12 angry steps

I’ve written before about my anger problem. You know. The one I didn’t think I had until I had children.

But as conflict reveals my heart for what it really is, I’m compiling a working list of practical steps and thoughts as God patiently carves away the death in my heart and slowly makes me a conqueror.

  1. Discipline with the consequence, not tone of voice. This is my most prominent goal right now! Rather than the equivalent of “slash and burn” with my anger, I aim to calmly issue a precise, rational consequence. (I’ve had three good days in a row! Yeah!) I love an illustration I heard from Dr. Dobson: When a police officer pulls you over, even before he’s done anything, you’re sweating. You’re not afraid of him because he throws a fit outside your car door. He simply flips open his tablet! A consequence, firmly and surgically delivered, can speak for itself.
  2. Anger incinerates. It’s explosive. Often I used the anger equivalent of a rifle when a BB would do. As Tim Keller outlines in this fantastic sermon on anger, my goal is not no anger, or “blow [up] anger”, but slow anger. Being slow to anger is part of God’s glory (Exodus 34:5-6), and overlooking and offense is a person’s glory (Proverbs 19:11).
  3. When I’m tempted to yell—I should whisper. It forces kids to listen! But even more, if I can control my voice, rather than disciplining with it, I control my blood pressure, too.
  4. God set aside His anger for me. His reaction toward me was grace: not a lack of justice, but an acknowledgment at the fullness of what I did—and then setting aside His wrath to deal directly with my junk.
  5. Analyze it. I’m praying God will probe my heart for the deep, true cause of my anger: what’s precious that’s being trampled on. Sometimes for me, it’s the loss of control I feel over my children, or the inconvenience they’ve caused, something in my “kingdom” (rather than God’s) that I demanded, or my lost expectations. A lot of times, an idol is revealed—that’s become more important than God, or than loving my neighbor (i.e. my child) as myself.
  6. Incinerate the sin, not the child. In disciplinary moments, opt for the scalpel rather than the grenade that cuts out the sin intentionally and precisely. I wonder what would happen if I pictured my anger as a caustic acid—useful only for deleting sin, injustice, and wrong—that will burn when it splashes outside of its boundaries?
  7. Whatever it takes, take time to step away. I hope to give myself a five-minute rule: If I’m super angry, I need to step away until I can have a reasonable degree of confidence that I’m overcome by the Holy Spirit (demonstrated by gentleness, self-control, peace, and faith) rather than drunk on rage. I’ve been known to actually tell my kids, “I need to step away right now because I am going to sin against you [or sin even more against you]”.
  8. Get honest. One reader once recommended keeping track on her calendar; she’d mark “AO” (angry outburst) every time she lost it with her family. I like the idea of motivating myself toward discipline of my emotions, and creating some accountability, whether through friends, my spouse, or even a reward or consequences.
  9. Keep the strict discipline of reconciling and restoring. Playing out the Gospel means repairing, and sometimes even restoring our relationships after I mess up (like spending some cuddle time, or taking particular care to show love). For every trespass against my kids from me, I want them to also receive my apology. I love this author’s point that one of the most important steps in discipline is restoring our relationship with our children–and that goes both ways.
  10. Make it a repetitive source of prayer. If I’m supposed to pluck out my eye if it causes me to sin—am I really hating my destructive, ungodly anger like He does? I want to pray about this habit on a daily basis, and perhaps even fast about it. I’ve got four little Xerox machines running around my house, demonstrating the power of my sin to reproduce itself.
  11. Practice and discuss “Young Peacemaker” principles. Going with my kids through principles and materials like those from peacemakers.org has equipped all of us with vocabulary and principles to deal in godly, practical ways with the conflicts that seem as thick and suffocating as smoke in our house.
  12. Set myself up for success. My soul’s currently tethered to my very physical body with all its needs and, well, hormones. Getting sleep, not skipping meals or medications, taking time to download with friends, allowing myself plenty of extra margin in my schedule (both for holistic rest, and to avoid flying out the door in a “for the love of Pete, HURRY!” rage)—all of these subtract physical symptoms that leave thinner layers of self-control around my heart. I can allow more wiggle room in my demands and expectations in hormone-charged weeks. These strategies also allow me to deal with the issues that are really there, and do so with a level, non-reactive head.

Recommended resources:

“How to be Good and Angry” by Paul David Tripp

“The Healing of Anger” by Tim Keller

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