Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Fear of Anger and Frustration

My practical experience with parenting is quite limited, as my son was born not even 3 weeks ago. However, this has long been something I've noticed, watched, and observed with interest - personally, professionally, and theologically. What follows may be disjointed, but let me get my thoughts out on paper.

First and foremost, I totally distrust so-called righteous anger. This in many ways I learned from my parents, both negatively (for I myself have a temper, and it's one which I got my parents), but also positively. One of the things that my parents were fantastic about was not punishing me when they were angry... not that the punishment would necessarily be less when they cooled down, but when there was punishment... it wasn't about their anger, it was about cause and effect, about actions have consequences (especially bad actions). It was didactic.

Early this morning, my son was being a butt. Of course he was, he is my son, and he will be like his father. And he has determined in the last 4 days or so that there is no reason at all that he should be sleeping in his bassinet at night, no way! Daytime - okay, but night when mommy is trying to sleep - NO!

He had fought hard last night when I laid him down (I let tired mommy finish up stuff in the front room - I got to be the mean daddy)... it was just temper. But after around 10 minutes of rubbing and talking (I firmly believe in talking to your kid from an early age) to him, explaining the importance of sleeping in his bed -- he wore himself out and slept. This morning, as mommy had lain down, I did the same - and as the boy was yelling at me (I frankly think that babies do have language skills, and most of them are vulgar!), I was rubbing him and cooing him to sleep. And after around 5 minutes this time - out like a light.

I can see why some people get angry or frustrated with kids - especially mommies (I get to say, "Oh, look dear, I need to work on a sermon... bye" - Mommy doesn't). But as I was there, consoling and exhorting my child to sleep - there was no anger. There wasn't even really frustration. I was calm, I was in control, I was able to act rationally and in the best interest of my kid (because dude, you needs to learn to be able to sleep, otherwise your life will be suxxor!).

Calm - rational - in the best interest of who you are dealing with.

That's the key I think for behavior, on deciding not just how but when to act, when to speak. Are you calm. Are you rational and thinking or given to emotional swings. And are you acting in the best interest of whom you are dealing with.

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Here is why I so often get frustrated with how many theologians I know and respect handle God's Law. I remember, oh, months ago, some one had posted somewhere a comment about a pop star's latest vulgar song "Shame on you!" Simple enough, common enough phrase.

But why say it? What's the point? Is it for the musicians' benefit? No, because he ain't reading that guy's facebook page. Is it to warn off people of the vileness... well... that's not what it says. It's not, "You know, there's some strong language here, so I'd suggest avoiding it" -- it's "shame". It's not a protection of the innocent or uninformed... it's shame.

Is "shame on you" a best construction? Is it helping to improve your neighbor's reputation, or desiring what is good? Or... is it frustration and anger and disgust leading to a "pious" lashing out? And it's not even a call to repentance - it's a call to embarrassment. After all, isn't that the point of shame - if someone gets embarrassed enough maybe they'll stop doing something.

But here's the problem. When I use the Law, is the purpose of the Law simply to force behavior that I want, or is my speaking of the Law meant to serve my neighbor, even the one I am speaking against?

From a theological perspective, the Law is never simply to curb or direct behaviors -- it is to prepare for Gospel, to show ones' need for the Gospel. And if you have a speaking of the Law that has no natural and normal flow to the Gospel, what is its point?

And the problem is that when we speak the Law, when we speak something that is TRUE, but out of anger or frustration, we break it. The Law is designed to flow to the Gospel, to Mercy, to be called off at the first sign of repentance so that a brother might be restored. But when I am angry, when I frustrated, I'm not thinking about restoration or growth - I'm thinking about simply making them stop.

How are you speaking the Law? Is it from your fear and frustration, or is it from a desire to love and serve and hopefully be restored even to that dirty rotten jerk who is messing with you -- not for your benefit, but for theirs. Not so that they would stop annoying you, but so that they would abandon that self-destructive and futile path that they are on.

But, but, but we have the best of intentions, we only want what is right, we what what is best for society and the country! Two things. First - are you acting out of fear of what might happen, anger at what has? Still not good. Second, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."

No love, no care for your neighbor -- then you are just a noisy gong, you are nothing, and you gain nothing.

What did you expect? For apart from Christ you are nothing, and without Him nothing good will come of our actions except ruin and destruction. Be focused upon Christ yourself, and be ready to focus your neighbor upon Him, even the worst of your neighbors, for without Him, we are all lost and come to nothing.

Our anger, our fear, the trials that cause them, they shall pass away, as will our works that are done simply to counter or react to them, but the steadfast love of the Lord endureth forever.


Phillip said...

You haven't been reading Augustine's Confessions have you?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Nope -- slowly working through some Sasse.

Phillip said...

Does he say babies are terrible people too?

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

Well, he hasn't talked that much about children -- but I freely admit that my Victor is a butt... but as he is my son I would expect no less and am in fact grateful that he is as mild a butt as he appears to be.