I’ve been trying to get control of my temper since my husband and I were married.  A day planned and interrupted by children with different agendas; a husband who needs my support instead of first offering his, longings unrealized; efforts unseen—all of this often leads me not to a dependent conversation with my Father, but to self-reliant angry outbursts demanding my desires be fulfilled.  

A Battle with Anger

As I watch both of our children battle against the very same anger their parents both fight with, I feel afraid.  I hear stories of friends who as children crawled into bed with a sibling or locked themselves in another room when their parents argued, and I want to take action, because this cannot be the story my children are going to tell. So, I read blogs and vow to change.  I seek counsel from wise people who can give me a plan–something I can get started on today, something that will work.  And whatever I settle on works for a little while, until it doesn’t.  Failure. Shame. Condemnation. More resolutions.  I’m right back where I started, and the cycle continues.

It happened again, at the end of a very long day with our young children, when my husband called on his way home from work and asked me how I was.  I told him.  And it wasn’t pretty.  And when he got home I told him again.  It was loud, it was thoughtless, and our kids witnessed it all.  I almost believed the evil one again, but right on the verge of despair the Spirit was so gracious and reminded me of Romans 7-8, nudging me to read it out loud.  

I read Paul’s words about his struggle with sin, how he wants to obey God’s commands but sin continues to trip him up,  and a little spark of hope ignited in my heart when my son was able to understand how Paul’s struggles were so similar to ours.  My daughter even shouted, “Jesus!” when I read the end of Romans 7, where Paul in essence asks, “Who will rescue me?”  I was able to sit a little taller instead of hanging my head in shame.   He really is working. He really is at work in me.

The Gospel and Anger

Our counselor and wise friends have often encouraged me with the truth that our kids will see the gospel lived out as they see us struggle with anger, repent to them and each other, and continue to wait for the Lord to change us.  Over time, they will see us softening, growing slower to anger and more willing to wait in hope.  They will see where a person struggling with chronic sin repeatedly goes for rescue, and it will hopefully feel normal, not shameful, for them to follow suit when they struggle as well.  It requires a terrifying amount of faith to wait.  I want it to end; I want to fix it…yesterday.

However, in Romans 8:3-4 (ESV), I see a much more freeing battle plan.  “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do.  By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.”  The Message paraphrases it this way:  “And now what the law code asked for but we couldn’t deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us.

Whew.  So the deep healing from all of this mess comes not from just trying harder, but from surrendering to how he is changing us.

So, do I want more self-control over my anger?  Of course!  But, my hope cannot be in resolving to do better next time, to do what so-and-so blogger does to help reign in her anger,  to get more accountability, or to attempt to change my own heart by reading that Scripture on gracious words one more time.

My hope is found in embracing what the Spirit is doing in me as I fight against evil and my flesh.   My hope for our marriage is found in surrendering to the work he is doing in our hearts as we fight for good.  I find hope for my kids in believing they will see more of Jesus as they watch their parents struggle with anger and fight to believe the gospel in front of them, and repent to them every time they fail, instead of trying to cover it up and make it look prettier themselves.  There is beauty to be found in the courage and humility of repenting again (and again, and again, and again…) even though evil whispers it’s pointless, hypocritical, and shameful.  It screams to our hearts and our children’s hearts that we believe the gospel is true, and there really is hope for people like us.  

The Father changes hearts, and I’m watching him do it.  It’s so painfully slow and often hard not to despair.   But, I’m fighting for a different cycle….Failure. Repentance. Look to Jesus and believe he’s doing what I cannot, which will only spur me on and give me energy as I fight.  

And I’m praying this is the story my children will tell.

Duski Van Fleet is a wife, mama and teacher of two, and part-time pediatric nurse.  She is also a novice bird-watcher, lover of the outdoors, and hoarder of children’s books.  She finds life in music, in hearing the stories of others over a cup of tea, and in hearing from others that it’s okay for her to be kind to herself.  She and her family are grateful to be a part of their community at Christ Community Church in Helena, AL.