Keith, people make me so angry and frustrated when they don’t do what they say they’re going to do. I don’t know what to do when I have these feelings. I can’t seem to let things go without judging and shaming the people I love most—just to prove they’re wrong. Any ideas?
That’s a hard question—but a good one.
The first part of your question mentions people making you angry. When I get angry at family members (or just about anyone else) my experience has been that the anger is all about me—virtually always. A friend named Lane explained this by telling how a mentor once asked him, “What do you get if you squeeze an orange hard enough?” He’d reply, “Orange Juice.” The mentor said, “Yes, and the juice came out of the orange, not the person doing the squeezing.” Lane was saying when someone squeezes me hard enough, my angry response is made up of something inside me.
Pia Mellody puts it another way. She says that people don’t “make” us mad. What happens is that when they say or do something, we have a thought about what they said or did—and that thought creates the anger.
So I learned that when I’m with someone whose actions have triggered anger in me, I can ask myself, “What thoughts am I thinking about what just happened (or didn’t happen)?”
When my wife doesn’t keep her word about something very important to me, before I know it I am living with anger, usually because I feel rejected and discounted. How can I deal with this? Somehow, just knowing that my anger is coming from my thoughts about her forgetting something she promised to do doesn’t make the anger go away.
The other night that happened to me. Andrea and I had spent a couple of days Christmas shopping and I thought we really needed a break. So I suggested, “Honey, let’s quit early this evening and get ready for bed and read together for a while.”
She said, “Great! I’ll wrap some Christmas gifts that have to be mailed to our family, then come up stairs around 9:00.”
So I did a few things, then got ready for bed at about 8:45 and started reading a book I wanted to read. A few minutes later I looked up and it was 9:15. I was a little put out but realized there were quite a few packages to wrap for mailing, so I kept reading. But when I looked at the clock and it was a quarter to ten, I was suddenly angry and decided I’d just wait and see how long it would take before she remembered her “promise” to me.
She came in around 10:30 and said, “Honey, I’m sorry, but I realized I can’t read with you tonight. I have got to get all of these things wrapped and mailed before it’s so late we have to pay extra postage to make it on time. I just now noticed the time, and I came up to tell you what happened.” Then she left to go back downstairs to wrap some more gifts.
But even with her explanation and brief apology I was still furious. I began remembering all the things I’d done recently that she wanted me to do. And then as it got to be midnight I was still very, very angry and couldn’t go to sleep. But then I remembered that the anger was all about me and my not getting what I wanted when I wanted it. And I realized that those presents she was wrapping were from both of us, and I am a very bad wrapper.
So I had to face the fact that I was hurt and angry that my wife didn’t do what I wanted her to do. I asked God for help and guidance about how to diffuse the anger that came from my thoughts about what happened.
The answer I almost always get to this prayer is, “get out of yourself by helping someone else who needs help.” But it was just the two of us in the house and suddenly Andrea had become “the enemy.” So I prayed again—and the response that came to me was, “Think about what you could do for Andrea if you weren’t mad at her… and do that.”
I groaned and resisted. But this approach had helped me get past all kinds of self centered solo-pity-parties in the past. So I thought about what I could do that would be most helpful to Andrea—if I hadn’t been angry. And I remember that we’d left the kitchen without washing the dishes and cleaning up after dinner. And on raw faith I got up, went into the kitchen and cleaned up a fearsome mess.
As I finished up the job, something wonderful happened. I began realizing how fortunate I was to have such a talented and loving wife who does dozens of things for me and our families—especially at Christmas.
The anger was gone, and I was filled with gratitude. Because of being surrendered to God and to living the life of self-limiting love Christ lived and lives in us, I had been able to see my anger turn into gratitude, and in the process I’d given my wife a gift that would really please her. And, I added to myself—I didn’t have to tell her about my gift—making it a perfect gift! Then I was able to get some sleep.
As it turned out, Andrea stayed up all night wrapping presents. And because our assistant brings her baby to work, and the guest room/wrapping room becomes a nursery room during office hours, Andrea had also cleaned up all the wrapping paper scraps and straightened up the jumble of boxes and bows. When I got up early Andrea was just coming to bed. She smiled and said “I’ll just take a nap. I know I’ve got stuff to type and edit for you today.”
But I heard myself saying, “Honey, don’t worry about that, I’ll ask Jessica to do it. You just get some rest and sleep as long as you need.”
I was feeling holier by the moment—until I turned and—where this remark came from I have no idea—but I said, “By the way, I cleaned up the kitchen.”
As I closed the bedroom door, I cursed, hit my fist into my palm and shook my head, laughing at myself as I realized “I’m not quite ready for even an hour of selfless sainthood!”
Lord, thank you that you give us ways to love the people around us when we are filled with ourselves and our needs to be right—when we put ourselves in the driver’s seat of our lives. Help us to remember that only you can get us where we really want to go, which is why you need to be in the driver’s seat. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.
– Matthew 5:43 The Message
“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding. 2-4“When you do something for someone else, don’t call attention to yourself. You’ve seen them in action, I’m sure—’playactors’ I call them— treating prayer meeting and street corner alike as a stage, acting compassionate as long as someone is watching, playing to the crowds. They get applause, true, but that’s all they get. When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it—quietly and unobtrusively.
– Matthew 6:2-4 The Message
Be not angry that you cannot make others as you wish them to be, since you cannot make yourself as you wish to be.
Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ
 From Facing Codependence