If ever I had a chance to get angry, this past weekend would have been it. Husband gone, babies teething, a toddler who found my secret stash of scissors – a perfectly brewed storm.
And yet, when my daughter went into stealth mode while I was nursing, and I found her a few minutes later with a pair of kitchen shears in hand, I took a really deep breath. I didn’t yell. I listened to her explain, in the animated half speech of two-and-a-half-year-olds, how she needed to cut the threads hanging from the shoulders of her dress-up Cinderella gown because they tickled her.
She wasn’t quite as forthright about why she had to cut her hair as well, but what can you do.
Meanwhile, one of the twins decided to get really cranked about her teeth coming in, and daddy being gone, and not understanding why MPR just wouldn’t ever come out and say what was really happening in the Ukraine.
On Sunday we were late to church. Monday we were even later to Play and Learn. Normally, being late primes my internal rage, pumping harder every hot minute that ticks past my desired leaving time.
And yet, somehow, the anger only circled, a dark shadow trolling the bay.
If you’ve ever baked bread, you know that there are a few key ingredients. Flour, yeast, water, salt. When those ingredients meld together in the right environment, they react. The yeast creates gas, which causes the flour and water to bubble and lift. Eventually, the whole mass rises.
When you control the ingredients, you determine the type of bread you’ll make. But the rise is always a mystery (at least to me). It is the least controllable part of the process, and the one that takes the most patience.
I started to think more about controlling my anger some more this past weekend when I was, vigorously punching, ahem, kneading bread dough.
What’s funny about anger is that sometimes I can control the situation surrounding it, and sometimes I can’t.
If I want to control the situations surrounding my anger, I simply need to plan well enough to keep the mishaps to a minimum. (Easier said than done, but in theory…?) For example, if I don’t want to be late, all I have to do is get us moving towards the door half an hour earlier than I normally would have started. Or if I don’t want my toddler giving herself a mullet, I should put all scissors under lock and key.
And in the situations when I have no control over the outcome? When I mixed everything right, used the right ingredients, and yet something still went horribly, awfully wrong?
I still have command over my response.
Slow driver in front of me? Busy restaurant server? Feverish baby screaming in my face?
Breathe. Practice quiet love the way Jesus did when thousands of voices screamed for his death.
I appreciate the practicality of finding ways to avoid being angry with a little time management and planning. But those situations don’t always cause me to think with my spirit.
Where I’m really seeing my Lenten practice start to sweat is when I control what feels like the uncontrollable rise of my anger. I need to understand the triggers that normally set me off and see them as just that – triggers. When I face the situation, I have to find that detached calmness (the one I wouldn’t normally be able to muster if I were to just blaze right into fixing whatever went wrong.)
I see Jesus in this. Jesus who, in his work with people, didn’t immediately triage and treat. Jesus who listened. When those around him were flustered and begging, he answered back with patience. When 5,000 people needed to be fed, he got creative with what he had. He used every opportunity as a moment to teach. To love.
After a week, it’s encouraging to see glimmers of change. I feel less defeated when I go to bed, no guilt-monkey twirling his tail around my arm. I don’t raise my voice as often, and have felt, generally, more pleasant. Kind. Less likely to snap.
It’s not been easy, and I’m learning which of my own rules I can bend, and which ones I can’t. The whole void thing? I’ve only used it once. But deep breathing? I use this every single time. Going to bed early is a tough one – I’m still fudging around, trying to figure out the optimal time. (I broke the rule altogether on Tuesday night, and paid for it all morning yesterday.) But for the most part, I think I have a solid set of ways to work with my emotions.
Next step is to find some good, easily accessible reading to drive my focus on the Cross. Any suggestions? Or anything that’s helping your Lent practice stay strong this week? I’d be glad to hear them!