Sometimes the way I handle my anger sucks.
I have to admit it here before I can go any further because to be honest, I blew it last weekend.
To set this up, I need to first confess that I tend to stuff my stuff. That means that when I get upset about something or frustrated, I tend to stuff it inside rather than deal with it. I think in some warped way I may think that means I'm trying to be "good" and "nice" by overlooking offense, but what I'm really doing is filling the pot up when the heat is on, and it's only a matter of time before I start to boil.
The thing about my family is that we are dealing with more than one major life problem at one time, and it's been difficult like this for years and years. When people are burned out, it's easier to lose control. It's easy when you live in close quarters to take out your frustration on someone when it's not really directed at them. It's easy to have one "last straw" that triggers the outpouring of pain and emotion. It's easy to literally throw in the towel and scream at the top of your lungs, "Enough is enough! I can't take this anymore!" Only, in the irrationality of anger, it can come out as "I can't take you anymore!" which is way worse.
My anger, frustration, and pain boiled over in anger and tears this weekend, and I felt totally ashamed afterward. I felt ashamed at my words, at overreacting, and especially before God because I had been studying his word earlier that day. I felt like a fraud and a failure. How can I claim to love God and pour out such bitterness? How can worship and resentful anger come from the same mouth? I was truly hanging my head that day as I walked out the door to my friend's wedding.
When I got there, I was just hoping to make it through the ceremony without having any health issues. I was still ruminating over how badly I had handled my emotions earlier, and I was especially convicted when the definition of love (1 Corinthians 13) was read aloud. My behavior? Not. So. Loving. Ugh.
Just as I was expecting a few short words before the vows and rings, the bride's uncle announced that he would be giving a sermon. I was waiting for the typical love, give-and-take, and how to have a happy life together deal, so I was completely surprised to hear him zero in directly on this verse:
"Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect." Romans 12: 2
Furthermore, he focused immediately on the word "perfect." He reviewed more of Romans 12 and the "laundry list" of traits that are set as the standard for perfection.
Ah great. Just what I needed to hear about, being perfect.
But then he said, "perfect does not mean being flawless."
My ears perked up. Oh?
He said that perfect is pursuing God's purpose relentlessly. He continued to speak about the importance of our purpose, the goal that God has for us, and that we cannot let our flaws hold us back from pursuing God. He said that we will fail in life. We will be flawed. That is certain. But he wrapped it up like this:
If there is a Phillips screw that needs to be screwed in, and you have a choice between a brand new flat head and an old, beat-up, mangled Phillips head - you're going to pick the flawed Philips tool because it's the one best suited to the job. That's what it was created to do, and it can do that job perfectly, even though it's got flaws.
When he said that, a wave of relief rushed over me. The bride, groom, and guests probably wondered why in the world they were hearing about flaws and purpose at a wedding, but I knew those words were, if nothing else, complete grace from God to me. It was as if he washed away my irrational words of anger and said to me: You're still able to complete the mission I have for you. Don't give up when you fail to meet my holy standards. You are covered by my Son.
If that wasn't enough, the next morning I turned on the TV to catch the tail end of one of my favorite pastors, Charles Stanley. After he finished his sermon, I was about to turn it off, but I decided I'd just leave it on for the "Ask Dr. Stanley" message at the end, where he answers an email question.
The question was from a woman who had experienced long-term tragedy in her life, and she couldn't properly handle her anger over the pain she was suffering and the people who had disappointed her along the way. It was as if I had written the question myself. Tears filled my eyes as Dr. Stanley compassionately comforted the woman and me by saying that God understood the emotions and the struggle.
I experienced that feeling of grace all over again.
But the really exciting part of his answer was about the purpose that God still intendeds for us to fulfill. He talked about God's goal for our lives and the need to press on to realize the specific purpose God has for us, even when we have to continually turn over our anger to him and even when we fail in how we handle our anger.
It was the SAME MESSAGE TWICE in under 24 hours! In both instances my heart felt washed in love, compassion, and forgiveness. I felt God speaking directly to me in my pain. I was also excited and encouraged by the hope set before me. This pain isn't all for nothing. There is a job for me to do here on earth, and it's a job I'm specifically suited for. My body, mind, and soul are being shaped to do this job that God has set me apart to do. It's a unique and awesome thing to be assigned good works by my Creator and to be fashioned by him in order to do them. It is so exciting that in spite of, and maybe even because of my flaws and failures, God can still use me.
It's my purpose today to pass along this encouragement to you. There is a purpose that God has uniquely created for YOU to accomplish. He can use a broken, beaten-up, humble heart that is committed to him. He wants us sinners to accomplish great things in His name. So if you feel humbled by a sin, weakness, or failure, remember this: It's not our flawlessness that counts, it's our faith and our willingness to press on in Christ.
"But where sin increased, grace increased all the more..."
"For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."