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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

4 Times When We are Most Likely to Lose Our Cool and What to Do About It

When was the last time you got angry?

For me, it was last week.

I got home from an allergist appointment. They poked me ten times with different sticks (that was fun), and I sat there not itching as I watched the bubble on my skin grow. If you've had one of these tests, you know what I mean.

For 30 minutes, I tried to distract myself from thinking about itching, but every time I looked down at my arm, these bubbles are growing bigger and bigger. And, all I want to do is scratch, just a little bit. Just once or twice and I'd feel better. Then, finally, I made it.

I left the allergist and came home. I beat the boys home by a few minutes and then we were all together for the rest of the night.

No games. No practices. No meetings.

Right after dinner, about 6, I got this crazy headache. I don't usually get them like that, but I felt this pressure pounding on the back of my eyes.

Ethan left the dinner table and was complaining about having to finish his homework.

"Ethan, you have to bring your plate to the sink before you leave the table. You know that."

"But, I have to do my homework." He was not happy.

"Plate first, then your homework. NOW!"

I had been doing well about controlling my temper and hadn't raised my voice like this in weeks, so I got his attention, but he was visibly upset.

He brought the plate to the sink where I was loading the dishwasher, my head still pounding.

"You have to scrape it off first." I held out the plate to him. I could feel the anger rising in me. My heartbeat rising, my eyes pounding.

"I have to do my homework!" He went to his backpack, got out his homework and proceeded to walk right past the outstretched plate.

He was not going to ignore me, disrespect me. I wanted to get those dishes done, go sit down, and close my eyes. The Advil I took didn't touch the pain. Ahhh! I couldn't think straight.

I grabbed him by the back of his sweatshirt, and shoved the plate at him.

"Scrape it off now! Then do your homework."

"OKAY! Jeez!" He did it and I went back to the sink feeling like a complete idiot. All this work on controlling my anger, being patient, talking and not yelling, I thought I might be wasting my time. I will always struggle with anger. Who am I kidding?

My analysis was still clouded by my guilt and shame and the adrenaline still rushing through my body. As I look back now, I can see things more clearly. Maybe you picked up on some of the clues too.

First, I had used up a lot of my self-control at the allergist. It took so much out of me to just sit there and not itch. Self control is like a muscle and when we use it up, it is all used up.

After exerting self control in one area, we can't put ourselves in another situation where we will need a lot of self control and expect to behave well. I should have known.

Second, I was in pain. When we are in pain, physical or emotional, we enter into somewhat of a survival mode. We are more likely to jump straight to "fight or flight" mode without much provocation.

Third, I was working hard to finish a task so that I could go and hopefully get some relief from the pain. I felt an urgency that didn't really exist. I could have simply told Rachel, my wife, about my pain and left the dishes. Ethan was the barrier, I thought. He was frustrating me, blocking me from reaching my goal. Frustration can easily lead to anger and in this case, it led to anger very quickly.

Fourth, I was thinking and trying to analyze the situation in my head. I was talking to myself, defending myself and blaming Ethan. I reasoned that I was the one working hard on the dishes, and he was the one complaining about his homework and having to bring his dish to the sink. I was right, and he was wrong. I was good, and he was bad. I had to act! I chose to act based on adrenaline fueled incomplete thinking.

Fifth, I acted, and immediately felt guilt and shame. I knew that I was right! But, it didn't matter. I felt horrible. I was wrong.

In the course of a couple of minutes, I went from feeling pain, to feeling frustration, to feeling anger, to feeling justified, to feeling shame.

4 Times When We are Most Likely to Lose Our Cool and What to Do About It

What we do when we feel Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired (HALT) can make or break our day.

It can determine whether we feel good about ourselves or feel guilt and shame.

If we behave badly in these circumstances, we can either choose to blame others and further isolate ourselves or looking in the mirror, we can blame ourselves and begin to lose love and respect for ourselves.

When that happens we can do all kinds of self-destructive things. You know which are tempting for you. But, instead of trying to deal with the symptoms, we need to face the disease.

What do we do when we feel hungry, angry, lonely and tired?

The Path

Ask for Help. Ask God for help and then ask people for help. If you believe that God wants you to change, then ask for His help, pray that His will is done in your life. He always answers that prayer. Then it is just up to us to listen and obey.

God will often use people to help us. I asked Rachel for help. Rachel has been a patient, gracious support throughout our life together. I also found a counselor who believed in me, listened to me, and counseled me with wisdom and grace. I have had a number of accountability partners that God used at different times to help me face different sins, to overcome challenges in life and ministry and to encourage me toward some specific goals. God has used each person in different ways to help me move forward. The key in all of these relationships is grace.

Know Yourself. Know your weakness. Pretending to be strong doesn't help any more than pretending to be weak does. Accept your weakness. When are you most likely to feel Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired? Don't be afraid to say, "I can't do that." This was incredibly hard for me to admit in the past. If I can physically stand, than I can do what you are asking me to do. It was hard for me to admit that I was too weak to do something if the weakness was emotional or spiritual. Face it. Admit it to yourself and then...

Set Helpful Boundaries. Know yourself and set up boundaries that will help you live from strength to strength. Good boundaries are crucial to a healthy life. Knowing my weaknesses allows me to know what boundaries I need. For me, there is no need to lock up the wine cellar when I am around, but you might want to hide the remote! I can't stand the taste of alcohol, but I could waste hours watching TV without caring what I was watching.

Here are some boundaries that I set up in my life, that have helped me at different times:
 - Make time to be with my wife, every day to catch up and make sure we are on the same page, every week to face any issues that have arisen or might be coming soon, every month to make sure we are on track with our goals for the year and for life, and every year to do an inventory of our marriage, our family, and ministry together.
- When I am angry, I give myself a time out.
- When I feel lonely, I run to my wife not away from her.
- I take time to understand how I feel, not just what I think.
- Go to bed by 10 or 10:30, so that I can wake up before the kids and have some time to pray and read and listen to God. I need to get back to this one!
- Use an accountability program that sends every website I view to my wife or some other accountability partner. I use Covenant Eyes, (which is also a great tool for parents to talk about and use with their children).
- Limit the number of nights I spend away from home.
- Cook, eat and clean up after meals together as a family as much as possible.
- Vacation together as a family and as a couple.
[I discuss this more personally in Confessions of a Pastor, Part 2.]
Solve the Real Problem.

Hungry? Eat something. When you realize that you are hungry and that that hunger is causing you to act in unhealthy ways, eat something. Choose something healthy, but eat something.

Angry? Deal with the underlying cause. [Here's a link to my blog about what usually leads to our Anger, so we can get to the source of it.]

Lonely? Phone a friend. Spend time with a safe person who consistently extends grace to you. If you feel like you have no one, go to God. First let him be your friend, then let him speak to you about being a good friend to others, and then ask him to point you in a direction for making friends.

Tired? Go to sleep. We have had productivity engrained in us since we were kids. The early bird gets the worm, and all that. Work hard, play hard. YOLO. Just Do It. It is never ending. We will never accomplish all that we want to do if we don't get rest. God wants us to work hard and to enjoy life, but he also knew that we need a Sabbath day of rest. Good night!

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