This morning our six year old made herself some toast, buttered it, cut it into tiny squares with kitchen scissors, dolloped it with maple syrup and then poured herself a large glass of milk... that she accidentally knocked into the corner of the table as she carried it over and everything proceeded to splatter onto the floor in a sticky, soggy mess.
Now, often, this would have been an internal battle for me not to get angry. My first response is not always one of calm and reassurance when a mess is created...especially one that involves a milk-syrup-mix.
But-- this morning, by God's grace, I responded pretty well. It was just an accident. She felt bad. We cleaned it up together. And poured more milk.
It did get me thinking about what often makes the difference in how I respond. And I came up with three factors that usually swing the angry/frustrated-----calm/kind teeter-totter in one direction or the other:
1. My expectations about parenting and whether or not my own plans have become an idol.
I turned 40 last month and wanted to spend some time reflecting. It hit me that I have a tendency to make productivity an idol. Accomplishing my goals, can quickly become more important than it should be and then when parenting disrupts what I planned, I am more quick to get angry. But I want to be open to God's plans for my day, which may include some interruptions and redirection. Part of this is having realistic expectations about parenting. Our best child-parent conversations often do not occur at the most convenient time. I can't schedule in time-for-consequences-discipline, because I don't know when it's going to be needed. There is no 15 minute slot for "child will accidentally drop glass of milk and plate of syrup". But I shouldn't be surprised by these occurrences because they are all part of parenting. I want my trigger response to be prayer and a willingness to invest instead.
“Parenting is all about living by the principle of prepared spontaneity. You don’t really know what’s going to happen next. You don’t really know when you’ll have to enforce a command, intervene in an argument, confront a wrong, holdout for a better way, remind someone of a truth, call for forgiveness, lead someone to confession, point to Jesus, restore peace, hold someone accountable, explain a wisdom principle, give a hug of love, laugh in the face of adversity, help someone complete a task, mediate an argument, stop with someone and pray, assist someone to see their heart, or talk once again about what it means to live together in a community of love. What you do know is that Scripture gives you the wisdom that you need and your always-present Messiah gives you the grace that you need to be ready to respond to the moments of opportunity he will give you.” -Paul Tripp
2. My margins and the speed of life.
When I fill my life to the brim and write clear out to the edges of the paper, I don’t leave room for the Holy Spirit to nudge, or for me to listen and respond. When we have been running around frantically at super-sonic speed and I have left the exact-number-of-minutes-needed-so-nothing-can-go-wrong or we will be late...then I am quick to let anger creep in. This is something I can avoid buy making better choices myself. I can choose to limit some of our activities and I can say no to some things that may sound fun, but that deplete physical or emotional resources and time. And I can choose to do something simple, like get up 15 minutes earlier, or not check my email at a particular moment, so that we have some buffer in our schedule for the unexpected. Which honestly, is something that should be-- expected.
3. My time in God's Word and my awareness of my own weakness
When I am filling my mind and heart with God's Word, I am more prepared to let Him tamp out the embers of anger when they start to rise. When I am aware of my own sinful tendency to give in to anger, then I can cling to his promise that when I realize I am weak, I am actually strong, because I will look to Him to provide strength. Because God says to me, "'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me" (2 Cor. 12:9). And I am wise to remember that what comes out of my mouth, is just an overflow of what was already in my heart. This is convicting.
“Surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in the cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man; it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am.” –C.S. Lewis
And so... this morning was a small victory over anger. But I know it will be an ongoing battle. I am thankful for an awareness of these three factors that greatly influence the outcome though. For "the anger of man, does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). And now it's time to go wipe up some last blobs of syrup.