This week I've seen a new side to some of my art students. We've been practicing a calligraphy hand for about two weeks now, but had our Easter break in between the weeks. It's not a very difficult hand, but one of the challenges with it (as with so many things in art) is that looks are deceiving. What looks easy can actually be quite challenging to duplicate well. The key, of course, is to practice. I keep reminding them of this fact and how it is true of all the things we do, but they have probably quit listening by now because most of us don't want to hear that we have to practice to do something well. Why don't I ski, or speak French, or play the violin? Because I have never wanted to practice those things. So the interesting new side of some students that I am seeing is some intense frustration.
My session yesterday ended with a discussion with a very dear young man who is frustrated to the edge of feeling angry about it. Which has me thinking about my own battle with this ugly emotion.
Hothead. I hate the word, but it sums me up very well. I especially hate it because it isn't a word we would apply to the Saviour. He wasn't a hothead. He showed anger, but it was righteous, something that my anger rarely is. I remember many "blowing my top" incidents throughout my school years. I never hurt anyone else or fought with anyone, but would just get so angry that I would run out of classes or away from conversations. Once I remember screaming at another girl on the playground and in gym class (same girl)--and I was not young enough to not know better! Even in college I walked out of three different classes, as one classmate told me with something akin to wonder in his voice. I think he thought I made a habit of it, but I'm surprised it didn't happen more often.
Working (and age) helped cool my temper. The greater accountability made it much more difficult to stalk off when people weren't through talking to you. I did a couple times and then had to pay the price for it. But the price imposed by others was never as awful as what went on inside. I've spent most of my life wishing I could be someone else--someone who was always kind, compassionate, patient and calm.
And just when I thought things were changing (I was growing up, after all!), God blessed me with children and I had a whole new area of frustration and guilt. The first couple years were so easy. Even the terrible twos (as named by everyone but us) were cake because I could remember that so many problems were just communication and lack of skills. Then came three and the rebellious age where children begin to assert some independence. The more frustrated I became with the children brought on more guilt, enhanced by looking at my calm, patient mom-friends who never seemed on the verge of losing anything, let alone their cool. The disgust over who I was felt like it would take over. I really began to hate who I was, especially as a mom.
And it was at that time that one of my most admired mom-friends said something that changed my life. I still want to cry as I think of it. Our relationship has had some rocky moments (with someone as prickly as me it's bound to happen--lol!) and it was one of those difficult moments that prompted me to spill out my roiling, churning, disgust at myself. She looked at me so tenderly and just said, "LaRinda, God made you the way He wanted to and He loves you." What a simple truth and a life changing moment.
Now before I go on, let me say that yes, God made each one of us and He loves us, but He doesn't want to leave us wallowing in sinful behaviours. If you are reading this and are agonizing over a bad character trait that makes you wonder how you can stomach yourself, hear me: "God made you and He loves you." And it is with His help that we can begin to change whatever the bad character trait is. The beauty of the Lord is that He saves us just where we are and worries about refining us later. We can't clean a fish before we catch the fish, right! He loves us so much that He won't let us stay in the ugliness, unless we want to. Romans 5:8 says, "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
You see, whatever the ugly trait is, it has the important job of breaking us and bringing us to our knees. When we fall in humility and brokenness we are more apt to turn to Him (why do we let it take so long?) and cry out for the forgiveness and help that we so need. At this point I could go in so many directions: I could share how His burden is light (Matt 11:30), or how He will never leave us or forsake us (Deut 31:6, 8; Josh 1:5; Ps 9:10; Heb 13:5--do you see a trend?), how He already knows what is in our heart (1 Chron 28:9; Ps 7:9; Rom 8:27a--why hold out?), how He will seek out what is His and welcome us back with love when we fail (Luke 15). No matter what the blackness inside, if we want to change it He will work in us (Is 48:10; Matt 19:26; Mark 10:27; Luke 1:37; Luke 18:27; Phil 4:13), but I specifically want to get back to the issue of anger.
To see myself so angry and wanting to change it brings me to my knees in repentance and shame, knowing I need forgiveness. Like the Old Covenant, my sinful anger shows my need for a Saviour. It also shows how I cannot earn my own salvation--indeed I have little self-control and with this lack would have long ago earned the condemnation I so deserved. I so need grace; and having my eyes opened to my own need shows me the need to extend it. Anger also has another purpose in our lives. Ephesians 4:26 even tells us that it is possible to be angry and not sin (!): "In your anger do not sin". Christ was angry at the moneychangers in the temple and acted upon it by fiercely driving them out. So we need to learn to be righteously angry for God's purposes and let it drive us to action for Him. But the minute "me, myself and I" come back we know we are leaving the righteous path.
Hearing my friend say that God made me this way started me wondering why and I began to seek an answer. Rather than continuing to feel eaten up with shame I began to do several things. First I started praying for the Holy Spirit to convict me before I sinned in my anger. It is normal to feel anger when the kids are disobeying that same rule that has been in place since their arrival and that they've been disciplined for before; it's how I handle my emotion of anger that becomes the problem. So praying for wisdom, patience and kindness helped me act in this way instead of just losing it. I still forget and still blow it (both ways!), but it always drives me broken, back to the foot of the cross, where I should be anyway. But life is so much better now, and when I do blow it, I accept His forgiveness. Jesus paid a huge price to erase what I just did--why wouldn't I accept it? Then I begin praying again for wisdom before the fact, as well as making it right with whoever I erupted at, if necessary.
I also began praying for God to show me what His purpose was for this fierceness in my spirit. Always faithful to answer, He has slowly shown me things to be righteously angry about and ways to act. He has also shown me to quit feeding my mind with things that promoted the anger: taking control of my thoughts (2 Cor 10:5; Rom 12:2--we do these things by pouring in God's Word, btw) and not dwelling on myself and my own little miseries was a start! Changing all my input, from music to books to television (ala Phil 4:8), really helped change my output, which starts with our thoughts, which become our words, which become our character. I still blow it, but I blow it less when I am obediently in His Word and praying.
I also quit idealizing my friends. Some candid conversations revealed that they, too, struggled with some of the same issues. Most of the time when we compare ourselves to others we are compaing our worst to their best, which never helps.
Back to what started all this--my student. We talked yesterday and it brought back so many things that I just haven't thought about for so long (hmm, maybe I don't want to go to my 20-year reunion this year...). But it really brought back the years of living in a haze of self-disgust. If you are in this place, turn to the Lord and let Him carry your burden and show you a better way.