Better is the end of a thing than its beginning,
and the patient in spirit is better than the proud in spirit.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry,
for anger lodges in the heart of fools. (Ecclesiastes 7:8-9, ESV)
Recently I medaled in the Hypocrisy Olympics. Allow me to explain. The day before my “accomplishment” our Bible reading included the passage in James where he writes, “the anger of man doesn’t bring about the righteousness of God.” I had talked with the kids about this passage in great detail, breaking it down. “Be doers of the word and not hearers only…” “Be slow to speak, quick to listen, and slow to become angry…” I explained to them what I have heard my own dad say over and over, “What you say you do is not what you do. What you do is what you do.” I was insightful. I was eloquent. I put the cookies on the bottom shelf and they were healthy cookies! I felt good about it and it was a genuinely good time. It led to great questions and answers, real accord, that unexplainable bonding between father and children that happens when we dive into the Bible together. Our hearts were knit up together and it resulted in worship and joy.
Then the next day happened.
I was asked to lead a small group that night on short notice and was scrambling to figure out what I was doing. I didn’t feel well. The storm was threatening as nerves were on edge all around. Our margin was disappearing fast. Then our third child, Micah, wouldn’t eat his cornbread. The dam was breaking.
He actually likes cornbread, but a few nights before he had stayed at the table for over an hour pecking away at cornbread and beans like they were slugs and bugs. There had been a lot of focused conversation that night and we felt like we were at a good place and maybe past that particular battle for a while. We don’t always make our kids eat every scrap of all the food on their plates, but this was an occasion where there was a lot of history and heart stuff going on. Suffice it to say that we believed he needed to eat the cornbread for his own happiness and character and to set him up for success.
But he wasn’t eating it. And we were running out of time.
My wife was also stressed. Gina was supposed to be early to help take pressure off of our hosts by helping with food/drinks. She had said she would be there early. So, Micah’s disobedience was causing us to feel like we were breaking our word.
I was still trying to process some preparation details and fighting with a fickle printer which had decided today was not a working day. I was losing patience fast. I needed to have nothing else on my plate and maybe I could do what I needed to do. But Gina needed to leave (besides get the baby ready and get ready herself, and the endless other family preparations she had to do). The oldest two kids, it must be said, were behaving heroically. They ate like champs, helped with the baby, jumped in at every barked command without complaint. In between little helpful excursions, they were encouraging Micah to eat with calls of, “You can do it, buddy.”
But Micah choked down teensy bites and sobbed at each encouragement to finish quickly so we could leave.
I eventually had enough and I raised my voice and said, “This is ridiculous, Micah. It’s ridiculous!” I had stopped encouraging him. I had stopped trying to see things from his side. My anger was overwhelming all other factors.
Really, the world was failing to conform to me. My deity was being challenged directly. How dare they? Does not this little child know that all must bow to the urgency of my demands?
So Micah saw his Dad bully him, lose his cool, and send words his way that had no flavor of grace, only demanding obedience.
Now, I think kids should be taught to obey. We do ask for (and practice) “first-time obedience.” We do not allow our kids to ignore instructions. We believe it’s (usually) hateful to ask your kids to do something and then not follow through with what you asked of them. So, we are generally pretty active parents, I think. We aim for consistent, loving, discipline. We balance this discipline, at least in aim, with heavy encouragement, big involvement, frequent hugs and kisses…in short: lots of love. Discipline fits into our home culture only as an outworking of loving them and loving who they will become. (I say nothing of what kind of discipline different people choose.) We want our discipline to drip with love and our love to include coming along side our kids and showing them the way. At least that’s our aspiration.
But my actions fit neither. Discipline shouldn’t be about punishment (or only punishment), or putting a child “in his place.” It’s not about seeing them out of God’s will and then trying to hurt them and thus balancing the scales. No, discipline should be all for the good. It’s correction meant to help move the beloved child back on the right track. That’s what I believe, anyway, what I think we get from God’s Word and God’s way of loving his kids we see in his Word.
But I wasn’t doing that. I was spouting off. I was uncorking my frustration on him. I honestly don’t do that a lot, but I started to realize –with shame– that I did do that sort of thing more than I’d like to admit.
I realized I was trying to produce righteousness in my son by the effort of my anger. Just precisely what James says does not work. A man’s anger doesn’t bring about the righteousness of God.
I had, of course, to apologize for my anger/bullying and ask for forgiveness.
I know there’s grace for me, too. Even when I’m ungracious. I get that I’m in a relationship with a loving, perfect Father. I know that he is giving me good gifts and perfect gifts. I know there is no shadow of turning in him. He doesn’t fall into hypocrisy.
But I do. I’m the kind of man who one day preaches to his kids about anger’s dangers, about bridling the tongue, and the next day is letting his anger ride out like a bucking bronco and stomp on his son’s heart.
So, I need grace again. And again. And again. Thankfully, it’s there. From my Father’s hand.
You have likely heard people refer to the Already/Not Yet reality. This is where we live as Christians. We live in the Already of being “seated with Christ” and part of the New Creation, but we also struggle through the “Not Yet” of this present reality and it’s heavy burdens. We anticipate the Kingdom, that right-side-up world coming onto us from the certain future, but meanwhile there’s cancer, car-wrecks, and lingering sin.
Living in the “Not Yet” means I haven’t arrived, but I must not lose sight of where I’m going. This calls for holy imagination, for seeing the Kingdom that will surely come, not only to the nations and their myriads, but to my hypocritical heart.
Your kingdom come, your will be done.