What do two ladies on the telephone, a few friends on facebook, and a well-meaning driver have in common?
They are all people whose behavior I cannot control.
Yet, in the past two days, all of these people have made me angry. Scratch that. In the past two days, I've allowed myself to become angry after interacting with all of these people.
I'm not sure why this is, but one of my greatest insecurities is being thought of as stupid. I know I'm not stupid. I've got a slightly higher than average I.Q., I made good grades when I was in school, and people have generally led me to believe that my conversational skills are not comparable to that of a brick wall. But I know I'm insecure about what people think of my intellect because I tend to get REALLY angry when I think that someone's insulting my intelligence, talking down to me, or patronizing me in any way, shape, or form.
Maybe it's a common human reaction. Most of us don't like being told things that we already know, as if we don't know them. Most of us don't like it when people talk to us like we're children who don't really understand what's going on. Most of us don't like it when people don't respect us as we want to be respected. Just because it's common doesn't make it okay.
In the past year, the Lord's really been working on my anger. I still have a short fuse when I get overwhelmed (and sometimes when I'm just plain whelmed), and I am working on this, but that's not really what I'm talking about. When my short fuse blows, it's usually quick. I don't have time to think. There's just an outburst, and it's over. Life goes on. But the anger that really goes deep is the kind that is calculated, the kind that I have time to think about and plan a course of action.
Like Monday morning, when I assumed that a handful of friends on facebook were calling me stupid. They weren't really doing this (the whole thing was not a big deal at all until I made it into one), but my insecurity kicked in. I made some kind of snarky comment, which I knew I shouldn't post. The Holy Spirit was working on me, and I ignored Him because I wanted respect. I demanded respect, even if it was just in the form of an innocent looking snarky comment with a smiley face added to the end. But God knew my heart, and my heart wasn't right. And I posted that comment in anger, and then went out the door to go to work, taking my guilt with me.
It's funny how one sin can lead to another. I was angry, unjustifiably, but I wanted to justify it. So on my way to work I kept running the scenario over in my head, wanting to make myself out to be the good guy and everyone else out to be wrong. And then, as I was mulling all of this over in my head, knowing in the back of my mind that I was sinning, this driver did something that ticked me off even more. It wasn't dangerous. She wasn't doing anything that could have hurt me or anything else. In fact, she was trying to be nice, not realizing that she was blocking me from my intended destination. But since I was already angry, already wanting to be right, already wanting to get my way, I allowed myself to get angry at this other person who was blocking my path to what I wanted, when I wanted it.
Later that day, I answered the phone at the house where I nanny. When I informed the lady on the phone that I was the nanny, her tone changed and she started talking to me as if I were a child. I asked for a phone number so the mom could call her back; she blurted it out. When I asked her to repeat it, she said each number as slowly as humanly possible and added, "Did you get it that time, sweetie?"
Then yesterday, another lady called the house where I nanny. When she heard I was the nanny, she told me that she wasn't comfortable leaving a message with me because she didn't think I was responsible enough to deliver it.
And while I tried to be polite to both of these women, inside (and outside once I was off the phone with them), I was livid. I was outraged at the disrespect, the condescension, the belittlement. Again, I was feeling as though I was being thought of as stupid, and that was something I couldn't bear....
...only I kind of figure that there's a reason all of this stuff has happened to me in the past couple of days. In praying for humility, I've been humbled. In praying for God to make me more gracious, I've been given opportunities to do so, and I've failed. And I think I've failed because God is still stripping down the layers of anger that I want to hold on to. I want respect. I want things my way. I want people to take me seriously.
Only I'm more worried about what other people think than about what God thinks, and when I defend myself, I'm not trusting Him enough to defend me. And if He's not defending me, then it's probably an issue that really doesn't matter. At all. I just want to glorify myself instead of glorifying Him; that's where the real problem is.
And the thing is, I don't have control over other people. I can't make a lady on the telephone treat me with respect. Is she wrong for her behavior? Maybe. It doesn't matter--I can't change her behavior at all. If some of my facebook friends really did assume I was stupid, were they in the wrong? Maybe. It doesn't matter--I can't change their behavior. Just like I can't control the driving of anyone else just by blowing my horn at them.
When it comes down to it, there's only one person I can control, and that's me. If I think someone wrongs me, or even if they really do wrong me, I have a choice about whether I can show grace and forgive, or whether I'm going to be angry and sin. I have a choice about whether I'm going to make my cause most important, or whether I'm going to do what is right in the eyes of God. I'm apparently still learning this lesson: Everything that comes my way is an opportunity to love others and to trust God.
I have to say though, I'm thankful for this lesson, as painful as it's been. I'm thankful for a God who loves me enough to stretch me, enough to humble me, enough to show me grace...and to teach me how to show grace to others.
I might be the only person in the world who was dumb enough to ask for patience twice. You'd think I'd have learned the first time that God rarely grants patience in an instant--He usually teaches patience by making us wait...and wait...and wait. And I kinda figure that breaking through my anger is going to be a similar process. But selfish anger, like a lot of other things, is an idol. And God loves me too much to allow me to keep it.