You might not suspect it, but I have a short temper sometimes. I don’t yell. I grew up with yelling and didn’t want it in my home. But I tend to seethe silently, which is no better (and certainly isn’t healthier).
Of course, some anger is justified. Ephesians 4:26 says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.” But the next verse warns, “and give no opportunity to the devil.” There are a number of warnings in Proverbs and other Scriptures about the dangers of anger.
What trips me up most often are dumb little things. Like trying to get one coat hanger, which somehow makes others fall down. Or the easy-open package which doesn’t live up to its description. Or tossing a plastic bottle into the recycling bin only to have it bounce out and roll under the car.
When a flash of anger or frustration or impatience flares up, I pray for forgiveness and try to gain the right perspective.
I pray for patience. People say not to do that because, since “tribulation worketh patience” (Romans 5:3, KJV), you’re asking for more tribulation. But I am asking for grace to respond better when even these minor tribulations show up.
Lately I’ve wondered if there’s a way to head that flare-up off at the pass. “Good sense makes one slow to anger” (Proverbs 19:11). So I sat down one afternoon and sought some good sense “to be renewed in the spirit of [my] mind” (Ephesians 4:23).
We live in a fallen world. Stuff will go wrong. The computer will mess up just as I was finishing my work. Ants will find their way into my kitchen, despite having a whole big world outside to explore. Weeds will grow faster than plants. Ever since the fall of man in Genesis 3, life has been harder than it was before.
In my early adulthood, we didn’t have the plethora of personality profiles we do today. No one had heard of the Enneagram or Meyers-Briggs. All we had to go by were the four temperaments. Some Christian books on the subject were very helpful in understanding myself. But it was a preacher who shared in passing something that was a big eye-opener to me. He mentioned that melancholics (my personality type, but not meaning sad) liked things to be right. They’re often seen as critical (and can be), but that’s an outgrowth of wanting to fix what’s wrong.
But there’s no way I can personally set everything right, from hard-to-open packages to social justice. I can only do what’s before me to do. I ask God to set things right and pray for grace to deal with the everyday frustrations of life.
Who am I, that I should expect everything to go my way? I’m running late and get frustrated with red lights, as if the whole transportation system should rearrange itself for my benefit. I get angry at the driver who cut me off or took the parking space I was aiming for, as if I had a right to those spaces over him. A lot of my frustration boils down to selfishness.
Giving way in small things makes it easier to give way in big things. I used to think it wasn’t necessarily wrong to take anger out on an inanimate object when I was alone. It didn’t have feelings, and I wasn’t ruining my testimony. But letting myself “lose it” in those moments just makes it easier to keep responding the same way. As the old hymn says:
Yield not to temptation,
For yielding is sin;
Each vict’ry will help you,
Some other to win;
Fight valiantly onward,
Dark passions subdue;
Look ever to Jesus,
He will carry you through.
Ask the Savior to help you,
Comfort, strengthen and keep you;
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.
H. R. Palmer
Impatience and frustration are not Christlike. “Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked” (1 John 2:6). “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2). Yes, Jesus got angry. But when He overthrew the money-changer’s table in the temple and cursed a fig tree, those incidents were not flash-in-the-pan exasperation or losses of temper. They were a demonstration of His authority and a small preview of the judgment to come. In His dealings with everyday people, He was meek and kind.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.(1 Peter 2:21-23)
The fruit of the Spirit. Last week I talked about not just “don’t-ing,” not just concentrating on what we’re not supposed to do, but pursuing what we are supposed to. For the past few weeks I have been asking God every morning to fill me with His Holy Spirit and work out His fruit in my life. Then I recite the fruit of the Spirit to myself: love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance. Keeping those things at the forefront of my mind will hopefully incline me more toward them than the flesh.
Meditating on God’s Word. In addition to the passage about the fruit of the Spirit and anger, verses like these melt my anger away:
And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:30-32)
Anger and frustration are not worth the consequences, physically (high blood pressure, headaches, etc.), mentally (letting the next minutes be ruined by a sour attitude over some frustration) or spiritually.
