It’s so important in a family to get a handle on anger.
Have you ever had a scene like this in your home?
Two of our teenagers were asked to clean the kitchen together. Over the next 45 minutes, I came back in to inspect their work three times.
The first time they were arguing about who had done the most. I asked them kindly to keep on working. The next time they were bickering about who had to sweep the floor. I calmed their emotions and encouraged them to finish the job.
Finally, after I had inspected their halfhearted work, the two gave me the lame excuse that they didn’t know what a clean kitchen should look like!
That did it. This normally unflappable dad flipped. The anger that I had controlled during the prior visits erupted and spewed out like lava. I went on a tirade about how they were disrespectful and disobedient. I picked up a box of Kleenex and, in unsanctified rage, flung the box near their feet. Hard! I whirled around, stormed out of the kitchen, and stomped out the front door, slamming it shut.
Standing there on our front porch, with my blood pressure higher than the stock market, two profound thoughts dawned on me. First, It’s very cold out here. Why am I standing here freezing and they are inside warm as toast? I’m the father, the one who is paying for this house and supposedly in charge!
The second thought settled in like the cold and pierced me to the bone. My anger has got the best of me, and I’m acting like a foolish child.
I don’t recall how long I stayed outside, nor do I recall the exact words of the apology to my children that followed. I do recall coming to an important realization: If I am going to help these children grow up emotionally and know how to appropriately express their anger, then I’ve got to finish the process of growing up, too.
God never said we shouldn’t get angry. God did say to not let anger spoil and turn into sin — a trap. The Bible cautions, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quickly tempered exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29). And, “Do not be eager in your heart to be angry, for anger resides in the bosom of fools” (Ecclesiastes 7:9).
Anger was never intended to be an emotion that we hold onto for more than minutes or at most, hours. That’s why the Scriptures warn us, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). It’s nearly impossible to rest with an anger alarm ringing, as all of us have found out more often than we’d like to admit.
Ross Campbell wrote in How to Really Love Your Teenager, “We are instructed in Scripture to ‘train up a child in the way he should go,’ to educate him ‘according to his life requirements’ (Proverbs 22:6, KJV and MLB). One of the most important areas in which a teenager needs training is how to handle anger. Anger is normal and occurs in every human being. The problem is not the anger itself but in managing anger in teenagers. This is where most people have problems.”(1)
We must admit there is no subject or emotion in our family that has perplexed us more or made us feel more like novice parents (and failures, at times) than helping our children deal with their anger. And part of the reason is that often when they are angry, we get angry, too.
It’s so important in a family to get a handle on anger. H. Paul Gabriel, M.D., wrote in Anticipating Adolescence: “It becomes critical in adolescence that your children have the feeling that you, too, will listen to them carefully, that they can trust you to think about what they have to say, that you might have a true disagreement with them without getting angry with them. Without that feeling, they simply won’t have the necessary trust to turn to you with the serious issues of adolescence.”(2)
Reaching clear convictions on this topic is a crucial step to achieving a spiritually and emotionally healthy family.
Every family needs a plentiful supply of good anger. Note the emphasis on good. By that, I mean that when anger inevitably comes, we should recognize it, understand the cause, and deal with it properly. We shouldn’t stuff it inside ourselves like a sleeping bag tightly packed into a knapsack. And we shouldn’t fling it on others like confetti.
God created anger to be an asset, but it gets misused and twisted in a fallen world. In basic terms, anger is an emotional alarm that sounds a warning when something is wrong. Only a fool would hear a smoke alarm clanging in the middle of the night and stay in bed to enjoy the interesting tones of the alarm. No, the wise man gets out of bed to see what’s wrong. Yet when the anger alarm sounds, too often we sit and stew instead of turning it off and finding out what’s wrong.
Unfortunately, most families — Dad, Mom, and children — don’t know how to keep good anger from fermenting into spoiled anger. And then when a family has an adolescent or two, the anger issue can take on new dimensions and managing anger in teenagers is nearly a full time job.
We need to look no farther than Jesus to see that anger is an acceptable emotion. A number of times Jesus showed strong feelings of anger. Perhaps the most memorable was the day he tipped over the tables of the moneychangers and chased them out of the temple (see Mark 11:15). Additionally, throughout the Scripture, we find that God is described as an angry God who exhibits a righteous anger at man’s rebelliousness. The problem is that most of us don’t know what to do with appropriate anger when we feel it. We need to grow up and become mature in our expression of this Divine emotion, following the example of Christ.
1) Ross Campbell, M.D., How to Really Love Your Teenager (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor, 1993), p.65.
2) H. Paul Gabriel, M.D. and Robert Wool, Anticipating Adolescence (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), p.24.
Adapted from Parenting Today’s Adolescent: Helping Your Child Avoid the Traps of the Preteen and Teen Years. Copyright 1998 by Dennis and Barbara Rainey. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson, Inc., Publishers.