Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered, or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared. Proverbs 22, verses 24 and 25.
If you’re a long-time reader of these messages, you’ve probably noticed two things: one, that the subjects of the Proverbs repeat themselves, covering topics multiple times but in slightly different ways. The second thing is that, repeatedly, I say that I think they describe me, today especially. I’m a hot-tempered man. It’s taken a lot of effort for me to learn but I’m learning to not sweat the small stuff. When caffeinated – which is every day – I can be high-strung. Mix that high-wired demeanor with anger and it could be volatile.
Years ago, I used to be like that. I’ve never been a fighter but I have had a fighter’s trash-talking mouth. I used to get angry over small things: toys left out, bills being higher than I thought they should be, one minute late after curfew, Chris Matthews’ show, you name it. Any number of relatively insignificant things would fuel my anger. I wasn’t volcanic, have never been abusive, and I wasn’t a thrower or a dish-breaker. No, I wasn’t those things, but I was a petulant grown up boy. Boys can afford to be like that; they’re maturing. I had no excuse: I was just immature. That can be equally destructive, you know.
I got what I deserved and my kids didn’t: I instilled that hot nature into them, especially in my son. He’s a teenager, and teenagers are always a bit petulant (aka “hormonal”), but my son especially has had to learn anger management. He used to throw Guinness record tantrums, and even now he internalizes anger, letting it fuel occasionally volcanic outbursts. It’s not right that he should have been burdened with such behavior because he learned a lot of it from me. Every time we argue, I regret it all over again. The irony of it is that you will never find a more loving, deeper and more devoted young man than this one. He is consistently underestimated by people who don’t look past what is superficial, and thus miss the caring and talented young man before them. I helped put that in place. When he was younger, he was associated with one easily angered, then he learned his ways and got himself ensnared.
If I could have a do-over in life, controlling my immature and emotionally destructive temper is what I would choose. Thank God for do-over’s, you know?
I might not be able to take back what’s done, but I can learn from it and change. This I am doing, and it hasn’t been easy. But the son is still at home for another few years, and there’s still time to impress on him, during his most emotionally formative time, that there are better ways to handle stress in life. I pray more, and I breathe deeper. I try to put myself in the other person’s shoes before responding. I exercise often. I pray…didn’t I already say that? Well, it’s worth doing again and again because I do. All these things are good things to do because they’re the right way to handle that stress.
In other words, I put into practice some of what God wants us to do. He wants us to be collected in our responses, cool in temper, and judicious in how we think, speak and act. When your initial inclination is to react instead of pro-act, that isn’t easy. It’s a hard thing to re-train yourself to only raise your voice when there is a genuine threat to safety or things that are truly important. It’s harder still to do so consistently in front of your kids, showing them the right way to respond instead of what you’ve done so many times in the past. Please know I’m not fishing for credit here, but I am hoping you understand where I’m coming from. It’s not easy to change life-patterns but it can be done.
It can be done when you have the life-changing encouragement from the Almighty teaching you how to do it.
It’s a fool’s game to live on wishes; it can even be dangerous. I try to avoid doing this, but sometimes I mess up and wish I could make things different. There are many things I wish I could change in my life, some large, some small. One thing I consistently wish for, though, is to unscrew the way I screwed up so bad by being rash and temperamental when my kids were younger. Yes, I’m better now, much calmer and more controlled than I ever have been before. Still, I wish I could take what I know now and have a chat with the me of twenty years ago, telling him to lighten up a little, to let the small things slide and realize that God does know what He’s doing. I would tell my kids to avoid men like me who let show their tempers over things that don’t matter. I wish I could tell them these things because they’re things God told me in His words dozens of times but I was too bull-headed to listen. Thankfully, even without second chances, He’s always giving a way to do better.