Remember little things are just little things. Don’t let them foment into a bigger problem.
Take practical measures. Stop struggling with the package and just get the scissors. Leave the house with a cushion of time. Set reminders so I don’t forget things.
Let God use frustrating circumstances for good. Elisabeth Elliot wrote in Keep a Quiet Heart:
Everything about which we are tempted to complain may be the very instrument whereby the Potter intends to shape His clay into the image of His Son–a headache, an insult, a long line at the check-out, someone’s rudeness or failure to say thank you, misunderstanding, disappointment, interruption. As Amy Carmichael said, “See in it a chance to die,” meaning a chance to leave self behind and say YES to the will of God, to be “conformable unto His death.” Not a morbid martyr-complex but a peaceful and happy contentment in the assurance that goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives. Wouldn’t our children learn godliness if they saw the example of contentment instead of complaint? acceptance instead of rebellion? peace instead of frustration?
Elisabeth once quoted what George MacDonald said in What’s Mine is Mine: “Because a thing is unpleasant, it is folly to conclude it ought not to be. There are powers to be born, creations to be perfected, sinners to be redeemed, through the ministry of pain, to be born, perfected, redeemed, in no other way.”
A Chinese proverb says, ‘”A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials.”
Amy Carmichael once wrote:
The hardest thing is to keep cheerful (and loving) under little things that come from uncongenial surroundings, the very insignificance of which adds to their power to annoy, because they must be wrestled with, and overcome, as in the case of larger hurts. Some disagreeable habit in one to whom we may owe respect and duty, and which is a constant irritation or our sense of the fitness of things, may demand of us a greater moral force to keep the spirit serene than an absolute wrong committed against us. [Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur. (Fort Washington, PA: Christian Literature Crusade, 1983), 86-87]
I make my prayer Colossians 1:11 (KJV): “Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness.” Not just patient and longsuffering, not just “grin and bear it,” but joyful!
What helps you to battle impatience, frustration, and anger?
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Reading this post makes me think I should spend some time meditating on the fruit of the Spirit. I also have a tendency to be frustrated over dumb things, particularly the perversity of inanimate objects. It points to a deeper sin that I need to repent of, so thank you for sharing your own struggle.
I love that phrase–the perversity of inanimate objects. I’ve often said that coat hangers are totally depraved. 🙂 Sometimes I wonder why God doesn’t allow things to go smoothly, especially when they are things I am doing for Him or others. But I remind myself the Christian life never mean perpetual smooth sailing, and He wants me to grow in patience.
great post. My mantra is “Don’t sweat the small stuff and God will handle the bigger stuff”. I also grew up with a lot of yelling in the home…my mother was a HUGE yeller. I vowed NOT to yell at my children or husband because quite frankly (and this is my teacher training taking over) it isn’t effective. It tends to turn people away not towards correcting whatever it is you were yelling about plus it causes your blood pressure to rise, your heart to race, etc.
When I’m frustrated (usually at things I cannot control anyways) I try to say Ok God. Here ya go. You’re going to have to put a guard on my mouth and give me your peace”. Then I try to find something else to do or if dealing with a person who is frustrating me, i try to ask questions and LISTEN and not try to FIX.
My mom was not a yeller, thankfully. But my dad was, and it makes me shrink. It took me years to respond to other people’s anger with something other than wanting to get away. You’re right, it’s not effective, and can be harmful.
Your strategies are good ones.
Wow, Barbara! Did I need to read this post today! I tend to react first and then sit back and regret my actions/words/attitude. Great post!
Me, too. I need to remind myself of these things often.
I like your thoughts about not just ‘not-doing’. If we focus on the positive, we tend to forget the negative.
PS: was I visiting your state last week? That’s my memory…
Sent you an email. 🙂
Finding positive ways to head off impatience and frustration is such a good idea! I too often forget to do just that and find myself getting tense and easily frustrated with silly things that shouldn’t bother me. I’ve taken to reminding myself of a version of something I’ve told my kids so many times when they were learning to drive and I wanted them to not worry about an impatient driver behind them when they were sticking to the speed limit: “Just think of the speeding ticket he WON’T get because he’s following you” It helps with impatience anyway, to realize that because things aren’t going the way I want or as fast as I want, it may be helping me avoid a different problem or offering an opportunity for a different blessing.
