One year, we went home for Christmas break during our seminary years. When we returned, there was water all over the bathroom and most of the bedroom floor. We came home in the middle of winter to a broken pipe and standing water. It was necessary to move everything out of the bedroom, drag the carpet out, turn the water off, and figure out how to make the repair—we did not have the money to call a plumber. As we were clearing the bedroom of furniture so that we could remove the carpet, I lost my balance while dismantling the bed. As I fell toward the wall, I raised my hand not to catch myself, but to put it through the wall, which I did quite well. It was a pure, unadulterated expression of anger from being frustrated at the circumstances we faced that day. This was the first way my anger harmed my family. It taught my wife to fear my anger and avoid anything that would rouse an angry outburst.
When we marry, all of us bring many things into the relationship. Most of those things follow us in our subconscious—how husbands and wives relate, how parents raise children, how responsibilities are divided in the family, what a husband expects from his wife, what a wife expects from her husband, and finally, how men respond to problems, issues, crises, or disruptions in the home. I am no exception. I brought a latent anger into our marriage and family. I say latent because I rarely got angry enough to break anything or actually lose control of my emotions, but I did on occasion break something while I was angry.
One of the most harmful subconscious reactions I brought into our marriage and family was masculine anger. I had seen it in my father on rare occasions. Most of the time he was super-composed and self-controlled, however, when he was angry, it was time to get out of the way. He never struck anything that I know about but it was not a pretty sight. For many years, my mother also expressed anger at me when I was less than cooperative, perhaps rebellious. In 1970, my parents attended a Bible conference in Florida. When they returned, I noticed a change that transformed our household. Christ had invaded our home and family. Their anger and angry outbursts ceased almost entirely.
Through the years, I had occasional outbursts of anger, but they were few and far between compared to others around me. I assumed that everyone got angry and since my outbursts were rare; I thought I was above average in controlling my anger. Basically, I never worried about being angry. I just got over it and continued with life. One thing you need to know is that I did not surrender my life to Christ until I was 19. Since I was almost twenty when the Spirit of God took control of my life, sin had some deep roots in my life and my anger was one of the strongest and most difficult areas to overcome.
When our sons were about 2 and 3 years of age, they would be playing together and one of them would let out a scream. If I was home, I would rush to see what was wrong, expecting to find a child bleeding from a gash in the head or something of that nature. Each time I ran to check on the situation; I would find that Michael had a bite mark on his arm or hand. He would grab something from Christopher or merely take something Christopher was playing with and Christopher would react by biting. Michael would respond by scratching Christopher’s face or head. This cut at my heart like nothing I had ever known. I would inevitably react in anger. I developed a pattern of popping them on the head—I never caused them to cry or left a mark of any kind—and saying don’t bite or scratch your brother. This happened over and over again. I reacted the same way each time. This was a bad, very bad way for a father to respond to sinful children—with his own sinful outburst. This is the second way my anger harmed my family.
There was a lost man living next door to us at the time. He would drink and come home and mistreat his wife when he got angry—his was abuse. One day after talking to him about the Lord Jesus, I came home and the Lord showed me my own heart, and how I was doing the same thing in my family, although not to the same extent. I walked into the boys’ room, and they were each sitting on their beds. Christopher slept on the bottom bunk. I was talking to them. Christopher looked up at me, and I raised my hand to my head, and he flinched. In that instant, God showed me how my selfish, prideful anger had conditioned my sons to fear my hand. I was crushed. I was broken hearted over what I had done to my sons. I repented and began the difficult path to correct my angry outbursts. I had taught my sons to fear my hand, the very hand I used to show my affection for them.
That is the most graphic example of how my anger hurt my family. Other examples come from our daughters and my wife. When I would get angry everyone knew to avoid Dad. According to my oldest daughter, all of our children began to fear asking me anything—they feared my anger. I guess what confused them is that they never knew when I might lose it again. I finally learned of this fear from Gini and later from Leisa. The third way my anger harmed the family was that it pushed my children away from me, the one who loved them and would lay down his life for them.
As the years went on and the time lapse between angry outbursts increased, my family became increasingly sensitive to the precursors of my anger. I am relieved to say that now my children call my hand when they see me acting or speaking as if I am angry even when I don’t feel like I am angry. This is now a welcomed caution that my attitude or voice is tending toward my old anger that offends my family’s heart. I am closing with a list of ways my family has told me that my anger offends them.
- They want to stay away from Dad.
- They lose respect for me.
- My anger teaches a double standard—Dad can get angry but no one else in the family can.
- The joy of our home is damaged.
By the way, I know of only one way to correct the harm we as men cause when we get angry with our family members. You must use the “seven most powerful words” that a man can say—“I was wrong (when) ______________ (confess the attitude of your heart), would you forgive me.” Nothing else I have heard or tried leads to humility and repentance. Nothing else allows your family to see your heart and the hurt you feel because you offended their spirits. Nothing else gives them the freedom to completely release you from your offending anger, absolutely nothing.
I am sure you have heard others quote the Scripture passage, “be angry and do not sin,” or “do not let the sun go down on your anger.” While the intentions are to correct or provide instruction for us, neither one worked very well for me. For years I searched for something that could be my key to ending this sinfulness in my life. Finally, a Bible teacher pointed out the passage James 1:20, “for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Bingo! That was it. My anger always led to sin and never served to produce anything godly or righteous in me. I thought long and hard about this verse and came to realize that for me to deal effectively with my anger, I had to die to it. I could not be an option for me in life. Have I been completely delivered from anger and never been angry since that time. NO. I believe that God has let me face my anger from time to time to remind me of how weak I truly am without Him and His precious Holy Spirit’s power in me. Praise the Lord! I am set free but remain frail and weak without Him.