Lying in his bed, with tears running down his face, my son tried to calm down after an emotional outburst. I came into the room to talk to him about it. Snuggling up next to him, we discussed what had happened.
“But Mom, you don’t understand. It’s because you and brother irritate me so much. You make me angry. If you leave me alone, I won't be angry.”
My son has been engaged in an intense battle with anger lately. The littlest thing sets him off and I’m brought in as referee.
“Buddy, we don't make you angry. The anger comes from within you. It comes from your own sin inside your heart."
I recited Jesus’s words in Matthew 15:18, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person.” Needless to say, he did not agree with me. And looking back on that conversation, and my attempts to convince him that people don’t make him angry, I realized that it took me many years to learn that lesson myself.
The Blame Game
For much of my life, I’ve battled my own out-of-control feelings. Depression has held me hostage many times in the dark cell of despair and sorrow. And for so long, I blamed my circumstances and other people for those feelings. “If only my parents wouldn’t fight so much, I wouldn’t be so upset.” “If only my husband didn’t work so much, I wouldn’t be so stressed out.” “If only my kids would sleep, I wouldn’t be so irritable.” “If only my life would work out the way I want, then I’d feel better.”
I can understand my son’s heart and his attempts to blame others for his sin. I do the same thing. I live my life for me and me alone. I want what I want when I want it. I expect others to respond according to my desires. The sin in my heart seeks my best interest and responds in anger, frustration, worry, stress, and despair when things don’t work out the way I want.
The Gospel is the Key
The classic allegory, Pilgrim’s Progress, describes a scene where Christian, the main character, was held captive in Doubting Castle by the Giant called Despair. Christian had the key of Promise tucked in his shirt and had forgotten about it. But once he remembered that he had it, he used it to open the doors of his prison and was freed to continue on his journey to the Celestial City.
The same is true for me. While I wait with growing impatience for someone else to free me from my emotional prison, the truth is, I already have the key to get out. The good news of Jesus crucified and raised for me is the key that frees me from every cell that could ever hold me captive. The gospel tells me that Jesus came to save me from my enslavement and imprisonment to sin. He entered into the mess of my life, becoming sin for me and taking the punishment I deserved. Through faith in his redemptive work for me, I have been set free. He’s given me his Spirit to convict me, draw me to repentance, and transform me from the inside out.
The Real Change We Need
The journey to holiness is a slow one — it’s more of a marathon than a race. God doesn’t reveal to us all our sins at once. Instead, he peels back a layer at a time. My son is only five and has a long way to go. His problem with anger is a heart issue that only the gospel and the power of the Spirit can cure.
As much as I’d like to rush the process, I know God has a story for my son that he has to live out. While I continue to correct and instruct him in obedience, I know that the real change he needs can only come from the Spirit who transforms our hearts. So I walk beside him in the journey, pointing him to the cross and the freedom from sin that Jesus purchased for him there. I share the gospel with him every chance I get. Each day, I pray in humble reliance upon God and his work in my son’s heart, asking him to show my son his sin of anger and his desperate need for a Savior.
Because as I’ve learned from my own journey, the gospel is the only cure for a sinful heart.
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