Battling Anger, Frustration, and Impatience

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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