I felt furious.
We shared a car. Every night, my wife would call me to tell her to come pick her up at work. I’d drive 15 minutes and arrive outside her office – and wait. Again. As the minutes ticked on the clock, I’d feel my blood pressure rise.
I couldn’t understand why I had to interrupt my day and drive for 15 minutes when all she had to do was step into an elevator and press a button. I shared my feelings honestly with Charlene, but that didn’t help. She didn’t have much to say.
The Anger Chain
Back then, I really felt like the blame was all on my wife’s side. I had a right to be angry. Clearly, she was wrong, and I was right.
Looking back, I can identify a chain that led to my anger:
Desire: For Char to meet me when I arrived in a timely manner.
Trigger: A long wait almost every time I picked her up.
Thought: “I don’t deserve this. How could she be so thoughtless?”
Action: An explosion of anger on the way home.
Consequence: A frosty relationship and no progress in finding a resolution.
My desire wasn’t bad. To this day, I don’t mind if people show up when they’re supposed to.
And I didn’t have much control over the trigger. I still can’t figure out how to make everybody show up for me when I want, and having children taught me it’s never going to happen.
The first two parts of the anger chain are fine. I just never thought about the last three parts of the chain and how they were really about me, not about the external situation.
My thoughts were all about me. I became very good at pitying myself. I forgot what Scripture said: “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life” (Proverbs 4:23). I’ve learned that when I think only about myself and begin to throw myself a pity party, it turns the heart into fertile ground for some pretty nasty things to grow. When Paul lists the works of the flesh, half of them belong to the anger family (Galatians 5:19-21).
My actions didn’t reflect the vows that I’d made to Char to love, cherish, and honor her. They didn’t reflect the kind of love that Paul described: “Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). I wasn’t reflecting a single quality of Paul’s fruit of the spirit in my thoughts or my actions (Galatians 5:22-23).
And the consequences weren’t what I wanted either. Rather than helping to solve the problem, I just made it worse.
I was sure Charlene was the problem. She contributed, but the real problem was me. I needed to change.
The First Step
It can take years to change patterns. Looking back, I’m embarrassed at how I reacted to the simple irritant of having to wait for my wife. I had a valid concern, but I just didn’t handle it well. I nurtured anger until it crossed the line and became sin.
I wish I could tell you that I changed quickly, but life doesn’t work like that. God has grown a more loving, kind, and gentle heart over decades, and as my wife will tell you today, he still has more work to do.
Growth takes time.
But the place to start is by owning our role when we get angry. When we get angry and sin, and think our outbursts are justified, that’s part of the problem. Repentance and real change begins with understanding that we can ask for God’s help with our thoughts and actions in response to what happens to us, and then asking God and others for help, and admitting when we get it wrong.
The first step is humility: admitting that the problem just might be me.
God is gracious. He gave my wife the grace to put up with a grump like me. And, by his grace, he’s growing more patience in my life.
And he’s not done with me yet.