I sat in my VW bug waiting for the light to change. Lost in my thoughts, I sang loudly (and badly) to the radio and enjoyed the beautiful day—until a car pulled up behind me so quickly I feared I might become a punch buggy sandwich! I glared in my rearview mirror to assess the car’s occupants. A man, I assume was the dad, drove while his teenage son sat next to him. Neither of them looked happy. At all.
The father stared out his window while anger burned in his eyes. The boy glared straight ahead, his jaw clenched and his face stony. Their non-verbals proclaimed the simmering tension. The scene drew me in and I continued to watch them in my rearview mirror (hoping my sunglasses hid my voyeurism).
Soon the dad starting yelling. He flailed his arms, gesturing wildly. Then he pounded his hands on the steering wheel (yes, while he was driving). At one point he titled his head back and roared! He wasn’t just mad. He was furious and on the verge of losing control—of himself and his car.
Throughout the entire rage-filled outburst, the teenage son maintained his fixed gaze and didn’t utter a single word. He may have looked detached or dismissive, but I have no doubt a storm of emotions churned under his fortified façade as caustic anger inflicted unseen wounds.
I have no idea what happened to cause such wrath. Maybe the son messed up with garden variety teenage stuff, or maybe he did something bad. Really bad.
I processed the scene as thoughts swirled in my head. As a mom I wanted to jump out and yell at the father, “Stop! Can’t you see what you’re doing? You’re the grownup here. There has to be a better way to deal with this situation!” I wanted to hug the boy and assure him, “No matter what you did, you don’t deserve this. It’s going to be OK.”
While I sat there in judgment on the dad, my heavenly Father nudged me with a painful realization: How many times have I lost my temper with my own children and lashed out in anger?
I, too, have behaved oh-so-badly as a parent and am sure if I watched a video playback of some of my outbursts I’d burn with shame. Yes, as a parent I try hard and often succeed, but too often I get frustrated and irritated. I want things my way. My flesh gets the best of me and I explode. What scars have I left behind as a lasting memory?
Being a parent is hard. It brings out the best in us. And the worst. We all fall short. We react out of impatience and anger. We crash and burn. None of us are perfect, but we cannot take lightly the devastation we cause our children with our tongues.
We must control our tempers and reign in our anger because our careless words have tremendous power to harm. “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” (3:6)
Yet, how in the world can we navigate the depths of our weaknesses and captain the parenting ship through stormy seas?
We need help. Divine help. Thankfully Jesus shows us the way—the only way. No matter how badly we’ve messed up, He doesn’t condemn or lay a guilt trip on us, He invites us to come to Him. And when we press into Jesus, a cool thing happens, the Holy Spirit begins to transform us into His likeness.
We have a choice and the apostle Paul shows us the consequences of both choices: following our sinful nature or following the Holy Spirit. “Let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: …hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division…But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (Galatians 5:16,19, 22-23 NLT)
Patience, gentleness and self-control? Oh, how we parents need more of these!
God’s Word promises that as we let the Holy Sprit guide our lives, we will (not might) bear more fruit. The more we let the Spirit guide us, the more fruit is produced. As we parent with with more gentleness, more self-control, more patience and most of all, more love we become the godly role models our children need. Of course we’ll still make mistakes, but each time we stumble Jesus offers forgiveness and a fresh start.
I will never know the real story of the angry father and son. But, as a parent I want the scene I witnessed to serve as a cautionary tale of a place I never want to be. And I want it to remind me that this parenting journey is too difficult and the stakes too high to travel it on my own.
“Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger by the way you treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)