My twelve year old self had a violent temper. My fuse was short, and my blasts of anger detonated at insults as unexpectedly as bursts of laughter explode at well-timed jokes. Without the mutually pleasant consequences.
I remember once chasing my older brother Andy around the house with a knife. I don’t remember what he had done (probably something HEINOUS), but I do remember him chuckling as he easily evaded my thrusts. His laughter did nothing to calm my storm.
I hated my uncontrollable anger, and I memorized over fifty verses about the angry man:
- A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.
- A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls.
- Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty.
- But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
When I felt an outburst rising, I tried to calm myself by repeating those memorized verses. It even worked a few times, but not for long. I soon boiled over again.
When I was thirteen, a friend offered to pray for anything I wanted. I asked him to pray for my temper. Six months later, he asked how I was doing, and I realized I hadn’t once lost my temper since his prayer. I hadn’t even had to fight it. My explosive temper had been defused.
It was a miracle.
Since then, I’ve asked God to take away other bad habits, and he’s never acted again so instantly. He usually works slower, a little less dramatically, and (it seems) less miraculously.
When we first become Christians, we think all our problems will disappear. Some do. And some don’t. We still find ourselves anxious, thin-skinned, lustful, self-focused, or critical.
Some temptations are daily companions while others are only occasional guests:
- Some of us are anxious all the time (rare is the day we feel free of fear) while others of us experience worry once in a blue moon.
- Some of us constantly tell stories about ourselves (often with embellishments that spotlight our greatness); others of us exaggerate our prowess only on leap-years.
- Some of us fly off the handle at the slightest hint of an insult; others of us explode only on the fourth of July.
Each of us have chronic habits that are constant companions; we wear them like comfortable slippers. The Puritans called them “besetting sins” (taking “beset” from the King James translation of Hebrews 12:1, “The sin which so easily doth beset [or cling to] us”).
We know our chronic failures as well as we know our best friends. (Our best friends probably know them too.) We’ve worked relentlessly to rid ourselves of these unwelcome guests: we memorize scripture, tell ourselves to stop being anxious, ask friends to pray for us, and berate ourselves when we fall once again—for the third time this morning.
And sometimes God miraculously takes the problem away. Yippee! But most of the time, it doesn’t work that way. There has to be a reason.
Here’s what I think
God wants to be our daily companion. If he removed our chronic failures in the blink of an eye, we would go on our merry way without him. (Come on, we do it in other areas; God gives us a blueprint for our lives, we say, “Thank you very much,” and we start building without him.)
God wants to teach us a deeper lesson. More than perfect robots, he wants us as constant companions. So he doesn’t just remove our chronic failures with the snap of his holy fingers.
I taught each of my kids to ride a bike. Each one fell multiple times. They skinned their knees, bruised their elbows, and learned the meaning of fear. But each persisted, learned to face the fear, and each one learned to ride. Learning to ride a bike was a multi-dimensional lesson.
If I could teach my kids all over again—and if I also had the magical power to snap my unholy fingers to make them instant bike-riders—I would restrain my own power. Because my kids learned far more than how to ride a bike. They learned persistence, boldness, hope, and trust.
Learning to take a risk, in the long run, was far more important than learning to ride a bike.
Sometimes slow-cooked is better
God could snap his holy fingers and I’d instantly be free of those frustrating habits that irritate me (and others). But he hasn’t. (Ask my family.) He wants to heal me of something deeper.
What is the trigger that produces our habitual sins? We’re anxious because we “know” what we need and we’re pretty sure that God won’t get it right; we exaggerate stories about ourselves because we feel unappreciated and we want friends to value us; we explode in anger because we don’t like our circumstances, and we try to control them with blunt force.
Our anger anxiety, and self-serving stories are symptoms but not our deepest problem. If we really believed that God wants the best for us and that he’s making it happen, anxiety would disappear; if we believed God values us beyond the world and he’s orchestrating circumstances to bring about something glorious in us, our exaggerations and anger would evaporate.
More than the miracle of getting more sin out of our lives, we need the miracle of getting more of God into our lives. More than the miracle of God’s power, we need the miracle of God’s presence. From there, it’s always easier to push than to pull.
Of course, you can feel free to disagree with me. It won’t tick me off. And that’s a miracle.
P.S. God really did a miraculous healing in me when I was thirteen years of age, but I don’t claim to have reached Serenity Nirvana (as many who know me can attest). In other words, if you think I’m bad now, just think how much worse I’d be had God not intervened then.