I once attended a weekend retreat at a Christian Camp. While we were meeting in small groups, a woman tearfully shared that she had received cards from people talking about what a good person she was and how nice she was. She felt ashamed because she didn’t feel that “nice” inside. She admitted attitudes that were far from being “good”. I could really relate to her that day. Over the years I have come to almost hate the word “nice”. For years that was how people described me: “Such a nice girl.” Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a wonderful thing to be nice. My problem was that I knew that their perception of me and what was going on in my heart didn’t match up at times. Especially when I went through that year or so of chronic anger toward my kids, I felt terribly guilty when someone said that I was “nice” because I knew that if they could see how I acted at home during my worst moments they wouldn’t use that word to describe me. My personality is such that I tend to overthink things and I get hyper-critical of myself at times. Even though I probably was nice most of the time (even at home with the kids) I would focus on those isolated times of great anger and would conclude that I was totally evil and deserved to suffer for my angry attitude. This brought on guilt, shame, anxiety, etc. and the cycle would continue until I began to think better thoughts and could feel happy and hopeful again.
Whenever I’ve thought of that lady from the retreat, my mind poses the question, “Are you becoming as nice as people think you are?” I’ve asked myself that question many times since then, too. Sometimes I can answer “Yes!” and then on some bad days it would have to be a definite “No.” The key, I believe, to truly becoming “nice” is to make sure you are continually examining your heart.
God has been bringing this concept into my life over and over again in the last month or so. I have read Shepherding A Child’s Heart by Tedd Tripp. This book is an excellent resource for training your children. The main idea is that the heart determines behavior, so we need to work on heart issues with our kids – not just deal with the misbehaviors we see. Another superb resource I’ve read is The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo. Although this is geared toward dealing with your child’s anger, he recommends reading it once for yourself if you have an anger problem and then again in order to deal with your child’s anger. This author also focuses on the “heart” problem behind anger. I like the analogy he makes about the “Biblical Pitcher of the Heart” (p. 92). He points out that only what is inside of a pitcher can pour out of it, whether that be water, milk, gasoline, or poison. In the same way our mouths “pour out” whatever is inside our hearts, whether that be foolishness, deceit, anger, wisdom, virtue, or faith.
Luke 6:45 says, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
Last Saturday morning I opened my Bible “just anywhere” to read and my eyes fell on Ephesians 4:17. As I read to the end of the chapter I was amazed to see that God was speaking directly to me once again as I came across things like “In your anger do not sin…let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouth…Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger…be kind and compassionate to one another….” Yes, I had been falling back into old habits again and feeling mighty crabby with the kids too often. Since Saturday, I have come across references to Ephesians 4 in several other places…church on Sunday, small group on Tuesday morning, and a devotional after dinner one day. It is awesome how God just keeps pointing out things he wants us to be working on! I also heard this verse one day: Psalm 66:18 – “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened;” That was such a scary thought to me, because I think sometimes we get into the habit of having a “favorite sin” which we say we’re sorry for with our lips, but we actually have no desire to change it in our hearts. For some people that might be anger, for others it may be gluttony, laziness, pride, lust, or unforgiveness. You really can’t tell just by looking at someone. Only that person and God knows what is hidden in that person’s heart. The one thing that is assured is that it will come out eventually! If I can admit my struggles to you again, I need to share that in the last couple of years I’ve noticed a difference in my feelings after I become angry. During that terrible year or so of anger, I was very broken and upset about how angry I felt. I confessed it and worked to find solutions to the problem. Since I “overcame” that problem, in the years since then I’ve only dealt with anger from time to time and I work through it much more quickly. However, I can grudgingly admit that many times I haven’t been as bothered by my anger as I used to be. I say “I’m sorry” to my kids or Gary, but my heart isn’t really broken by the sin. In my heart, I’m stubbornly saying, “It’s not as bad as it was…I’m dealing with this…I have a web site to help other moms so I must be OK.” Isn’t that “nice”? Basically, I was “cherishing sin in my heart” when I did that. I’m glad that God has been showing me how important it is to work on my heart lately. In the area of anger, as well as other sins, I hope we’ll all work on storing up good things in our hearts so that that is what will overflow.
“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” Proverbs 4:23
© Robyn Mulder 2000, therobynsnest.org