the following thought by Nancy Leigh DeMoss--
"One of the fundamental qualities invariably found in a grateful person is humility. Gratitude is the overflow of a humble heart, just as surely as an ungrateful, complaining spirit flows out of a proud heart. Proud people are wrapped up in themselves. They think much of themselves and little of others. If people or circumstances don’t please or suit them, they are prone to whine or become resentful." (quotations are mine)
- Actively forgive.
Many times my anger was not based on the singular incident in which it happened to appear, but it was the climax to a series of events. I had been saving my anger from the last run-in, nurturing my irritation. My frustrations were just piling up in my heart until I just exploded either in ugly, quiet tones or loud, uglier words. I was in the midst of this battle when I read Matthew 18 in my devotions one morning. I read the passage in verses 20-22 where Peter asks Christ how many times he should forgive his brother, and he thought 7 times was a reasonable limit. Christ's response really struck me. He wants me to forgive my little hedonistic children countless times. Even when they aren't sorry. Even when she gets in to my purse and eats gum and breaks my chapstick three times in the same day. Till seventy times seven. Forgive. Again. And again. And again.
- Find joy.