Not long ago someone I love suddenly switched from having a calm conversation with me to lashing out in anger. This came without warning, and the anger was over something minute—at least from my perspective.
As that person went from calmness to anger in a flash, I sensed there was a similar switch that could happen in me—from listening calmly to being bitter because of the anger directed at me in a way that seemed unjust.
This person’s anger often erupted due to his not overcoming traumas from the past, and something (I could rarely determine what that something was going to be) that was said or done would trigger an angry response.
At that moment, I realized I had a choice. I could choose not to let the switch be activated in me just because it was in this other person. His lack of dealing with past trauma brought drama, but I could choose not to carry the drama forward.
It is true that one of the main traumas from my childhood was people becoming unjustly angry at me and even verbally abusive because of their overwhelming stressors and their own traumas from the past. Back then I became bitter, and unforgiveness ruled my life. But God has healed me of that.
So I no longer needed to be bound to this automatic response from my childhood.
As I reflected on this, I realized that many times in my present relationships as soon as the “switch was flipped” in regard to anger in the other person, I automatically let the bitterness switch be flipped in me.
Also, I realized that for so long I spent much time and energy trying to prevent that switch from being flipped in others. Then I would feel frustrated that I couldn’t do it. No matter how great my efforts, anger still poured out. Certainly I’m a failure, I thought.
The conclusion I came to is that I cannot keep the switch from being flipped in another person, but I can choose to not allow the switched to be flipped in me. I’m not a failure when I fail to keep another person from getting angry at me, but only when I fail to have a godly response.
There are two switches, but I only have control over one—my own.
Too many times I can try to blame the other person when I have a negative reaction in regard to someone lashing out at me. “If you hadn’t lashed out in anger, I would not have had to be bitter in my response to you.” But God gives me the grace to have a godly response.
In fact, at any given moment and in every situation I can choose to have a loving response.
Jesus, who was perfect, always chose the godly response when He was on this earth. That response–unlike mine which can be fueled by fear, hurt, or frustration—was directed by love.
The closer I am to Jesus and as I allow Him to fully heal me of deep hurts, the more I can allow myself to be led by the Holy Spirit, rather than my flesh, and the more often I will have a loved-filled, Jesuslike response—even to negative behavior.
This verse reminds me of that: Ephesians 4:32 “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” ESV
The good news is that if I fail to show a godly response, I can remain humbly aware and quickly say, “I’m sorry that I reacted in a negative way to your anger. Something must be bothering you today. Do you want to talk about it?”
I remember a friend told me a saying years ago that has stayed with me. It went something like this, “When her cup is jostled, Jesus pours out.”
That’s what I want others to see in me.
“What Matters Most” by Cheri Keaggy