Of all the powerful emotions I feel towards my children, perhaps anger has the most to teach me.
I am not the fiery temper type. I don’t tend to make snarky remarks or lose my cool. My anger takes shape in the slow, seething burn of resentment, which is just as destructive.
However it shows itself, if I will submit my anger to the Holy Spirit for examination, he will likely reveal some truths that will help me “be angry, and sin not” (Eph. 4:26). The Spirit faithfully uses anger to expose parental idols and to purify our love for our children.
Anger Reveals Our Idols, Sin, and Weakness.
We all know our children are sinners, but sometimes moms and dads may have a bit of amnesia about the human condition. Our children will do foolish, unkind, destructive things, just like we do. Just as my child’s misbehavior can reveal his sin, it often stirs up my own.
Given that I know my kids will sin, it’s often helpful to ask God why I am so angry when they do.
If I am honest, I am easily annoyed when a child’s foolishness disrupts my day and demands a response. I’m thinking of the angel I’ve tucked in snug for the night who becomes the hellion who won’t stay in bed. I feel I’ve earned the right to watch Netflix in peace, but my child won’t cooperate. Yes, my child needs to obey me; yes, he needs a good night’s sleep; yes, I need a break. But he is also a child, prone to childishness. I am the adult. If I let frustration and disappointment turn into irritation or yelling, I am the one causing problems, not him.
So, I ask God: why am I not showing love, joy, peace, and patience to my child?
Teenagers stoke parental anger because their disobedience can have much greater consequences, and because they often take such pleasure in provoking us. Think of your talented son who mysteriously decides to quit varsity soccer. If your child giving up on athletic excellence or an impressive transcript leads you to respond with sharp criticism, you’ll miss the fact that something is going on with this kid.
Here’s a chance to ask God: has a threatened idol provoked my sin?
Sometimes our irritation flares because we didn’t see the sinful behavior coming. Imagine your daughter gets caught cheating on a test. You thought she knew better; you thought you’d raised an honest child. How embarrassing! Her poor decision feels like a referendum on your parenting because you have turned your child into a reflection of yourself.
Though I think I know the answer, I ask: God, have I made my child’s life about me?
I am often angry because I am fearful. Sometimes it’s vain imagining that gets me anxious, but there are genuine threats to our children in a fallen world. I am afraid the child who lies has a serious character flaw that will lead to dishonesty in every facet of life. I am afraid the child who sneaks out of the house in the middle of the night will get into real danger. Fear that finds expression in harsh words will, by God’s grace, drive a parent to prayer.
I can ask: Father what is the sin underneath my anger? What is it I am afraid of, and what promises from your Word answer to that fear?
If we’ve lashed out in a fit of temper, God redeems our failures when we repent and ask our child’s forgiveness. But even as he faithfully shows us our transgressions, we will recognize that we get so very angry with our children in part because we care so very deeply about them.
Anger Reveals Our Love.
When your child loses her license for driving 30 mph over the speed limit, you will be angry with her for endangering her life and others’, and for her reckless misuse of the car she doesn’t appreciate. But your anger blazes up because you understand, better than she does, what might have happened if she had lost control of the car. What’s more, her behavior reveals selfish carelessness rather than love of neighbor. You are angry because you love her so much.
Our Father God demonstrates that, where sin is present, righteous anger flows out of his steadfast love. At times Scripture shows him angry on behalf of his beloved child (Psalm 18), but at other times he burns with anger against his no less beloved children. Time and again, Israel’s disobedience and unbelief provoke God’s wrath, and they suffer the consequences of their sin. God must respond, because love that does not respond with appropriate confrontation, correction, and discipline is not love (Prov. 13:24).
Anger Can Help Us Grow, and Help Us Love Our Children Well.
Righteous anger – anger against sin— gives me the strength to stand up against the sin at work in my child. I would prefer to avoid conflict, to keep the peace, to not go through the hassle of figuring out how to have that tough conversation or enforce that consequence. It’s easier to chew silently on resentment or to blow off steam by yelling. Fighting sin –both mine and my child’s— takes prayerful attention and self-control. Righteous anger against sin keeps me from taking the easy road as a parent.
This kind of anger grows out of self-sacrificing love. While “human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires” (James 1:20 NIV), we can ask God to sanctify our anger toward our child and direct us to a proper, helpful expression of the frustration we feel. As our perfect Parent, God can use our anger to transform us—and our children—to look more like himself:
The Lord is merciful and gracious,Psalm 103:8-10;14
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities…
he remembers that we are dust.
Our featured family discipleship course this month, Pornography and Parenting, equips parents to have the hard conversations with their children about the dangers of pornography.