I have a sinful anger problem that manifests itself most intensely in the morning when my children wake me up before I’m ready. I thought it was just because they were waking me before the time I had assigned for them to get out of bed. Then one morning they actually stayed in bed until “seven came back,” and I was still mad at them. I’ve come to realize the problem is not with them. It’s with me. Manipulating THEIR behavior isn’t going to solve MY sin problem.
In each chapter of Counsel from the Cross, Elyse Fitzpatrick takes a real life scenario and works through how gospel truths meet the person in it. I know that is what I must do as well. So today I am wrestling through how the gospel equips me to face my sin and deal with my mornings differently.
First, I feel fearful. I love my children. They are sweet, cute, and tender. I want them as adults to rise up and call me blessed. Instead, I fear they will rise up and call me “Troll.” More than most anything else in terms of God-given goals, I want to bless my husband and children. I want them to remember cupcakes and stories read, not ugly outbursts when I get woken up. I want to do unto my kids as I want them to do to others. I fear that they will remember me more as a troll than as a mom that is FOR them.
Second, I feel shame. I write books and get to occasionally speak at women’s retreats. Really, shouldn’t I be past such angry outbursts? If anyone other than my husband and kids saw my morning anger, I’d be so embarrassed.
Finally, I feel defeated. I’ve been working on morning strategies a long time, trying to be the mom who thinks ahead and prepares her children for a successful morning routine. And I am defeated at every turn. Mostly, I have finally acknowledged that manipulating my circumstances (or manipulating my children) isn’t going to fix my sin problem.
So here I am. How does penal substitution and imputed righteousness prepare me for this struggle—for the sin itself and then the fear, shame, and hopelessness that accompany it? I am tempted to start with lectures to myself on selfishness. “You are so selfish, Wendy.” Which is true. But it doesn’t help much. Today, instead, I am starting with the gospel defined. My sin is truly forgiven. And God has promised the lavish gift of a spiritual inheritance that equips me for every struggle, even in the mornings when I’m coming out of a dead sleep.
2 Cor. 9:8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.
The answer to my sense of defeat is really my union with Christ. Abide in Him, for apart from Him, I can do nothing (John 15:5). I am reading The Praying Life, and the Lord has used it to give me a renewed confidence in prayer as the natural outworking of this abiding. Paul Miller gives a number of illustrations of prayerful dependence on God particularly when it comes to dealing with angry gut responses to our children. I have a tool when I am faced with frustration and hopelessness in yet another instance of sinful anger. I don’t have it together enough in those moments to pray a theologically informed prayer. Instead, it’s more like, “God, I’m angry. Help me! My will is strong right now, but I want Your will to be done.” And honestly, coming out of a deep sleep, that is about all I have to offer. Just, “HELP!” But I smile to myself as I write this, because God doesn’t shame me for such a cry. He welcomes it. He wants it. He assures me that I can come boldly and confidently to Him in my need.
I really wish I was a morning person. But I’m not. I really wish my boys slept in until 8 or 9 am. But they don’t. My control nature is utterly thwarted by these truths. It’s funny how it takes the utter frustration of my attempts to control or fix a situation before I really cry out to God in desperation. But He receives my desperate cry and binds me tighter to Himself through it. And He answers. Usually, it’s in a quiet way that I don’t at first notice. Though I was woken out of a deep sleep and felt frustration once again, amazingly enough I did not speak to my children in hurtful ways, and an hour later, I realize we are all actually having a good morning together. When I finally notice it, I know beyond any doubt that it was God’s GRACE that made that possible.
I don’t know what your struggle is. But if it’s anything like mine, it’s particularly painful because it manifests itself against the ones you most love and want to support. The gospel invitation is simple—bring this need to your Father boldly and confidently. Every last time, bring this need to Him. When you are devastated by sinning again after all your attempts to control the situation better, bring this need to Him. That’s actually a decent place to be. YOU can’t control sin. But God can. Your efforts to avoid sin are at best coping mechanisms with average rates of success. But they won’t change you. Or when you see the sin coming toward you and desperately want to avoid hurting those you love once again, bring this need to Him. You don’t need a theologically precise prayer, you just need to cry out your desperation. God hears. This is what it means to abide in Him. Apart from Him you can do nothing.