My twelve year old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my blasts of anger detonated at insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.
I remember once chasing my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I do remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.
I hated my uncontrollable anger, and I memorized over fifty verses about the angry man:
- A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
- A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
- Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
- But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
When I felt an outburst rising, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.
When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my temper. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t once lost my temper since his prayer. I hadn’t even had to fight it. My explosive temper had been defused.
It was a miracle.
Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.
A couple years ago I met with a twenty-eight-year-old woman who told me of a struggle she faced. She was dissatisfied. Growing up, she had sensible desires for her life: a reasonable husband, a nice family, and a moderate house.
Soon after college she married a really good man; they both found good jobs (in their fields even); they bought a nice house; and a year later they had a healthy baby boy.
She had everything she had wanted yet she was restless.
Then they bought a newer car, repainted the house, added granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. They were promoted. Her husband got an MBA. She quit her job to become a full-time mother. It felt good. For a bit. It didn’t last.
Soon she felt restless all over again. She asked herself, “Is this all there is?” She saw the same restlessness in her friends, going after raises, cars, promotions, and kids.
Then she read an Einstein quote,
Insanity is doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result.
She said to me, “I wonder if we’re all spiritually insane.”
I woke up last week to the blahs, like Marie Antoinette’s claim, “Nothing tastes.” This happens to me when I’m tired, and ten restless nights had drained me. I felt exhausted. And melancholy.
I wasn’t irritable (at least no more than usual). It was just a sense of doldrums. I tried a couple movies, but they didn’t grab me; I tried some good books, but they bored me. Nothing tasted. As a distraction, I did deskwork, but it all felt so dreary. Like doing taxes with a toothache.
I also tried praying. It wasn’t bad. I even felt a flicker of inspiration, but then it flickered out. (“Typical,” I thought.) I wasn’t particularly sad, but I did feel kind of … emotional.
How are Christians supposed to handle our emotions? It simply cannot be limited to:
- The Emotional Prima Donna. EVERYTHING is SO EPIC! Like geysers they spurt tears at every Hallmark holiday. Their feelings make them the center of attention.
- The Emotional Volcano. Pissed at the world, they erupt at the tiniest insult and explode at a slightest sign of disrespect. Their feelings threaten the world.
- The Emotional Eunuch. Claiming to be mini-Spock’s, they stuff their feelings. But they lack his charm (and his cool, pointy ears). They seem like animated cabbage. Their lack of feelings make them alien.
Please, tell me I’m not the only one annoyed by these responses (although, come to think of it, maybe I am feeling a bit irritable).
Then—I kid you not—I read a quote by the pop star Madonna, and it began my recovery.
I once met with a man—let’s call him Nathan—who described himself as a, “recovering charismatic.” He was open to it; but his experience of modern worship gave him pause.
As he grew up, his mother frenetically flitted from one worship experience to the next.
© United Methodist News Service
After Toronto she visited Florida, then Bethel Church, and then anywhere she heard “something” was happening.
Worship music unceasingly blared throughout the house. She seemed to need its euphoric “oomph” to motivate her for the tiniest of tasks. Wiping kitchen counters took the combined efforts of Matt Redman, Chris Tomlin, and Paul Baloche.
Don’t ask what spring cleaning required.
But she remained anxious, fearful, self-concerned, and neglectful of her husband and sons. She’d say, “I just want to go where God is working,” but it really seemed she just wanted an escape, a place where her problems could be sedated.
After describing all this, Nathan added, “A friend of mine became a crack addict. Frankly I didn’t see much difference between him and my mom. They got their highs in different ways, and their lives remained a mess.”
“I wonder,” he continued, “if modern worship is like a cocaine rush.”
Years ago I witnessed a curious interaction between a client’s president and his secretary. I arrived at their office mid-morning and found the secretary crying in the parking lot, crying because of a tongue-lashing she had just received.
Apparently her president had wanted new conference room table and chairs. He found a set online and asked his secretary to buy it. She found an identical set from another distributor with a better offer: it was several thousand dollars cheaper and it included an extended manufacturer’s warranty.
When she told the president about the better deal, he was furious, and he shouted, “Don’t you know who I am? I am the president!”
The president and I had lunch later that day. During the lunch, the president gave me his version of that morning’s story, and his story matched hers—almost word for word. He ended by asking, “Didn’t she know I am the president?”
The thing was, everybody knew he was the president. He owned the company. He basically operated as the CEO, COO, and CFO. There was not a single person with a hint of a shadow of the tiniest doubt who he was. Everyone knew it.
Except maybe the president himself.
Years ago I had two friends with almost opposite personalities and with almost identical approaches to life.
John (not his real name) was direct, and I mean really direct. You always knew his opinion. He spoke his mind without hesitation. On any topic and at every opportunity. You always knew where you stood with him.
He took a personality test which confirmed he was direct. He decided to “play to his strengths,” and he became ever more direct (and also a bit harsh and insensitive). He said, “God has given me a spirit of boldness.” And he boldly told everyone what to do, how to do it, and when to do it.
Instead of a friend I had a drill sergeant.
Linda (also not her real name) was a servant. Always serving, whether you wanted her to or not. She’d grab you a cup of coffee, fluff your sofa pillow, and stare at you with big attentive eyes. Unlike John, you never knew what she thought. When she hinted at a problem, you weren’t sure if your shirt was unbuttoned or your house was on fire.
Her personality test affirmed her “servanthood,” and she became insufferable. Her creed was, “I just want to serve,” her mantra was “Let me help you with that”, and her affect was suffocation.
Instead of a friend I had a butler.