Pushing the re-dial button on my cell phone for the tenth time, I listened to the familiar sound of the voicemail greeting, yet again. I paced the sidelines as my frustration mounted toward the person I was trying to reach. She’d left me a message only seconds earlier trying to find out the location of my son’s soccer game, but now she wasn’t answering my return calls. By the time we finally made contact, it was nearly half-time and my frustration had boiled over into full-blown anger.
It turns out that unbeknownst to her, the phone had been on silent mode the whole time. When she realized her mistake and confessed it, I had no grace to offer. Harsh words flew out of my mouth without restraint. Although my anger felt justified, I realized at once that unleashing it had been the wrong choice. Even the sincerest apology couldn’t erase the hurtful words I’d spewed.
As the game ended, I dug in my purse for my car keys and discovered they were nowhere to be found. Trying to re-trace my steps, my husband and I spent an hour combing the soccer fields, the parking lot and the trail I’d hiked during pre-game warm ups. As we looked, I silently berated myself in anger, wondering how I could have been so stupid and irresponsible. Throughout our search, my mind was filled with hurtful words to describe myself. After over an hour of looking, we gave up and headed home using a set of spare keys.
Later that evening, my family stood at a church service, participating in the opening set of worship songs before leading the elementary kids off to class. As the music played and the lyrics appeared on screen, my throat suddenly constricted and shame washed over me. How could I sing about God’s grace and love when only a few hours earlier I’d chosen to withhold them? My eyes welled up as I thought about how I’d let my anger lead me into sin. I began to see that the harshness of my thoughts and words had done a great deal of damage.
At the pastor’s cue, my family headed out of the church service corralling a pack of enthusiastic elementary kids to a classroom nearby. As we led them through a lesson, small groups, crafts and games, God continued to work in my heart, gently opening my eyes to the ways my anger earlier that day had affected Him too.
An hour later, class ended and as parents arrived to retrieve their kids, one little girl searched the room frantically looking for a picture she’d made during class. She wanted to show her father, but it had gone missing. It was clear she wasn’t going to leave without it, so we scoured the room until we finally found it crumpled in a ball and sitting under a chair. I smoothed out the paper before handing it to her with a reassuring smile. At first she was distressed that her beautiful creation had been so mistreated, but as soon as it was in her hands, she beamed with pride and presented it to her father. He was quick to point out the specific qualities that made the picture special and a smile lit up her sweet face.
To anyone else, it was a colorful mess of felt tip markings and fingerprints, but to her father and her, it was precious.
It wasn’t until a few hours later that the events of the day came into focus for me. My angry thoughts and words toward myself and another person were the equivalent of taking that little girl’s picture and crumpling it up in front of her. Of course, I would never do something so cruel and hurtful, yet that is what I did to God. That’s why I’d had a hard time singing worship songs–my anger earlier in the day had shown a blatant disregard for His most valued creations: people. This realization gave me a deeper understanding of Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” (Matthew 5:21-24, NIV)
Our thoughts and our words matter to God. They affect how we view and treat others, as well as how we view and treat ourselves. The more we let anger simmer in our minds, the more it taints our perspectives. And in the process, we hurt the God who loved us enough to sacrifice His son for us.
Jesus’ half-brother, James, expands on this when he explains:
“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be.” (James 3:9-10, NIV)
Being angry isn’t a sin, but it quickly leads to sin when not surrendered to God. Anger tears the fabric that weaves relationships together, and it injures the heart of the One who created each of us. We are precious in His eyes and He wants us to view one another in the same way.
The next time I’m tempted to lash out in anger at myself or someone else, I’ll think about how that little girl lovingly smoothed out her wrinkled picture and I’ll remember just how precious we are to God. Can I encourage you to do the same?
Click on the link to hear the song that was too hard for me to sing after my day of anger: “This is Amazing Grace” by Phil Wickham. After listening, thank God that His grace is sufficient to cover over even our ugliest sins. (And while you’re praying, I’d be grateful if you asked for my keys to be found and returned too!)