Let me set up the story first. I’ve mentioned here and here and here that our school district is on a year-round calendar, which includes three three-week breaks during the school year. Katie has been on the first of those Cycle Breaks for the last two weeks. I’ve already admitted I am selfish about Jackson’s nap times and enjoy the solitude I get while he naps. While Katie is on Cycle Break, I lose those hours of quiet time because Katie favors stimulation over solitude. After a few days of this, I lose my patience as my gas tank starts running on empty. There isn’t much solitude to refill my tank.
This past Tuesday, I decided to refill both Katie and my tanks by having some craft time. I neglected the laundry and dinner preps in favor of making these glowing eyes. It was really a lot of fun to craft together. So much fun that we started a second project before Jackson woke from his nap. This project was fun, but Katie sulked a bit because she didn’t want to paint a frame before she glued it together. I told her she had to, which induced the sulking. Then we didn’t have time to finish the project before Jackson’s grumpy cries fractured our creative flow. I quickly packed our supplies up, then decided to fold the laundry before rescuing Jackson from his crib. And since I spent two hours crafting with Katie, I figured it would be no big deal for her to help me fold laundry – or at least sort the darn socks.
Well, I was wrong. Sulking began again, and she back talked about having to fold laundry. I explained (nicely at first) how I had neglected my chores to craft with her and I’d appreciate her help. That didn’t work to change her attitude, so I raised my voice a bit and tried reasoning with her again. Still didn’t work. At that point, I had one kid crying in his crib and the other just watching me fold laundry while she was sulking. Aargh. That’s when I lost it.
Yes, I wish I could go back to this one moment in time and put a zipper on my mouth and lock it down tight. But… but. Instead, I channeled my parents’ voices in my head and turned to Katie and actually hissed, “I hope you have kids JUST LIKE YOU when you grow up.” And then I muttered a prayer under my breath: Dear Lord, please PLEASE let me live long enough to see that. Just now, rereading that, it doesn’t sound nearly as bad as it was that day. I mean, there was a LOT of anger coming out of me at that moment. The words on this page don’t convey it very well.
So, where did I get such venom and anger? Oh, yes, I know. It had been building up for more than a week as I battled two fighting siblings and a lack of alone time and activities and crafts and boredom (theirs, not mine of course). It was bound to happen, right? Right. I know that. Truly, I do. And I give myself enough grace to know there are going to be lots of imperfect times in this marathon known as motherhood. I just wish I could walk away more often, instead of spewing my anger at my kids.
I’ve been reading a book lately called The Good and Beautiful Life by James Bryan Smith. The fourth chapter is entitled “Learning to Live without Anger.” I’ve read that chapter three times over now. Half of it is underlined or highlighted, and I’m still having trouble with it sinking in. Smith says anger comes from from unmet expectations and fear. False narratives in our lives have caused us to feel anger, frustration and stress. Narratives like “I am alone,” or “Things always have to go as I want them,” or “I need to be perfect all of the time.” He says, “Our problem is fear and we think control is the solution.”
Smith says the need to control leads us to turn to our own resources, which means we are walking in the flesh rather than being led by the Spirit. My understanding of Smith’s proposed solution is to live life with God and let him live through you. Knowing God is “with us, protecting us and fighting for our well-being” will help diminish our anger. “Jesus’ narrative is that God permits nothing to happen to us that he cannot redeem or use for good. … God is always near. We are never alone and never need to be afraid. When I live with this reality deep in my mind and heart, anger cannot get a grip on me.”
I’ve been trying to live in that reality. More importantly, I’ve been trying to let Jesus live IN me, instead of me trying to live IN Jesus or make myself be Jesus. There’s a difference, you know. One is focused on what I do, the other is focused on what He does.
When anger bubbled up again the next day (Wednesday), I walked away from the situation. I sat in a chair and prayed and told God how frustrated I was. The words “I’m trying…” came out of my mouth, then I stopped short. I felt God nudging me and saying, “Yes. YOU’RE trying.” And I realized I’m trying to live from my own power again. I exhaled, felt humility, and asked God for His grace. My prayer turned into two tiny words: “You try.” You try, God. You try for ME. Because I can’t anymore. All of My Tries have gotten me right back to the same place. So now, I’m living in the You Trys instead.
I’m doing (…See? Right there? I started with what I’M DOING and not what God’s doing! Let’s try that again.) Today, God’s been standing in between me and my anger. He’s interceding for me. The kids are up to their usual antics: Jackson pokes Katie’s buttons, and she responds with whining and “Mo-o-o-o-mmmm…!!!” My response? God has been fighting for my well-being (and my kids’!) by keeping my voice calm and helping me disengage when the anger level rises. I had the calm and the strength to remove my kids from the park when their bickering escalated. I brought them home, where they ate lunch in separate rooms and played alone afterwards. They are playing alone again right now, not allowed to be near each other and push each other’s buttons.
I know it isn’t a long-term solution, but I feel like it’s a better alternative to the venomous hiss that erupted on Tuesday.
Thank you, Jesus, for inviting me to do life with you! Keep protecting me, and my babies too.