Confession time. My house is messy. No one who has ever met me in person will be surprised by this confession. I announce it pretty regularly. When it's time to clean up, and my five-year-old daughter begins to wail, "But I hate cleaning!" And in my heart, I'm always wailing right along with her.
Just how messy we are at any given time is directly proportional to how busy we happen to be, because I will prioritize anything and everything over chores. Sometimes, when our lives are pretty chill, we maintain a reasonable sense of order and decency. Other times I hope people will forgive our artistic tendencies as whimsical in their dysfunction.
A couple weeks ago, my husband was asked to go ice fishing without a lot of notice. When he began to search for his hat, gloves, warm boots, and long underwear, he became frustrated. "Search for?" some of you neat Nellies and tidy Tom's are asking yourself, "Aren't they intentionally stored in a logical location?" What a novel and amusing concept.
My husband's frustration grew from irritation that he couldn't find what he needed into anger at our messy bedroom and, by extension, although he never stated this, anger with our family for tolerating so much mess. This anger fueled a two-hour session of what I affectionately call "rage cleaning." I am not easily moved by anger, so I ignored his rage cleaning, rather than joining in, a move which, I'm certain added more fuel to the fire.
A few days later, I urged my son, in the middle of a panic attack, to go lay down in his bed and try to sleep, since he hadn't slept the night before and he was staying home from school to try to catch up on sleep and recover from his panic attack. Still in the grips of crippling anxiety, he seemed frozen in place. I asked him a few more times, and then I insisted he go lay down where he would be more comfortable. He angrily shouted at me, "There is no comfort for me." And as he ran up the stairs, he called behind him, "I can be comforted, but never here!" (Astute observers will note that, yes, he has artistic and dramatic tendencies like his mother.) I quickly translated his poetic language to mean, "My friends are good at comforting me, but you aren't." So, proving his point, in what was not my finest parenting moment, I shouted back, "Well, I guess you should have gone to school then."
He flew into a rage that fueled him to do what was impossible five minutes before, he got himself ready and asked if his dad could bring the carpool back to get him for school.
Last week, I prayed for a friend's anxiety. I wanted to insist, with great faith, that God heal her from her anxiety, but those aren't the kind of prayers I know how to pray anymore. (See my blog on breaking up with the prosperity gospel.) Instead, I listened for God and waited to see how I should pray. I began to pray that God would overshadow her anxiety. I asked that God would be more present than her anxious feelings, that He would stand between her and the panic. This morning, she asked for prayer again, and as I prayed this time, I felt like I should pray that her strength would rise as she waited upon the Lord. (From Isaiah 40:31 if I'm acting all holy, but mostly from the popular worship song "Everlasting God" if I'm being extra real.)
And as I prayed that she would feel her strength rise up as she waited on God and that the strength God gave her would empower her to do what was impossible before, I started to think about anger. My son and my husband had both used anger to overshadow a state of being that had kept them trapped. My son was trapped by anxiety, but by intentionally stirring up a fit of rage, he could borrow the passion and energy of his anger to overshadow the anxiety for long enough to get himself out the door to school.
My husband suffers just as much as I do from a real apathy and lack of motivation to clean. Apathy is like quicksand; the longer you're in it, the harder it is to escape from. My husband regularly manufactures anger because it is a powerful emotion that can, temporarily, overshadow apathy, giving him the burst of passion he needs to act. He's great at doing a big re-set in the cleaning of our home when I'm overwhelmed.
A lot of us tolerate anger in our lives because we use it as a tool to overshadow harder emotions that trap us. Athletes often choose to stir up anger to drive them to perform better. In small ways, we do the same thing. We claim to feel overtaken by anger, but often we manufacture it to propel us out of something less comfortable.
But as I prayed for my friend to wait for God to renew her strength and let God overshadow her anxiety, I realized we have a much healthier option. Instead of stirring up anger for a burst of needed energy to accomplish something that feels otherwise impossible, we can choose to wait on God, asking Him to overshadow the issues in our lives that are trapping us. We can stir up the Spirit instead of stirring up our anger. One of the major benefits being that stirring up the spirit never causes peripheral damage to the people we love the way anger tends to.
And because my husband always says I use too many Christian terms without unpacking them...stirring up the Spirit is a lot like stirring up anger. We all know how to stir up our anger, we simply focus intensely on whatever is bothering us, to the exclusion of almost anything else.
To stir up the Holy Spirit, who is alive in us, advocating for us, leading us and teaching us as the helper God gave us, we simply focus on the Holy Spirit. I think we all focus on the Holy Spirit in unique ways. For some people, praise and worship help them focus on God, causing them to awaken to the Spirit's influence in their life. For others, it is time in prayer or reading the bible. For some, it may be spending time alone in nature, contemplating what God has created; for others, it is serving people in need, loving them in the name of God.
You will learn to notice the activities that make you more aware of the Holy Spirit's presence, and as you do more to focus on the Holy Spirit, you will see more of the fruit of the Holy Spirit in your life. Love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self control are the things the bible tells us are the natural result of spending time in the presence of God. And I believe these fruits of the Spirit are a more powerful tool in our life than anger will ever be, and certainly a gentler, healthier tool for helping us do the things we know we should do, even when they feel impossible sometimes.
The next time you notice that you are choosing to stir up anger for what you think it can accomplish, take a step back and stir up the Spirit instead.
Amy Noel Green is a Ted Speaker, author, and video game designer. She received international press attention for her work on the video game "That Dragon, Cancer." The video game tells the story of her son Joel who died from cancer at the age of five.
She is the author of the upcoming book, "Dear God, How Could You?" (When Joel died of cancer after years of miracles, Amy questioned God. She shouted her betrayed, angry questions at the God she no longer understood. She buried many miracles with Joel. She buried her relationship with God too, but God’s love for her refused to stay in the grave.) Subscribe for updates on the bottom of her about page, to be notified when her book is published.