I asked myself that question a few years ago and discovered that a wound from my childhood had affected me most of my life. For years, I thought anger was my central issue, but as I began to peel back the layers, I discovered that at the core, it went much deeper.
When I was two or three years old, our family lived in a small town in rural Kansas. The house across the street from us had a beautiful playhouse in the backyard.
One day, I was playing with the neighbor kids in the backyard across the street. Because I was the youngest one in the pack, I was always a step or two slower than everyone else. Well, the other kids huddled in a circle for a moment and then one of them said, “Let’s go play in the playhouse!” Everyone else ran inside and I followed behind.
After entering the playhouse, all of the kids ran out the entryway and slammed the door shut. Then I heard someone lock the door on the outside.
I tried to open the door but it was fastened shut.
I didn’t know what to do.
Then I looked to my left and saw a Mickey Mouse phone attached to the wall. I picked up the phone and cried out to Mickey to save me. Unfortunately, Mickey didn’t pick up.
Suddenly, I was overwhelmed with panic. What if I never get out of here? I thought. I felt so out of control. Then something happened inside me that I distinctly remember to this day: like a pilot light from a furnace, my anger was lit.
Obviously, I was eventually rescued, but the damage was already done.
From that point on, every time I felt like I was being controlled, that internal flame roared to life and manifested itself as anger. As a child, when kids made fun of my new haircut and I couldn’t make them stop, my anger burned out of control. For years, I felt like a volcano, the red-hot lava simmering below the surface, building pressure until it released itself on any unsuspecting person nearby. Usually, my wife and oldest daughter caught the overflow.
Finally, I came face-to-face with my anger issue. When confronted with my anger addiction I decided to bring it to God.
He led me to a story from Mark 4:35-41. One evening, Jesus invited his disciples to join him in a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. Midway across the lake, a furious storm struck the boat, nearly capsizing it. Jesus, however, was fast asleep in the stern.
Imagine going out in a boat, in the middle of the lake, in the middle of the night. No outboard motor—only sails and oars. No navigational equipment, not even a flashlight.
If one of those storms should hit, how would you feel?
The disciples shook Jesus awake. “Jesus. Jesus! Teacher, don’t you care that we’re about to drown?”
Then Jesus stood up and calmly said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” The wind immediately died down and it became completely calm. Jesus looked at them and said, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
Astonished by what they had just seen, they asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”
Studying this passage, I realized that Jesus is in control. Even when the waves are crashing into me, even when I feel controlled by others, Jesus is still in control—and I have nothing to fear.
I wish I could say it happened in an instant, but over time, the raging storm inside me began to subside. I didn’t need to be afraid. Jesus is in control.
You may wrestle with an assortment of fears:
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of being known, of people seeing the real you
- Fear of being alone
- Fear of being wrong
- Fear of rejection
- Fear of not being successful which is different than the fear of being unsuccessful
- Fear of failure
- Fear of being average
- Fear of unemployment
- Fear of not being able to support your family
- Fear of dying
Fear is such a powerful emotion that it can take godlike control over our lives, affecting our relationships, the way we see ourselves, the way we make decisions, the way we see God.
Experience poverty growing up and you could respond by becoming a workaholic so that you never have to go without again. Even if it means working a job you hate, a job that kills your heart. The fear of poverty.
Fear of being alone can drive you into the arms of a person who doesn’t love you, who may be abusive, but is willing to provide a minimal amount of companionship.
We can lift up our voices in praise to Jesus on Palm Sunday and by the next Friday, fear can drive us to crucify him on a cross.
We think that control brings peace, but it actually works in the opposite direction of peace. In Isaiah 26:3, we read, “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (italics added).
Trust doesn’t mean taking control, it means giving up control.
You can believe in your head that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, ultimately in control, good, and loving. But in your heart, you just don’t trust him.
The best answer I can give is the cross: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32 (ESV)
If God loves us enough to give us his son, then we can trust him.
And you don’t need to live in fear.
Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott. He’d like to say that he no longer deals with anger and control issues…but then he’d be lying.