Mealtimes are messy at our house. Our children don’t throw food on the floor or shampoo their hair with leftover milk from their cereal bowls, but our mealtimes are messy because they’re filled with constant conflict and correction. “Stop touching your brother…stop kicking your brother, stop correcting your brother…start eating your food!”
God has blessed my wife and me with four beautiful boys in our 6 years of marriage. They fill our hearts with joy and laughter. There are times, however, when they greatly annoy and frustrate me, and it seems the most common place for that frustration is the kitchen table.
Sometimes it is their silliness that irritates me, other times it’s their spite for one another, but most of the time, it is their carelessness. A few weeks ago, one of my boys was walking back to the table after filling his water cup when he carelessly dropped it on the floor and water splashed everywhere. I angrily slung a towel in his direction and ordered him to clean up his mess.
He paused for a moment to process my sinful response and then he cried out, “You’re bad!” Now, typically, I would correct him on the spot for his disrespect, but on this particular day, I froze because his words stung my heart—I knew what he said was true. I thought to myself, “How did this happen again?”
Do you ever wonder why you get so mad at your kids? Does it ever bother you?
God has been graciously exposing the sinful anger in my heart and actions lately, and He is patiently rooting it out of my life. Let’s look at four sources of sinful anger along with four solutions from God’s Word.
1. An Incomplete Perspective
Imagine that you walk into the playroom and find your oldest boy repeatedly pounding on his brother’s back with his fist. Your immediate response would probably be to jerk the older child away and keep him from beating up his brother–until you discover that the younger son is choking on a small lego piece (unlikely, but just work with me…this is a hypothetical illustration). A proper perspective is essential to be able to make a just judgement.
There is plenty of foolishness and carelessness in our house on any given day, but there are also times when it is important to ask questions before assuming fault with our kids.
“It’s important to ask questions before assuming fault with our kids.”
Proverbs 18:13 states, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” Ask questions to understand the story behind the conflict. If we fail to ask questions and listen to our children, we can easily adopt an incomplete perspective that leads to frustration and sinful anger. At that point, we are the foolish and shameful ones.
2. Unreasonable Expectations
I love cleanliness. I also have four boys. Those two realities often don’t mix well. (What does mix well is the rainwater and the dirt from the path in our nicely landscaped backyard.) While I enjoy diving and sliding in the mud playing volleyball or ultimate frisbee, when I walk into the backyard and discover that my oldest boys have spread mud all over the patio, the toys, and their younger brother’s head, my first impulse is to pull out the hose and soak them in frustration.
“We should have high expectations of our children, but these expectations should also be reasonable.”
The reality is, boys + dirt + water = muddy boys. To expect that they will always keep themselves and the concrete patio perfectly clean is unreasonable. We should have high expectations of our children, but these expectations should also be reasonable. I don’t expect my one-year-old to dress himself in the morning, and I don’t expect my three-year-old to clip his fingernails.
Paul recognized different life stages in 1 Cor. 13:11; “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Reconsider the reasonableness of the expectations you have for your children–perhaps with the input of a wise, experienced parent–and you may come to realize that you are, in fact, the childish one.
3. Inflated View of Self
So often, my pride is the source of frustration. I’m probably not the only dad with children that talk loudly in public or pick the wrong time to need a bathroom break. But my desire for others to think well of me (and my parenting) can often be the source of sinful anger and frustration when my children don’t act “well-behaved” in front of others.
“As dads, we should be more concerned with God’s glory and our children’s well-being than our reputations.”
I send a damaging message to my children when I get angry with them for embarrassing me in public. As dads, we should be more concerned with God’s glory and our children’s well-being than our reputations.
When Eli the high priest corrected his wicked sons in 1 Samuel 2, he seemed more concerned about his reputation than their immorality. He said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all these people. No, my sons; it is no good report that I hear the people of the Lord spreading abroad” (1 Sam. 2:23-24).
Whose reputation is more important to you–yours or God’s?
4. Not Walking in the Spirit
I don’t explode with sinful anger primarily because my boys are bad. Instead, as my son rightly observed in the kitchen, I myself am “bad” and desperately in need of my heavenly Father.
“Ultimately, we exhibit sinful anger because we aren’t walking with God. This means that the solution to our problem has more to do with our relationship with God than it does our relationship with our kids.”
But here’s the good news—my Father sent His Son to give this sinful dad eternal righteousness and take all my sin. Jesus then sent the Holy Spirit to replace my fleshly responses with love, patience, and self-control. I’m thankful that my Father is patient with me and He is growing me to do the same with my children.
In Galatians 5:16, Paul instructs, “walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” He goes on to describe the works of the flesh, including, “fits of anger.” In contrast, the “fruit of the Spirit” is described as “love…patience…and self-control.”
If you’re anything like me, you’re as desperate for growth in this area as our one-year-old was eager to keep up with his brothers a few months ago. A few months ago he could barely take a step, but today he can run. Growth happens through baby steps–through continued practice and dependence on God’s Spirit to produce fruit in our lives.