Why it’s the little things in life that make us mad
I’m not exactly the world’s greatest whizz when it comes to cars. I can do some pretty stupid things while driving.
One time I was driving in Toronto with a good friend called Ruth. We were driving along chatting away when I stopped at the red light at a busy intersection.
I noticed the guy in the next car over waving at us through the window. He was quite cute admittedly but seriously, trying to flirt with us at a set of lights? Tacky. We’re English; totally above that kind of thing – flattering through it may be. So we refused to make eye contact with the amorous young pup.
But out of the corner of my eye I could see him still waving, now quite frantically and pointing at my car. I rolled my window down. His chat up line was “You’ve got smoke pouring out of your car.”
My car was on fire.
As soon as the lights changed I pulled over into the nearest Loblaws parking lot, and Ruth and I leapt out and backed away screaming from the car. Luckily it didn’t burst into a ball of fire. Turns out I’d been driving with my handbrake on for about ten minutes and hadn’t noticed the smoke pouring out from the tyres.
So much for our allure with the opposite sex.
No smoke without fire
The truth is we’re not very good at reading smoke signals when it comes to dealing with our emotions either. We get fixated on the smoke and don’t look under the bonnet to see there’s a fire raging away in there.
This morning I went into town specifically to go to one particular shop to cash in my McDonalds’ money-off voucher on a Spongebob Squarepants book. It’s my eldest daughter’s birthday soon and she wants anything Spongebobbian, so I thought this would be a win win situation.
I looked under Educational Books, Yellow Books and Square Books With Pants On but I couldn’t find the Spongebob books anywhere. Being an assertive soul I decided to ask the manager of the store where they were.
“Sold out.” she said, clearly irritated at the interruption. “You should go to another shop that isn’t so close to a McDonalds. They’ve all gone.”
Well that told me didn’t it.
Imagine expecting to find an advertised book in the only brand of store running the offer! How ludicrous of me.
She was rather rude and I was this close (…) to giving her a piece of my mind. (And I can’t spare that much.) I didn’t, but I felt the urge to trounce out of the shop and refuse to spend any money there. That’d show her.
Luckily I’ve had a few quiet moments since then to sit down with Father. He’s lovely isn’t he? He just wanted to sit there and hold my hand for a bit.
It came to mind then, my shop rage moment, and I suddenly saw it for what it was. Smoke. Lots of smoke signals rising up from my brain to the ceiling.
It was so tempting to pick a fight with that woman who I didn’t know because it’s safer to pick on stranger than admit what I’m really angry about.
The store situation was smoke. My heart was where the fire is. As I pondered on, (holding Father’s hand is very conductive to pondering) I realised “Huh, I must be angry about something. Somewhere in my life I feel powerless. So I wanted to pick on someone. Someone who couldn’t really hurt me because we don’t have a relationship.
I realised there’s a work situation where I feel powerless to speak up, and that’s started a little bonfire in my heart. I only realised when a complete stranger drove up along side me and pointed out the smoke.
Confrontation risks relationship
This is where TV shows are so brilliantly unlike real life. In soaps, characters can’t last two minutes without confronting each other. All they ever do is walk around picking fights and telling it like it is. Makes for fireworks in a drama.
In real life, I find we’re rather more slippery than in soaps. No-one wants to offend anyone else. We’re all too worried about rocking the boat to point out that our friend is emotionally smothering her daughter, or drinking too much, or being obsessive compulsive about cleaning. Even though actually if we could do it in love, it would be kinder to say something than turn a blind eye.
Confronting people we love and have relationship with is scary because it carries a risk. If we speak up they might reject us or misunderstand our intentions. So we bottle up our feelings of anxiety and anger.
And they come out in road rage or shop rage or political rage or facebook rage where we rant on about the strangers who’ve put specks of dust in our eyes. All because we can’t face up to the logs we’ve got wedged in there. Getting a splinter that size out of your eye – that’s gonna hurt.
That volcano’s gonna blow and take out an entire town
God designed us to get angry. Anger is the smoke that tells us there’s a fire-a-raging somewhere deep inside where we don’t want to acknowledge it. Anger tells us our boundaries have been crossed. Anger tells us we’re feeling hurt or scared. The trick is to not fire off the anger at an innocent bystander (“in your anger do not sin” Eph. 4:26 NIV)
Bottling up anger and ignoring it is a short-term strategy. That volcano’s gonna blow and take out an entire town if we don’t deal with it sooner rather than later. If we wait too long to talk to a colleague or a friend or partner about what’s bothering us, it becomes really hard to do it well. The anger bleeds through and we finally raise the issue when we lose our tempers. And that’s not going to go well.
A full-on intervention with loud hailers and dancing girls
I’ve been reading ‘Beautiful Outlaw’ by John Eldredge and in one chapter he talks about how brilliant Jesus was at confrontation. He wasn’t worried about what people thought of him (fear of man), he always spoke the truth in love. Sometimes that was a friendly rebuke, “Martha, Martha you are worried and upset about so many things. But only one thing is needed.” Sometimes it was a real Soap Opera moment – like when he called the Pharisees sons of Hell and a brood of snakes and vipers.
Jesus knew that some people would respond to a gentle confrontation and others needed a full-on intervention with loud hailers and dancing girls to get their attention.
You’ve got a bushel of broccoli stuck in your teeth
I’ve been convicted by what I’ve read because I have major people-pleasing tendencies and I hate the thought of losing a friend or a business contact because I spoke up. But I can also see that I need to listen to my God-given emotions because they are intelligent.
And I do want to be the kind of loving, honest friend who will tell you when you’ve got a bushel of broccoli stuck in your teeth or a train of toilet paper flowing out of the back of your tights.
So there’s something else I’m talking to Jesus about. How to confront in love. It’s a bit scary to be honest.
But better than taking my anger out on a Store Manager because I can’t get my free book about a talking sponge who lives in a pineapple under the sea.