“It’s just the way I am. I cannot control my anger, or my tongue.” How often have we said (or at least thought) such words. Yet we know Christ wants and expects us to control our anger. And when we fail to do so, we suffer pangs of remorse and guilt.
So we try talking ourselves into having more self-control. But has that ever worked for you? No, me neither. Character change doesn’t usually come that easily.
And trying to convince ourselves to change is about as useful as going around saying, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” like The Little Engine That Could. In that well-known children’s story, the Little Engine teaches children that optimism and hard work can help them carry out even things that seem too hard for them. Which is great.
And working character into our lives does take a certain amount of this conviction. To do anything, really, we have to first believe that it is possible. And especially in our Christian walk. Because developing Christlike character will always take a lot of faith in the God who works impossible miracles.
So am I saying it’s impossible to control our tongue and our anger?
Of course not. With God nothing is impossible — even changing our rotten nature. But giving ourselves pep talks is not the answer!
So please let me share with you the steps the Lord took me through in teaching me this important lesson of self-control.
#1 Don’t blame others!
No one else is responsible for either our actions or our feelings. “Oh, he (or she) makes me so mad…” we like to say. And while it’s true that people are maddening at times, they are not to blame. We choose to give in to negative emotions or behavior.
#2 Don’t just stuff the anger inside.
This just makes us like champagne bottles, ready to burst. So that when we finally do express our anger, we explode in unkindness, sarcasm, or even violence.
#3 Deal with the issue.
Whatever the other person did or said made us feel hurt or resentful. And the anger we feel is real, whether justifiable or not.
Don’t just vent your angry feelings, but deal with the issue. Rather than ranting, raving, or calling names, say something like, “I’m really upset by your words or behavior.” Remember that we often do similar things. Treat others with the same love and patience we want given to us. And remember too that a soft answer turns away wrath.
#4 Learn to count again!
No, I’m not kidding. Counting can help. At least until you learn how to properly deal with your anger. And while counting, take a deep breath. And ask yourself, “Is this really such a major issue? Is it really something to major on?” Chances are the answer is no.
Counting helps because anger is often a reflex reaction. By taking a moment to reflect, that impulse to explode will have passed. And you’ll be able to react with sound reasoning.
#5 Remember your company manners.
We usually react worst with those we know best. With strangers we act polite and proper. But at home or with those we see regularly, we tend to loosen up. And sadly, the ones we love best sometimes get the worse treatment.
But taking that moment to reflect can help us remember how special these people are. And why we want to treat them like the precious treasures they are.
#6 And finally, stop saying ‘It’s just the way I am. I can’t help it.”
When around strangers or people we want to impress, we can and do help it. As in the following short story.
“La Fontaine, chaplain of the Prussian army, once preached an earnest sermon on the sin and folly of yielding to a hasty temper. The next day a Major of the regiment accosted him in no very good humour, saying … ‘Well, it is of no use … I have a hasty temper, and I cannot help it. I cannot control it; the thing is impossible.’
The following Sunday La Fontaine preached on self-deception, and the vain excuses which men are accustomed to make. ‘Why.’ said he, ‘a man will declare it is impossible to control his temper, when he very well knows that were the same provocation to happen in the presence of his sovereign, he not only could, but would control himself entirely. And yet he dares to say that the continual presence of the King of kings imposes upon him neither restraint nor fear.’
The next day the preacher met the officer again, who said, humbly, ‘You were right yesterday, chaplain. Hereafter, whenever you see me in the danger of falling, remind me of the King’.” (The Biblical Illustrator, cco)
Were we to dine with the queen of England, we could and would control our anger and our tongue.
When it’s important to us, or when we want to — we become like The Little Engine That Could. We do the impossible.
I don’t want to be a harsh person, lashing out in anger. And I’m sure you don’t either.
So the next time we feel ourselves in danger of that, let’s remember the people we love and care about. And most importantly, let’s remember the King.
#7 Remember the King. For we are always in his presence.
Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil, (Ephesians 4:26-27).