“Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity.” Ephesians 4:26–27
“Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” This is probably one of the most recognizable quotes from popular action/science fiction movies today. But just in case you don’t know it, it’s a quote from a mild mannered scientist named Bruce Banner just before he loses his temper and turns into a giant green hulking monster. Once he’s turned into the Incredible Hulk he loses all ability to control his anger and his strength, destroying everything in his path. The thing about Bruce is that he doesn’t just freak out and turn green right away; his anger is a slow simmer, and as soon as he feels it becoming too much he tries to remove himself from the situation; he doesn’t want to turn green. He doesn’t want to hulk out. What does this have to do with Jesus you ask? Nothing. But it has everything to do with our human nature and us, specifically, my human nature and me.
I usually consider myself to be a pretty great person, loving and fun to be around, but lately, I have felt like Bruce Banner. I didn’t come to this conclusion on my own. Oh no, it took an innocent declaration of truth, a simple comment from a four year old for me to see it. My son, Josiah, noticed I was using what he calls my angry voice and asked, “Mom, are you angry with me?” I replied, “No” and to be honest, I don’t even remember what I was upset about. Then he asked, “Then what are you angry at?” And I replied, “I’m just angry.” Then ever so quiet, under his breath in the saddest tiniest voice he said, “You’re always angry.” It felt like a sledgehammer to my heart. Am I always angry? Is that how my precious baby perceives me?
It seems like on a daily basis, one thing after another will come flying at me and I end up operating at a slow simmer, boiling just beneath the surface until one tiny little thing sets me off and I’m a green hulking monster at anyone and anything that gets in my way. Let me explain. On an average day I wake up and my son might disobey me 17 or so times before we ever leave the house and the frustration starts building. Then I sit in traffic and I can’t count how many people tailgate or cut me off or just plain drive slow and the boil begins. Maybe Starbucks gets my coffee wrong, or a client at work yells at me, or I get to work only to realize I left important documents at home. Then I’m leaving work in a rush to grab groceries, or run half dozen errands before picking the kiddo up at school, which I am late for, again. By the time I pick him up I’m ready to explode at any moment. And then it happens. He spills his milk or leaves a toy in my barefoot path and IT happens. The green monster comes flying out at him, or my husband, or whoever is closest to me. And then I feel horrible. But it’s out there, the tirade, the grown up temper tantrum; and I can’t take it back.
The Bible tells us in Ephesians, to be angry but don’t sin. Is it sin to scream at your family? Probably not. Is it sin to make a Starbucks barista feel terrible because they made a mistake? Not really. Is it sin to stream curse words under your breath if no one actually hears you? Maybe. But ask yourself this: Does it give glory to God? If someone who doesn’t know me and doesn’t know Jesus, would my behavior point them to Him? Even though expressing myself is supposed to feel good and release tension, do I feel good about what I just said and did? The answer to all of these questions is probably no. And if the way we’re behaving isn’t glorifying God, it’s probably sin.
So what makes us so volatile? Why is it so easy to lose control? I think it’s a few things:
- We are overworked. There’s not enough time in the day to get it all done, and our stress levels are at an all time high.
- We try to do too much; we have a hard time saying no to others and we over-extend ourselves (see #1)
- We don’t spend enough time with God (because of #1 and #2)
Now that we know the root, we can move forward to fix it. Here are a few ways to combat the green monster:
- Spend time with God! That’s an obvious one, but really, read your Bible more. If you don’t have time, make time. Get up early. Commit to skip a tv show and read for that hour. If you’re running errands all day, listen to some worship music in the car. Right now, stop and make a list of 3 ways you could include prayer, Bible reading and Christian music in your day and then implement them.
- Say no. This should be self-explanatory, but it’s a hard one to learn. If you’re overstressed, say no to hosting the party, say no to driving the carpool, say no to the overtime. Just say no.
- Take a break for you. Take even 10 minutes to just look out the window at a beautiful sunset, do a grown-up coloring book (they’re very therapeutic), let your mind wander and check out for a few minutes, to give it a chance to reboot. No cell phone, no video games or tv. By the way, these are really great times to do #1, when you get really still and shut the world out; it’s a really good time for prayer and meditation.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. I’ve come to realize that it’s not one huge thing in a day that makes me crazy; it’s 100 little things. So when something starts irritating you just take a deep breath and think, “It’s only little.” Take a pause before you react. Giving yourself even that extra 5 seconds can help so much.
- Give yourself a break. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Real change takes time. Allow the Holy Spirit to lovingly rebuke you and then make small changes. And if you find yourself hulking out again, it’s ok. Just repent, look at what brought you there, and keep moving forward.
“This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.” James 1:19–20