Tuesday, October 11, 2011
The Beast Within
There is a monster living in my house. He lurks in the shadows. His appetite is insatiable, his rage fierce. No matter how securely I lock him up, he always finds a way to escape. He attacks without warning, destroying everything he touches. My wife and children cower away from him, huddling in the corners to stay out of the reach of his terrible claws. I try to subdue him, but he cast me aside like an old glove. Helplessly I watch the fear in my family's eyes grow into terror. When at last he has tired of the carnage, I contain him once again. I hold my children close and tell them it's alright. I tell them that the creature has gone. But even as I do, I feel him breathing down my neck. I know it's only a matter of time before he breaks loose again. Now here is the scary part: that creature is me. I inspire that terror.
Now let me be clear, I have never and will never lay a violent hand on my wife or children. But is that really enough? Often emotional wounds take much longer to heal than physical wounds. They can be carried into adulthood. Is it a sin to be angry? The word of God says "be angry, and sin not". So anger is not the sin, but rather letting anger control your actions and words. God says to control your temper, and rationally I think that is reason enough. But in our moment of anger we are often not rational at all. So the next time you get angry, stop and think about the effect of unbridled actions before you tear your family to shreds. Allow me list a few of these effects and also offer a prayer that in your moments when the beast has cast your rationality aside, the Holy Spirit will bring them to your remembrance (John 4:26).
First let's talk about how it affects your children. As dads it is one of our duties to cultivate an atmosphere of safety and trust in our homes. If your kids are afraid of you, they can't trust you, and if they can't trust you, they don't feel safe. A temper tantrum can destroy your child's sense of security in an instant. Your children get their perception of God from how they perceive you. If you sin, and then ask for forgiveness, do you still feel guilty? Do you feel the need to ask for forgiveness over and over? In most cases like this, you will find that kind of treatment from your parents in your childhood. The bible says God is "slow to anger and abundant in mercy". So we should be also.
Secondly, if you are like us, you try to demonstrate honesty to your children. In our house we do not tell our kids that Santa Clause is real. Or the Easter bunny, or the tooth fairy, or anything like them. Why? There are several reasons, most of which I will not go into here. For our present purposes I need only mention one: honesty. I want my kids to grow up knowing that we never lied to them. Especially when the consider the things we told them about Christianity. Now let us follow this logic through using a example that I specifically struggle with. In a moment of anger I yell at my son, "What is wrong with you!?" he then thinks, "Dad said he would never lie to me, now he is asking what is wrong with me. There must really be something wrong with me." If this seed thought is allowed to take root, it can lead to a lifetime of emotional disfunction. Starting with escapism, a desire to win the approval of their peers, and introversion. If not addressed, it can lead to self destructive behaviors, eating disorders, depression, self injury, and ultimately suicide. Now we began to see what the scriptures mean when they say "Death and life are in the power of the tongue." And of course, let us not forget imitation. Behavior, be it good or bad, trickles downward. Children who are the victims of anger will begin to display the same behaviors towards their mother, siblings, friends at school and church, and the end, their own children.
Now, I am no child psychologist, but based on what I have learned from child training experts and my own experience, it seems to me that children have several basic needs from their fathers. Among those needs, boys crave their fathers approval, and girls, his affection. If we are constantly denying them these things in our anger, they will seek it elsewhere. The natural end of this is obvious.
I would briefly like to mention some other effects of uncontrolled anger. In marriage it can lead to many obvious problems: resentment, reciprocated anger, depression, disunity, emotional and physical infidelity, and of course, divorce. However your family is not the only area it can effect. Consider the people who have lost their jobs because they yelled at their boss, or the man who burned down his house in a fit of rage, or the people who have lost friends, ended up in jail, or even lost their life because they couldn't control their temper. Anger destroys everything in it's path and leaves you in the end a bitter, disillusioned, and lonely man.
Admittedly these are mostly worst case scenarios. And that's really the point. We clean a cut before it gets infected. If you wait to call the fire department until your house is fully engulfed in flame, it will be of little use. If you do get the fire put out, the damage will be unrecoverable.
In my first blog posts I told you that I am not perfect, nor do I perfectly practice the things I teach. This is no exception. In fact in this area I am, as Paul said of himself, the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). I never wanted to say "Look, try to be like me", but to say "Let's walk together toward Christ". I pray that God will help all of us with our anger, and may the words of this post be the reminder we need to extinguish the flames so we may never have to watch our family burn to the ground because of the very man that is charged with their protection.