Yesterday morning I prayed that the people of Good Shepherd would have a “painful enlightenment” through the sermon.
I believe that prayer was answered.
Here’s what people needed to realize . . .
The people you GET mad at are not the ones you ARE mad at.
(Yes, I just finished a sentence with “at”; don’t worry about it. I know it’s wrong. You still know what I’m saying better than you would if I’d made it grammatically correct.)
The target of your tantrum is not the same as the object of your anger.
Bottom line: When you feel powerless, you take it out on the defenseless.
This message seemed to resonate with many, many people yesterday. I hope it provokes you to some deep thinking today.
Do you know what happens when something is deflected? When it is intended for one person and ends up with someone else? It happens all the time in sports – a tipped pass in football or basketball, a re-directed shot in soccer, an accidental goal in hockey. Like this:
(Immaculate Reception). It was meant for Frenchy Fuquay; it went to Franco Harris and the rest is four Super Bowls in six years history! It happens with packages. One time I ordered a shirt online and I got a dress instead. Which means, of course, that some lady somewhere is showing off her guns wearing my shirt! Meant for one, goes to another. It even makes me think of that country song from a generation ago where the singer is lamenting that he has lost his wife to another guy: “That’s my kids and that’s my wife Whose that man, runnin my life?” That’s how deflection does: things apparently meant for one person get re-directed towards someone else.
Things get deflected all the time. And nowhere is that more true than with Mad People Disease. It is just so true that the target of most of your tantrums is not the real source of your anger. The people you get mad at are not the ones you’re really mad at. It’s like this: hold up BROKEN RACKET (or video?) Back in the day, I did this dozens of times. Hit a double fault, lose a point, BAM, racket obliterated. There’s really an art to it, if you want to know the truth. But from the perspective of age & time, hello!, it wasn’t the racket’s fault. My anger was directed at me. Meant for ME; delivered to the racket. Or even that guy in Bellevue WA a few years ago who got his car stuck in 6 inches of snow and in response smashed all the windows with his tire iron and then pulled out a pistol to shoot all four tires. He sure showed that car! The police chief out there in WA called it a case of “autocide.” But you see the deflection, right? Meant for self, delivered to the now dead car. It’s deflection and it’s the way most of our anger gets expressed.
And most of the time, the victims of our deflected anger are more significant & vulnerable than inanimate objects like tennis rackets and cars. Look at Ephesians 6:4:
Fathers,[a] do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.
Fathers – though as you’re going to see, there’s plenty of room here for moms as well – do not exasperate. Do not provoke towards anger. Do you know how revolutionary these words were in the ancient world? In the Roman world in which Ephesians was written, there was a custom with new born children. They’d bring the newborn to the father & lay it at his feet. And if he stooped down to pick the baby up, he acknowledged the child had a right to live. If he turned and walked away, the child would be thrown away. Good God. We have an ancient letter from a soldier husband to his pregnant wife w/ these words: “When I get wages, I will send them to you. If you have a child and it is a boy, let it live; if it is a girl, throw it out.” Post-birth abortions! So in that setting, the idea that Paul & the NT regarded children as valuable & vulnerable is unprecedented.
But note again the instruction: don’t exasperate. Don’t make them angry. And how does that happen? How do you raise children who are angry? With our own anger! When you have anger in excess towards your kids, you raise children who have anger in returned but it must be REPRESSED. Because they have to. You’re big; they’re little. You’re strong; they’re weak. You have $ and they don’t. But mark my words: when they grow up, catch up, and can finally return what they’d long been repressing, whew! Watch out. You exasperated them then and now they’re returning the favor. Some of you have lived it, others are living it now, and still others are headed that way. And that’s what I want to prevent.
And I believe that the key to that is understanding what I spoke of a minute ago. Deflection. I think the heart of most anger that parents vent towards children – and even that spouses vent to each other – is deflected anger. It is meant for one person but it lands somewhere else. Because here is why Paul locates so much of his anger conversation around children, doing so in a world where it was expected that children would receive anger, disdain, and, as you could see, disposal. The inspired writer seems to be hinting at a different kind of diagnosis, one augmented by verses like Proverbs 14:28 & 15:1: READ.
Here’s what I believe is true, based on Scripture and on observation: most of the anger you express (excess!) to your kids is misdirected. It’s really intended for someone else, vented at them.
It was about ten yrs ago, right before we moved into this bldg, and I just had the worst week at week. Poorly executed decision at just the wrong time, big mess, dogs & cats living together. Anyway, early one morning that week I was taking my kids to catch a ride to school. In Steeleberry Acres subdivision. One of them said exactly the wrong thing and I stopped the car, put it in Park (that’s how you KNOW this is serious!) and just laid into them. I was ticked at my kids and I suspect it was loud enough the whole subdivision knew about. But you know what I realized? I wasn’t really mad at them; I was mad at church, at the situation, at my own dumb timing. I felt powerless to fix a situation here and as I took it out on my suddenly shivering kids they must have wondered, “Who took our dad and replaced him with an axe murderer?!” I was powerless to attack the source, so I assaulted the weakest ones available.
