God’s grace in angry outbursts
Recently my counsellor mentioned that I need to grow in adapting when life feels hard.
I guess a sudden burst of rage in the IKEA parking lot on a hot Saturday lends easily to such conclusions. But it’s true. I do struggle to adapt when life gets stressful.
Compared to 6 months ago, I’m actually doing a lot better. That’s the product of growth right? But feeling like I want to mow down people and cars fighting to get my spot reminds me that I still have a ways to go.
Do you struggle with angry outbursts?
For me, they can build and build inside until I can’t keep it in anymore. Thankfully it doesn’t happen everyday, but when my anxiety gets “triggered” (my counsellor calls it “activated”), then it’s hard to calm myself, take deep breaths and not react to circumstances. That day in IKEA was a bad day. Which took me by surprise because I had just come from an amazing conference (Radiant women’s conference in Oakville), and felt so connected to God.
Church can be like that too. Worshipping God one minute, and then getting impatient and frustrated with our families in the car ride home. When I see my weakness so evident I feel a lot of shame, and feel like a failure. Why can’t I love others the way I want to? Why do I feel so much anger and helplessness over things that don’t truly matter? Will there be a day when I don’t experience this anymore?
In the book of Romans, Paul speaks into this exact issue. In Romans 7:15-24 Paul says,
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
In my angry outbursts, like Paul, I don’t understand my own actions. It feels like my body, my flesh, is fighting against the will of my heart–to serve and love God and others well. I want to do what is good and right but I feel helpless and unable to.
When my anxiety is “activated” it takes a while to calm it down and process what is going on. In fact, my body IS telling me something important: there’s something wrong. Either I’m too tired, feeling sick, or overwhelmed. I need to carefully assess what’s happening and respond. My body goes into fight mode (although I know many friends who instead feel freeze, or flight).
There’s space to manage my life to help me thrive in light of my weaknesses. Some examples are: going to bed early, not over-scheduling myself, eating well, exercising, etc. There’s wisdom in planning and caring for my body and mind. As my body physically feels calm, my heart and mind feel calm too. But I can’t always control my circumstances or surroundings.
And this is why my counsellor pointed me towards seeking to adapt under pressure. As I continue to grow in adapting, I should overtime experience more emotional bandwidth and less outbursts. Hopefully. Only by the grace of God.
I see going to the gym and choosing stress as a huge help in this. As I persevere in a workout class, and adapt to when my body feels under stress and strain, my prayer is that I would grow in endurance and perseverance. The endurance that I grow in at the gym, can transcend to other areas of my life as well.
And when I struggle and my sin and weakness overtake my ability to react well to life, I’m reminded that Paul didn’t stop writing the book of Romans in chapter 7. In chapter 8 verse 1 Paul writes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Those that are IN Christ Jesus, that is, who believe in him and have eternal life, experience no condemnation when they sin. I’m preaching this to myself. Even when I sin against others, speak harshly, am impatient, or have rage, I’m covered by the death of Jesus on the cross. I’m already made clean. And the Spirit of God, who's at work inside of me, doesn’t leave me in that weakness and sin–but continues to help me grow to become more like Jesus everyday. That is hope in the Christian life!
And praise be to God for his grace that I didn’t actually hit anyone in that parking lot. Even though I am not condemned by God for my sin, there ARE earthly consequences for my sin. But that’s evidence of God’s grace keeping me and others safe, even when I’m angry and struggling. In the moments that I don’t deserve it the most, God is at work.
That truth both humbles me and gives me hope.