The other morning I was supervising Braeden (12) as he went through his morning routine. Because of his cerebral palsy, Braeden’s motor control isn’t always the greatest, and I suspected that he wasn’t doing the best job brushing his teeth. I was watching and coaching, “Okay, now the bottom. Do the back part. No, not there, the inside. Okay, now the outside. No, no, no, here!” He brushed the same areas over and over again, missing the same two spots with every back-and-forth of the brush. It was clear to me that this was not really a motor control issue, but more of a pre-teen laziness thing. My jaw clenched just a little bit as my frustration mounted.
I stepped in to place my hand over his and guide him in moving the brush over to the neglected teeth. He made one of those rude adolescent noises (a cross between a whine, a grunt, and a growl) and swung around to pull away from me. His scowl lit a spark in me that has been dormant for some time. I felt heat climb up my neck, a knot develop in my stomach, and my teeth ground together so tightly I could hear them crunch. In two seconds flat, I went from frustrated to mad.
I grabbed back on to his hand clasping the toothbrush, and we brushed! A muffled, “Ow!” tried to make its way around the frothy brush jammed into his mouth. I continued. “Ow!” A bit louder this time. With everything in me I wanted to grab on to the back of his neck, make him be still, and brush all my fury away. I wanted to scream at him to, “Shut up and stop whining! If you did a good job in the first place I wouldn’t have to help you!” I could feel it bubbling to the surface…
And then I felt this little pinprick in my spirit and words from James echoed in my mind, Human anger does not produce the righteousness God desires… The balloon of anger didn’t burst, but developed a slow leak. I could tell that it would deflate soon, if I just gave it time and quit puffing more air into it. I shot up a dart of a prayer, “Lord, I need you to interrupt me right now, so I don’t completely lose it.” Without a word, I let go and stepped out of the bathroom. I breathed deeply once, twice, three times. While smaller, that balloon still rested at the back of my throat. I took the three steps into my bedroom, closed the door, stuffed my pillow into my face, and hollered with everything in me, “Aggggghhhhhhh!!!” Then I breathed again – in through the nose, out through the mouth, again, again.
I realized that the rushed morning hours may not be the best time for teaching. I returned to find Braeden rinsing his mouth. I said sorry that I was rough and asked if he was okay. He nodded. I asked him if we could practice brushing his teeth properly on Saturdays, to make sure he’s getting all the areas. He nodded. I asked if I could have a hug. He smiled and nodded and wrapped his one good arm around me, “I love you, Mom. You’re the best.”
As I sent my big boy out the door to his bus, I reflected on how differently that could have gone. How differently it would have gone in the past. And I thanked God for working in me and for interrupting me when I need Him to.
Have you experienced that pinprick in the spirit recently, where God interrupts your natural reaction to turn you around? Maybe when you were about to speak those snarky words to your husband? Or share that juicy morsel of gossip with a girlfriend? Perhaps it’s your own anger story? I’d love to hear how God has been working in your life!
How to stop anger in its tracks:
1.. Learn to recognize the physical feelings of anger that precede the emotional outburst. Respond to those physical feelings by stepping away.
2. Find Scriptures that remind you why you don’t want to be angry. Write them out on index cards, carry them around, read them out loud. Eventually, they will get lodged in your heart and mind.
3. Ask God to interrupt your typical reactions.*
5. Pay attention to the times of day that you are easily triggered. Make those times of day as routine as possible and avoid things that add more stress (such as trying to teach a new skill or send an important email).
6. Always ask for forgiveness.
7. Don’t forget to thank God for each and every success.
* This phrase is adapted from a live talk given by Lysa TerKeurst.