That’s a good reminder. Sometimes things that delay me are keeping me from a bigger problem, like an accident.
Thank you for this Barbara.
Thank you, Jennifer.
You’re right, it does surprise me that you struggle with anger, frustration, and impatience. You seem so calm! Of course, we’re all human. And we can bond over both being melancholics. When I was a child, I remember my aunt saying I was the best example of a melancholy she had ever seen (I didn’t understand this at the time at all!). As usual, your thoughts here are very helpful. And thank you for bringing the hymn “Yield not to temptation” back to mind. I love it but haven’t heard it in years.
I haven’t heard that hymn in a very long time, either, but it’s so helpful. I’m glad you knew what I meant by melancholic. 🙂
We do tend to put our best foot forward online. I try to be authentic, but I’m not likely to write here when I am in a “mood.” 🙂
You are so right – I was surprised that you struggle with anger or frustration. Your writings always come across as gentle and calm. I think as I am getting older, I am discovering some things are just not worth the energy it takes in getting angry. Perhaps it was in seeing anger displayed this past year in the news that grew the desire in me for peace, peaceful solutions, and for myself to be a peaceful person. Your post, as always, contains much wisdom!
What helps me? This article. Thank you.
Thanks so much, Linda!
Thank you for reminding me today! I too have a melancholic personality and a Mom who yelled, yelled and yelled some more. I vowed to not be a yeller but did not realize how difficult it would be. I have learned to forgive my Mom as God has given me the same struggles. Before becoming a Christian, I relied on myself and bottled up everything until it came boiling out. I am learning through my trials to rely on the Lord. II Cor 1:9. Only in Him can we find our flesh subdued and the righteousness we long for.
Thanks so much for sharing! Thankfully my mom was not a yeller, but my dad was. I was not allowed to yell back, but I didn’t know how to safely process anger for years. Forgiveness is key, as is relying on God to cleanse and enable us.
Thank you for great reminders and helps. The verse which has helped me the most is 1Thess5:18 Give thanks in all circumstances for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.
Thank you, Lucy. That “all” in that verse is convicting. 🙂
These are great ways to handle our frustration. I notice that I am far more likely to be short with myself and with others when I am tired or hungry, so staying well rested and well fed are also some ways I try to cut a bad mood off at the pass. 🙂
Yes–I should have listed hunger and lack of sleep in the practical suggestions. It’s very hard for me to be patient when I haven’t had enough sleep.
I agree, it’s often the little things that seem more frustrating somehow, but learning to deal well with them can help to equip us to deal with the bigger things. Thanks for all the helpful advice you share here.
I love the “good sense” that you’ve shared here, Barbara. So practical and concrete. I also appreciate the glimpses into your background that you’ve shared in the post and comments … ❤️
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I had to chuckle right off the get go — I’ve had a literal temper tantrum when trying to extract one hanger from a group of hangers. I am learning I need to practice with the small stuff (small annoyances) so that I can be in better spiritual shape to handle the bigger frustrations. Love the scriptures you’ve quoted here — I know I need to be meditating on them continually if I ever want to even slightly mirror my Savior. Joining with you in wanting to accept, with patience, life’s interruptions knowing God has a purpose in everything.
Oh, so often I allow those little things to annoy me, to spark a flame for bigger things to consume me. Thank you for this perfect reminder–Remember little things are just little things. I want to print that out and hang it in my house!
This inspired me today to make sure I’m meditating more on Scripture that the Holy Spirit can use to shape me into who He wants me to be. Even our response to small frustrations needs to be God honoring! Thank you.
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What an encouraging post! It’s easy for me to waste time in frustration, which can easily turn into anger if I indulge it. I do love that old hymn (well, I love hundreds of old hymns!). Now I’ll be singing it to myself today, which is a wonderful way to meditate on wise words.
Thanks so much for joining the Grace at Home party at Imparting Grace. I’m featuring you this week!