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Mad is Not Our Only Choice

As I recently described, a certain child of mine is prone to rages. It happened again at school this week on Sports Day, which meant I had to be mom and principal at the same time. It's rough to be the principal's kid, but personally, I think it's even harder on the principal.

Of course, the chaos and exhaustion of Sports Day can bring out the worst in anybody, but this child made some pretty bad choices in the heat of an argument, leading to some extremely unkind things hurled at a good friend.

I led my scowling, glaring child to a picnic bench away from the din of children who were gleefully passing sponges over, under, over, under.

We worked on empathy. "How do you think you made your friend feel when you said those things?" I asked. "How would you feel if someone said those things to you?"

"I would feel mad."

I tried again. "But your friend isn't mad; your friend is hurt. How does that make you feel?"

My child glowered. "I'm just mad!"

Something clicked for me. "Honey," I said, "I just realized something. I think that sometimes you choose feeling mad over feeling bad. You choose mad because that's a more comfortable emotion than feeling sad or guilty. It's really hard to admit when we do something wrong, and it's a lot easier to be mad at someone who is mad back at you."

And I get that, don't I? It's easier to feel anger than regret. It feels much better to point fingers or deflect blame or lie to myself than to deal with the harsh reality of my own failure. 

I looked into my child's belligerent eyes and thought, My child just needs the gospel.

There, at the foot of the cross, we find freedom from shame and guilt. But the first step is kneeling there, acknowledging that we need freedom from shame and guilt. And that kneeling is the hardest part.

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

Let a Bible story--just think of your favorite from Sunday School--run through your mind. Doesn't every single one tell this story of pride and humility? Those who chose not to be humbled--well, their stories didn't end well. We find them eating grass like an ox, swept away by a flood, aimlessly wandering in a desert. But those who submitted to it--in prison, in the belly of a fish, separated by the veil, flat-faced in the dust before a holy God--those are the ones we see restored, redeemed, made new by grace.

And of course, once you've been made new, nothing ever looks the same again. Mad is no longer the default emotion. It's okay to feel shame and guilt, because you've found mercy. It's okay to feel sadness and regret, because you've found a waterfall of Hope.

I look over the timeline of my life and I see the same recurring theme: God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. How many times I have walked through fire--beleaguered, exhausted, depleted of everything in me, my face in the dust, and I've finally said, "Okay, God, you win." Which was most likely the point all along.

Barbara Duguid writes, "You will never be able to find steady joy in this life until you understand, submit to, and even embrace the fact that you are weak and sinful."

I look again into my child's blazing eyes. My sweet child, may you come to embrace that mad is not your only choice. Let it go, and you'll find everlasting grace on the other side.

And then I remind myself (again) of the same thing.

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