Angry Parent

Dear Christian Counselor,

I am a mother of 3, redeemed by Christ nine years ago, but every day I fail to live that promise. I have this temper that comes out and hurts my kids. Am I really saved? Then why do I keep repeating this sin with the littlest things, like spilt water, a loud voice etc.? After snapping I am disgusted by it, and I always repent to God and my kids. How I thank God for not giving me serenity in sin. His mercy is there, but I want to experience His victory. I pray each time that His sovereign power protects my kids from me.

I’ve read so many books about parenting, and I’ve been crying out to God each morning to experience His presence and the hope He has given me. Every day I fail in my greatest mission — to reflect Christ to my kids. How can I shepherd them if I always scare them away? Most times I feel that I don’t deserve to be a mother… Why can’t I take care of his gifts well, and why can’t I always be joyful with these? We are talking about being good stewards of what God has given us. And I’m failing big time. Please remember me in your prayers.

Mad Mama

Dear Mad Mama,

I want to answer your most important question first: I do believe you are saved. The Apostle Paul called himself “the chief of sinners” in one of his last letters (I Tim. 1:15). Conviction and remorse are signs of the Holy Spirit’s work. If God wanted to give you an instant victory, He could do that, but being saved doesn’t usually mean we stop grappling with sin – it means we have help for the struggle and forgiveness when we fail. If you can set this question at rest, and stop beating yourself up, it may help you find a bit more patience.

It seems you have taken some good, practical steps, such as reading parenting books and starting your day with reminders of God’s love. Because these things have not helped you substantially, I believe you need to find the root of your anger (see James 4:1-2a). You may be carrying a burden from the past which explodes at an inappropriate target. Finding peace within does not mean blaming others for your temper; it means leaving bitterness behind and redeeming your story. I would suggest finding a local, Christian counselor to help with that process. You might try calling Focus on the Family which has a phone counseling ministry as well as a counseling referral database:

To reach Focus on the Family’s counseling service by phone, call 1-800-A-Family (232-6459) weekdays 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. (Mountain Time). Please be prepared to leave your contact information for a counselor or chaplain to return a call to you as soon as possible. The consultation is available at no cost to you. You may also reach our counselors online by filling out our Counseling Request Form.

I want to add a few more hands-on suggestions:

  • First, offer your children an abundance of praise. If you give them plenty of intentional encouragement and loving kindness, it will help counteract your angry outbursts.
  • Second, you might try working through Carter and Minirth’s Anger Workbook noted on our resources page.
  • Finally, I would urge you to take very good care of yourself, finding rest in small ways throughout the day, reducing or eliminating activities which drain your reserves, asking for assistance when you need it. No one else will do this for you, and lowering your overall stress will help you when you encounter parenting challenges. Sometimes I find that Christians have a hard time saying “no” because they feel it would be selfish. You must learn to do this for the sake of your kids, so that you have the capacity to love them well over the long haul.

set of vector icons of religious christianityIn closing, I am asking everyone who reads this letter to say a prayer for you and your children. Perhaps that’s the real gift God has for you here.

To Tell Or Not To Tell?

Dear Christian Counselor,

I was a pretty wild kid back in the ’80’s, but now I’m a pretty conservative parent.  I’m wondering if I should tell my own kids about some of the things I did in hopes that they will learn from my mistakes?

Secrets of a Misspent Youth

Dear Secrets:

There are different schools of thought on this perennial question.  If you ask adolescents, they will generally say they want their parents to be open about their past mistakes and that they would actually take those lessons to heart.  Personally, I don’t advise it.  One of the developmental characteristics of adolescence is the inability to appropriately weigh consequences.  Even when a teen knows that a certain desirable action (such as bungee jumping) has undesirable consequences (a grisly death), he or she lacks the mature judgment necessary to weigh the potential cost (blood and pain) against the momentary emotional reward (exhilarating free fall).  BungeeTherefore, your well-meant revelation about your own bungee-jumping past seems more likely to give your teen new ideas and permission to try them than to relieve them of the burden of testing the boundaries you already blasted.  A recent study bears this out in particular reference to drug use.

It might be gracefully appropriate to tell your son or daughter about your own mistakes AFTER they’ve made the same ones.  But I wouldn’t do that either, if you have younger children.  They WILL find out.  Your teenager needs a wise and even a somewhat mysterious limit-setter more than he or she needs another messed-up friend.

It’s Not Easy

We’d really like life to be easy, wouldn’t we? I know I would. We’d like to be married to someone with telepathy who only lived to please us. We’d like to parent children who resembled cuddly robots, executing our every command and over-achieving our goals for them. We’d like to find fulfillment in excellent, creative work, accomplished in about two hours a day with a minimum of sweat and no actual frustration. We’d like to be wise without being old, to grow strong without working out and to acquire several languages in our sleep. We’d like to be loved in every relationship, fully supported and understood, without conflict or confusion or struggle. Because we live in a broken world, it just doesn’t work that way. But we know God better as a result.

Noah's ArkThe Bible story of Noah and the Ark can be found in Genesis 6-9. You will also find it illustrated in pastel colors on nursery walls everywhere. The dove has come to symbolize peace, in large part, because of this narrative. And the rainbow has been used to represent the beauty and variety of Creation in all its forms. We’d like the story to be that easy, but it just doesn’t work that way. The story of Noah is a horrific story of evil, terror and destruction. The word “peace” isn’t found in these chapters, and the rainbow is a weapon of war. The story of Noah isn’t God’s offer to live in peace with mankind. It’s God’s covenant to live at enmity with mankind.

Peace for God would mean flooding the world constantly, purging every bit of sin, suffering and rebellion from the planet. But in Genesis 8:21 He agrees not to act on His righteous impulse. God agrees that He will suffer the continued existence of evil and sin in order to save a few – hence the bow which is aimed at Heaven. The same principle is illustrated again in the Genesis 18 story of Sodom when God agrees not to destroy the city for the sake of only a few. This idea comes to full fruition in Jesus Christ. God is willing to suffer the sins of the many for the sake of the One. He is willing to live in discord with the entirety of Creation for the sake of His Son and those who find salvation in Him. What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath — prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory? (Rom. 9:22-23)

Every time we are subject to frustration and conflict, we know God a little better. Every time we forebear the difficulty of living in a broken world, we reflect His patience. Every time we cultivate the ground despite its thorns, fight for integrity in a world of deceit, love a difficult spouse, child, friend or enemy who doesn’t really appreciate us, we look a little more like God Himself. We look a little more like the Father who agreed to live in long-suffering enmity with the world in order to save some, like the Son whose work was to bear the sins of His brothers, constructing their lifeboat from His own body, and like the Holy Spirit, that peaceful dove who nests with violent, broken people that they might know His power for living. Now let’s go show that kind of love to this damaged world. It won’t be easy.