Sunday, November 16, 2008

"I Just Snapped!"

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -- Viktor E. Frankl

We had quite a moment at our house a couple months back.

I don't recall exactly what was going on, but our then-19-month old son wanted to do or get something that just wasn't going to work at that moment, so the answer to his request was "No", or "Later", or something to that effect.

Unfortunately, little Jonathan wasn't at all pleased with this response, and let it show by falling to the floor and wailing to the heavens, in hopes that someone, somewhere would care enough to intervene on his behalf. This display didn't work as he hoped it would; in fact, it only cemented the "No" from his original request.

There's nothing out of the ordinary here. Every household with children has been blessed with scenes just like this one.

But, to the close observer, there was something highly instructive to be found in one slight detail of Jonathan's tantrum.

At the precise moment Jonathan received the bad news that buckled his knees, he and I were standing on the hard tile floor of our home's entryway, but only a foot or two away from the nice, soft carpet of the living room.

Looking at the replay in slow motion: When Jonathan took the "No" response, and "lost" control, he bent forward at the waist to begin his "uncontrolled" freefall. Just before crossing the point of no return, he paused, took a full step to his right to position himself within range of the carpet, and then resumed his fall, landing safely away from the tile, where his fit could continue, injury-free.

I'm not sure what my familiarity with this maneuver says about me, but I did recognize it right away:

*Making a statement, but making sure it won't hurt.

*Carefully controlling the "loss" of control.

*Trying to have it both ways.

In Galatians 5:19-21, Paul lists several behaviors that characterize the lifestyle of those living according to the flesh rather than the Spirit. Listed among these sins are "outbursts of wrath", or "fits of rage". While Paul's list includes many items that most of us would know only in the abstract, such as murder, witchcraft, and orgies, his mention of uncontrolled anger hits a lot of us pretty close to home.

And, as common as this problem is, there is an excuse for it that is every bit as prevalent: "I don't know what happened. I just snapped!"

Without judging the sincerity of anyone's apology, there lies within this statement an attempt to refuse responsibility for one's actions. If I did indeed just "snap", then I didn't really choose to do whatever it was I did. And, while I can then be sorry that it happened, or sorry for how someone took it, it's not really the same as saying, yes, I did it, I chose to do it, I was wrong, and I'm sorry. The difference is subtle, and many don't even perceive it. But, it's an important difference.

It's so easy to claim a loss of control. So easy to say, "I just snapped!"

But, really, now. Come on.

Have you ever...

*Cursed at your boss?

*Yelled at your spouse in a crowded restaurant?

*Berated your child in front of his teacher?

*Thrown a fit in your front yard?

*Peeled out of your own driveway?

*Knocked over a grocery basket on your way out of the store?

I'm guessing you answered "No" to all these questions, and either laughed at them, or found them offensive. And, why wouldn't you ever do these things, besides the fact that they're just wrong? Because you know full well that doing so would be very risky for you. You would probably get hurt. There would be painful consequences that you would very much like to avoid.

So, somehow, some way, even in the face of serious provocation, we all dig down deep and find the patience and self-control needed to avoid these risky behaviors. Somehow, with this much at stake, we manage never to "snap".

But, then, there are other times, when the immediate risk doesn't seem so great. Times when our sense of entitlement outweighs our good judgment and our love:

*An athlete, coach, or fan disagrees with an official's call.

*One driver doesn't like the actions of another.

*A wife hears the beginning of the same old excuse from her husband.

*A husband hears the beginning of the same old criticism from his wife.

*A child hears the beginning of the same old correction from a parent.

*A parent hears the beginning of the same old nonsense from a child.

*The TV remote has vanished.

*Someone forgot to buy more sodas.

*The toilet seat was left in the wrong position again.

And, there are yet other times when we bottle up our anger in public, only to shake the bottle and pop the cork once safely behind the closed doors of home, not unlike little Jonathan carefully targeting the safest place to fall while "helplessly" losing control.

Is this really the best we can do?

That's actually the wrong question. The question should be: "Is this the conduct of people who have the Spirit of God in them?"

Paul, in the same passage in Galatians, describes the result of being Spirit-filled. He uses the analogy of fruit that grows by the power of God. The fruit, or result, of being filled with His Spirit will take many forms, including patience and self-control, the very opposite of the fits of rage so common to the sinful nature.

A person who would truly "snap" and act without control would do so in any situation, regardless of the risk.

People like that do exist, but it's not likely that you're one of them.

1 comment:

Grandma Pecos said...

Very good discussion David. Very thought provoking. Thanks for making this so crystal clear. I must say though, that the story about Jonathan is very funny. But, of course, it wouldn't be if it had been you or me. It's sad that some parents give in to their children after behavior like this. Thanks for loving him enough to say no.