Sometimes, I am awful. There are days when I yell at my kids. Days when I snap at them for small mistakes. Days when I even make them cry.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how horrifying I find this. How much I hate this about myself. How hard it is to even type these words.
I was never an angry person before having kids. I almost never yelled. Which makes it all the more puzzling and frustrating to me that I do it now.
I understand some of the triggers for this anger and ugly behavior. Sleep deprivation. Hunger. Being hurried. I have made some progress and improvement by trying to manage these triggers. Getting more sleep (sometimes, though this is really, really hard for me), eating well, making sure that we have plenty of time to get ready to go somewhere, etc.
But still, I fail.
So. At the beginning of this year, I decided to really focus on this as an area of improvement for myself. I wanted to do the “word of the year” thing, with this as my focus. I was trying my best to come up with a word that I could try to think about each day, especially in tense times, that would remind me to chill out, slow down, and not be a jerk. I thought of a few words that seemed promising, but noting that really seemed to be just right.
One morning during prayer time in early January I was wondering about why in the world I get so angry with my sweet kiddos, when I was never a person to get super fired up about stuff before having kids. I was praying that God would help me to have some insight on this. Then, literally the next day, I got an email that gave me what I asked for.
Haley Stewart is one of my favorite Catholic bloggers. She writes Carrots for Michaelmas and she is just a lovely person. I signed up for her blog newsletter some time ago (you can sign up for it here, or on the right sidebar of her blog, and I highly recommend that you do). In January, I received her newsletter email with the title “What My Priest Taught Me at Confession This Week.” I got the chills as I read Haley’s words about discussing the very same question with her priest that I had just discussed with God the previous morning in prayer. Why do I lose it with my kids??
Her priest gave her the most amazing answer (it’s moments like these that you just know these men are filled with the Holy Spirit). He told her that she gets angry because she is afraid, and that her fear comes from a lack of control (which can be terrifying for us moms). The idea of anger being the external manifestation of fear immediately rang a bell in the part of my brain that stores all the info I used to use when I was working as a professional psychologist (it’s a bit rusty these days).
“Of course!” I thought, mentally smacking my forehead. I realized in a rush that I definitely try way too hard to control all the things. That I stress out about my kids behavior because of fears of what might happen if I don’t make sure they learn everything perfectly now.
My subconscious thoughts most likely go something like this, “If my kids don’t have good manners now, they will turn out to be slovenly, ill-mannered adults!!” or “If my kids are disrespectful or break a rule today, they might end up being rebellious or even criminal someday!!” or “If they forget or don’t do a good job on chores as kids, they might grow up to be lazy and unable to take care of themselves!!!”
I don’t necessarily think these things consciously, and when I type them out here, of course they sound ridiculous, but at the same time, they resonate with fears that I hold deep down. They strike a chord in my mama heart where I just want everything to go right now, so they will be okay later.
Anyway, that was my first big realization after reading what Haley’s priest told her. Then I read on to what he told her to DO about this.
“Pray for surrender.”
He told her to stop struggling in all the situations where she cannot control everything and just surrender that control to God.
I’m pretty sure my jaw must have hit the floor at this point. Because all that control-freakishness up there? That is a lack of faith. And it was like God was speaking directly to me, giving me an answer to a question I had just asked Him, through Haley’s priest, through Haley, straight to my inbox. Whoa.
I had my word for the year. Surrender.
Then, I began doing what the priest told Haley to do, asking God to help me surrender control. At first I was just praying that I would let go of the need to be so in control of all the things in my life, the stuff my kids do, the possible outcomes twenty years down the road of all the little things my kids do today, etcetera, etcetera.
But that wasn’t all. God gave me another insight into just how far my surrender needs to go. I had to surrender control of my own anger too.
I realized that I have tried many, many times to make myself stop being angry and stop losing my temper with my kids. I’ve prayed for God to help me do things differently. This time, through the act of sitting silently in prayer and asking God what I should do about this (instead of pleading with Him to do what I thought I needed to do), He let me know that I needed to give up my anger completely to Him. He helped me to see that controlling my anger, or changing any sinful behavior, is not fully within my power to do by myself. I need Him.
So, instead of praying, “God, help me to stop getting mad,” I now pray something more like, “God, please take this anger from my heart, and fill it with Your love and mercy. I surrender all of my anger to You, for without Your grace, I can do nothing.” It may seem like a subtle change, but it was huge for me, and the benefits of this have been many.
All of this occurred before Lent began, and I decided that my main resolution for Lent this year would be to give up all yelling at my kids. I was amazed at how the change in my prayer and thinking was helping me with this. I have certainly not been perfect (just a few days ago, I snapped at Sis about something), but I feel much more peaceful in general and have experienced great improvement.
Amazingly, my insights with this issue did not stop there.
About two weeks ago, I listened to a podcast of a conversation between Elizabeth Foss and Sarah Mackenzie that is part of the Repent and Restore program for Lent that Elizabeth offers. It was the first podcast from the program that I listened to, and I chose it because I really like Sarah Mackenzie. The podcast turned out to be the perfect complement to what I had already been learning and practicing through the idea of surrender.
First of all, in the podcast, Sarah and Elizabeth talked about the idea of surrendering to God’s will (it’s probably not a coincidence that I chose this particular podcast to listen to!). As part of this conversation, Sarah revealed that she needed to learn about letting go of her carefully laid plans and schedules for everything and realizing that, if these perfect plans get interrupted by something during her day, that she needs to understand that the interruption is where God wants her to be. And as such, she needs to remember to just be in the moment, surrender to what He is asking of her right then, and make the best of it, instead of getting all upset that things didn’t go the way she planned them to.
I absolutely love (and very much need) this perspective. The day after I listened to the podcast, I took all the kids to Mass by myself. As I struggled to keep Bubba in the pew as he squiggled in my arms or tried to crawl under the pew and up the steps to the altar (we were sitting in the front row), I was feeling distracted and frazzled and struggling to feel connected to the beauty of the Mass. Then out of the blue, the words from the podcast came back to me, and I realized that I could be so perfectly connected to God if I just realized that the beauty of that moment, of having my four beautiful kids in Mass to worship Him, of managing my 10-month-old who has been such a precious gift in my life, THAT was what I was supposed to be doing. That was what God wanted me to embrace, to accept, and to offer up to Him. So I did, and I had one of the most beautiful moments I have ever experienced in a Mass.
All because I let myself be where He wanted me instead of lamenting the fact that I was not having a calm, reverent, peaceful worship experience (which I’m not likely to have very often for the next few years!).
All of this, everything I have written about today, has come about, I believe, as the fruits of spending time a bit differently in prayer most mornings. I have been trying to spend at least a little bit of time just being silent and trying to listen to what God wants for and from me. Though I don’t always get an answer immediately, I do always get an answer. And the benefits of asking and listening have been incredible.
I am excited for Holy Week. This is the most intense and beautiful week of the year. Every year I learn and grow so much during this final week of Lent. I’m leaning into it with eager anticipation tonight and prayers for even greater union with my God. And I’m looking forward to continuing these practices and reaping the benefits long after the Easter celebrations.