It‘s embarrassing, shame-inducing, and stress-relieving, all at the same time. It’s rarely talked about or confessed in small groups; but it’s prevalent in almost every home: angry parents.
You may have once fancied yourself a patient person—until you started having children. Whether the constant physical demands of little ones, the continual testing of the middle ones, or the perplexing reactions of the teen, children press us in new ways.
God has uniquely positioned children to shine a floodlight on the true state of our hearts. And often it’s not pretty. We use words with an intensity that surprises and frightens us.
As a father of four young children and later of four teens, I remember thinking, Wait. God commands me not to exasperate them? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? By God’s grace, after searching the Scriptures in desperation to change, I found some help that allowed me to grow in patience.
God has uniquely positioned children to shine a floodlight on the true state of our hearts.
The following three truths are meant to help parents with anger in a normal range. They are not intended for a potentially abusive situation. For that, seek immediate help from spiritual and legal authorities.
What were those three key truths?
1. See What Anger Actually Is
David Powlison’s definition of anger has helped me: “an active stance you take to oppose something you assess as important and wrong.” Note that anger is active. Springing from our desires, it’s a response to act against something we believe is important and wrong.
This helps us understand one reason why God’s anger is righteous and why Jesus was livid with the Pharisees. He alone perfectly understands and defines what is important and wrong. It also explains why God commands his people, “In your anger, do not sin” (Eph. 4:26). While some anger may not itself be sinful, it is uniquely positioned to cause us to sin.
Indeed, Scripture is filled with commands that help us see how anger is usually filled with sin.
2. See Anger as Your Foe
Sinful anger is an enemy. Jesus taught us that sinful anger is miniature murder (Matt. 5:21–22), that it grieves the Spirit (Eph. 4:30), and that it’s driven by the flesh (Gal. 5:20). It will not fix the problem (James 1:20) and will injure the other person (Prov. 12:18). As Ed Welch observes, “To be angry is to destroy.” My anger destroys the peace of my child, the trust of my child, and my testimony to her as a follower of Christ.
As a parent, it is so easy to justify my anger as righteous or to move on quickly after a blow-up. But sinful anger is a deadly foe I must daily slay by the Spirit’s help.
Sinful anger is a deadly foe I must daily slay by the Spirit’s help.
If that’s our only thinking, though, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Because we are not understanding the whole of Scripture. It often takes two statements to provide a balanced view of what Scripture teaches.
3. See Anger as Your Friend
I just said anger was your foe, but if understood correctly, some anger can also be your friend. To reference our definition again, it’s an indicator that something “is important and wrong.” It’s an emotion God has given us. But it’s meant to attack a problem, not a person.
Godly parenting is not a placid, Zen-like trance. A father who watches his teenage son talk back to his mother and has no reaction reveals his own deficiency. The mother who’s oblivious while her 6-year-old hits a younger child is not honoring Christ.
Godly parenting is not a placid, Zen-like trance. A father who watches his teen son talk back to his mother and has no reaction reveals his own deficiency.
Rather than blowing up in the moment, though, let that anger motivate you to ask, “What problem is this anger pointing me to? What is important and what is wrong?”
When Desires Become Demands
We often quote James 4:1–2, which tells us fights come from desires that battle within us. That passage helps us drill down to examine when our desires have become idolatrous demands.
But not all our parental desires are sinful. There are good ones. Our daughter should obey us. Our son should have done his homework. God calls parents to train and disciple our children—which means they need our correction at times. In fact, if we don’t provide any consequences for the disobedient daughter or the lax son, we are negligent in our parental duties.
Perhaps, looking back at the angry moment, our desire did morph into a demand. But the desire itself was not the problem. Wise parents let upset feelings motivate them to come up with a solution to the problem.
In the 1990s I was a programmer for a bank. In those pre-internet days, I might receive a call in the middle of the night about a problem. When that happened, I took two steps: one was to fix the problem so the bank could open in the morning. The second step occurred the next morning. I would review what had happened and then come up with a solution that would prevent getting that call in the future. I assumed the problem would happen again, and so I used the time to review the operations.
In a similar manner, assuming our desire is good—say, obedience or responsibility—the upset is indicative of something that needs to change—whether in me, in my kids, or with my home management. God calls all of us, men and women, to manage our households well. Anger has often prompted me both to address a situation and also to come up with a plan as I lead my household.
Little Sanctification Machines
The Lord and my children have graciously overlooked much sin on my part! Until Jesus returns, our home life will be messy. Mine certainly was. But we can and should make progress in becoming like Jesus.
Our children are little sanctification machines, providentially sent to us. By God’s grace, we can grow in defeating sinful anger, becoming more patient disciplers in our homes.