It was one of those beautiful spring days. The windows of my house were open, letting in the fresh air. I listened to my children playing in the yard while I washed my baby in the bathtub. They were rambunctious and happy to be outside.
Then, suddenly, the tone of their voices changed. They started crying and screaming for me. My heart jumped as I snatched the baby out of the tub and went to see what the ruckus was about.
An unknown boxer puppy had slipped through the gate and entered my fenced-in yard. My kids had been delighted to see him at first, but he was very excitable and quickly started nipping their hands and arms with his sharp teeth. Anger filled me as I stepped out onto my porch and saw the situation. Where was the owner of this mean little dog?! Why did they let their animal get into my yard and bite my kids?!
I pinned the furry rascal down and demanded to know where it had come from. My sobbing children pointed toward our neighbor’s house. I grabbed the dog and started in that direction, still furious. When I reached my neighbor’s house, a woman came to meet me at the gate, holding out her hands for the dog. I gave the dog to her, then proceeded to unload my frustrations on her, informing her that her dog had bitten and terrified my kids in my own yard. Then I stomped off to go check on my children’s wounds.
After checking the scratches on my kids and cooling down a little, I began to think over my actions more clearly. Considering the circumstances, I felt validated for being angry, however my conscience whispered to me that I hadn’t handled the situation correctly by venting on my neighbor. So, after calming my children, I dragged myself back over to my neighbor’s house. The lady instantly greeted me, asking how hurt my kids were. When I calmly informed her that they were okay, just a little shook up, she put her hand over her heart and breathed out a big sigh of relief.
Then she dropped the bombshell. That puppy wasn’t her dog. It was some mutt that had been abandoned on our street. It was running free because no one knew the owner.
My fury had been misdirected.
I learned some humbling lessons during that embarrassing situation, and was reminded of several others.
1. Be angry, but don’t sin.
This thought is repeated at least twice in Scripture. Once in Psalm 4:4, then again in Ephesians 4:26. From this I learn that the emotion of anger isn’t inherently bad. It’s what I do with that fury that has the potential to get me in trouble. The same concept applies to every emotion.
2. Better is the one who keeps his temper than he who conquers a city.
Better a patient man than a warrior (Proverbs 16:32). In other words, I need to pick my battles and make sure they’re worthwhile ones. If I’m going to go through the trouble of getting worked up, then I need to do it over something that really matters. Making mountains out of molehills does favors for no one but the enemy of our souls.
3. Don’t jump to conclusions; you might tear into the wrong person.
My dad has a favorite saying:
“Anybody can become angry — that is easy — but to be angry with the right person and to the right purpose, and in the right way — that is not within everybody’s power, and is not easy.” -Aristotle
I should probably memorize this so I can whisper it to myself the next time I start seeing red. It takes self-control to take a step back, decisively look over a situation, and choose how to channel my emotions. (Especially regarding my kids.) But I don’t think I’ve ever regretted taking that extra time to think. And I think my neighbor would have appreciated it if I had done that instead of chewing her out for something she didn’t deserve.
Calming the Beast
There is a speedy way to settle a tense situation down. My neighbor did it perfectly. Instead of loudly defending her innocence or getting upset with me for being upset, she waited for my emotions to naturally calm a little, then she dealt compassionately with me.
“A gentle answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1 NASB)
It’s easy to mumble when I’m upset. It’s easy to call names and to make accusations in my heart, even if not aloud. However, these “harsh words” only serve to stir me up more. Being gentle to myself and others, even in my thoughts, can go a long way in helping defuse or redirect an explosive situation.