See, a lot of you feel powerless towards your boss. Towards your parents. Towards your past. Towards the hand life has dealt. But, really, people almost never lose their temper with their boss. You don’t get mad in a job interview. You don’t become angry on a first date w/ someone you want to impress. You don’t vent freely when you meet your prospective in-laws. When you meet famous people. All those folks have leverage over you. They are in a position of power. So even if you feel anger, it’s almost always much too dangerous to express it. So what happens in the wake of the powerlessness you feel? That night – or, in my case, that morning – you take it out on your kids. Your mate. Your elderly parents. The server at the restaurant. You substitute the defenseless for the powerful. Here’s the deal: When you feel powerless you take it on the defenseless. It’s deflected anger. And it is likely ruining your marriage, compromising your friendship, killing your kids.
Because be very sure of this: this kind of anger is generational. There is a cycle of excess – repress – excess. How many angry people do you know who, as it turns out, were raised in angry homes! This is especially true of dads — boys who are beaten grow up to become men who are to be feared. Does that sound familiar? Is there a parent or past you are powerless to change? Is there a figure in your life you are powerless to confront? Does it well up inside you and you’re realizing now that the anger you’re inflicting on vulnerable people is misdirected from a more deserving source.
So much like Jenny in Forrest Gump who comes upon the house she grew up. The house where her dad abused her:
Sometimes you need more rocks. You? Better a house than a kid. REFRAIN.
Someone here is powerless over your own compulsions. Whether towards gambling or drink or porn or shopping. And so you take it out by ranting on FB, venting at your family, alienating your friends. And you’re one of those people who is not so much angry at your boss or your parents but you’re angry at YOU. Yet instead of a tennis racket or a car you give to people you should love the most. Am I getting too close to home yet? When you feel powerless you take it on the defenseless.
And then someone else here is . . . angry at God. The prayers that went unanswered, the sickness that went unhealed, the marriage that went unrestored, the ministry that went unattended! But you’ve been fed the lie that you can’t question God or you can’t get angry at God and so you HAVEN’T. You’ve just deflected the frustration you feel at God – who could handle it – and directed towards your kids, that server, that call center worker – ppl who can’t. Do you know what God does with people who get mad at him? He puts them in the bible! Check out the book of Psalms! Full of people furious with God and yet trusting enough of God that they could vent freely and honestly. We need some modern day Psalm writers in this place. When you feel powerless you take it on the defenseless.
My prayer in all of this has been that lights would go on all across the room. Ah, this is what I do! Now I understand what’s going on when I lose it with the people I should love! So I’ve got some very practical things that I want to encourage all of you who have had that light go on to do.
Moms and dads: if your kids are in the home and you now know they’ve been subjected to deflected anger, they need to hear from you. In person. Not a note, not a call, in person. Acknowledge, repent, and begin restoring. In Christ, you can break the cycle of generational anger. That won’t happen by replacing SOMETHING with NOTHING. Instead, look at the end of Ephesians 6:4: READ. Wow. The best CM and YM in Charlotte needs to be in your living room before it’s ever in our Living Room! How much do our homes, our child rearing practices, need to be saturated with God’s truth and love! So that you teach your children to view all of life through the lens of the Gospel. Because if you don’t do that, the world will jump right in and pretty soon your kids will mimic the values of the Bachelorette & Naked Dating! When you vow to replace deflected anger with protected truth, then God will give you grace to saturate your kids lives with him.
And if you’re older, your kids are gone, and you, in a moment of clarity see what you did in years gone by, you may not be able to recover lost time, but you can begin to restore a broken relationship. NOT DIGITALLY. It’s the call, it’s the visit, it’s the gospel grace & courage to say, “I was mad at _________ and I inflicted it on you because you were available. I’m sorry.” You can’t believe how helpful that language is. If you were a victim of what I’m talking about, receive it well.
And then, regarding the one who is the honest object of your ire – boss, parent, God, past – so many of those you can’t REALLY vent. I don’t want a whole slew of suddenly unemployed ppl at GS because of this sermon! But I do want to invite you to understand and live into the difference between being assertive & aggressive. Enormous differences. In those leveraged relationships where you don’t have the power, you can still be assertive. In pre-marital counseling, we have something called a Wish List. All you do: what are three things you’d like more of and less of in your relationship. Not threatening, not accusatory, not conditional, not aggressive. Just assertive. Calm, measured, productive.
Instead of deflecting the anger you feel on the easiest target, how about harnessing your rage into the wisdom of a Wish List. Assertion without aggression. Wouldn’t it be great, wouldn’t it be marvelous if the generations to come at GSUMC were free of people carrying the scar tissue of deflected anger?