I’m quite experienced at grown-up temper tantrums. I’ve thrown quite a few during my adult years. You’re probably surprised by that (if you know me personally) because my pity parties aren’t like lightning storms, loud for all to see. Mine happen mostly in the safety of my own head.
And I think I can guess this: you’re probably the same.
But I don’t want to throw tantrums, even tiny ones, and I’d imagine you don’t either. So last month, after a particularly un-pretty pity party, I tried to dig down to the root causes of my grown-up temper tantrums. (I hope what I learned can help you, too.)
I realized that when I spiral down into a beating-my-fists-on-the-floor (of my mind) pity party, my tantrum usually unfolds like this:
- My circumstances annoy me (could be as trivial as uncooperative weather, but usually the situation surrounds some specific goal I had in mind for another person’s response to me).
- The goal unmet, I consciously, or subconsciously, set out to manipulate the circumstances/punish the person. For after all, the world revolves around me.
- I don’t stop to ruthlessly question myself, but instead nurture (again, often subconsciously) the niggling thought that no one cares for me. Not even God:
“He really doesn’t care for me. He won’t come through for me. He doesn’t know what I need. Or maybe He knows, but He has different plans for me than I have for me. And I don’t like the unfolding of His plans.”
So I throw a tantrum. I snivel and moan. I set out to manipulate my surroundings and the people in those surroundings to get what I want.
And if God, by His Spirit, through fierce reminders by His word, doesn’t draw me back, I hurt the people around me. (But isn’t that the point of temper tantrums: that the people around us (dare I say it: even God?) must “pay” for not giving us what we want?)
On a regular day
This is how it might unfold: A day arrives and I give and give, loving people around me, serving wholeheartedly, honored to die to self for their sake. But then. In my mind, as a “this is enough!” point is reached, I begin to feel angry that I haven’t received enough acclaim or thanks for my self-sacrificial care. (Unlike God’s sketch for us of the excellent woman in Proverbs 31 who serves and serves, and then asks for no thanks. Or better yet: unlike Jesus who shed blood in His fight against sin, our sin, for us, unto death. (Heb. 12:3-8))
And here’s the ultimate point: No matter if thanks should have been given, or if I should have gotten my way, my desire for self-glory and my distrust of God’s good plans are at the root when I throw a grown-up tantrum. My self-pity reveals that I think of God as a mean taskmaster, not as the most wonderful Father, and that I think of myself as an orphan who must fend for herself in a mean world (I deserve to get my own way.) As the beloved of the Lord, though, I’m to hate all those wrong thoughts. I’m, instead, to admit that:
- The situation’s not the problem. My self-centered heart is.
- God doesn’t have to make it easier so that I can perform better. God may actually be making it harder so I’ll see the darkness my heart often defaults to: “I don’t like Your way, God. I don’t trust Your way, and I don’t trust You. I’ll do this my way, thank you!”
But the Lord’s so kind. When He shows me and convicts me of my sinful tantrum-throwing mindset, and I’m all undone, left in a puddle of exhaustion on a floor of escalating anger and pride, exhausted by my how dare the world not serve me better attitude, He gently says, “Come to Me, child.”
“Come. Climb into my arms. I know best. I love you beyond your wildest imaginings, and I’m here to help you. Turn to me, not away. Tell me your hurts and fears, and that you know you’ve been choosing wrong. Ask me to give you a repentant heart, and then speak words of repentance to me. Ask me to forgive you. Ask me to show you my love for you, and that you are not alone in a lonely battle. Ask me to create a clean heart within you. Confess and repent, not as some form of rote penance you must perform in order to pay for your sin; but because you need to re-know that I’m near and good, and that joy is found in relationship with me. Trust Me. I am on your side.”
And so, like a little child worn out from thrashing around on the lonely floor, I am quieted by the persistent and unfathomable love of the Father. I’m scooped up by His forgiving arms. I’m quieted by His words. He renews a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10).
And I then yearn to honor Him, not with a stoic or self-righteous or hunkered-down end to my temper tantrums, but with an every-moment reliance on His beautiful strength and love for me. For my strength and love for me throw me to the floor. But His strength and love rescue.
“My child, don’t make light of the Lord’s discipline, and don’t give up when he corrects you.
For the Lord disciplines those he loves…”