My son came home from work loaded for bear. He had cause. His boss had suddenly flown out of the country at word that his father was dying and had left my son in charge of the business—this newly hired tile mechanic’s main qualification being that he’s the only person in the company who speaks fluent English. Payday was here, the boss wasn’t answering his phone, there was a mutiny afoot, there was no money for gas in the trucks—and then things started getting bad.
There was no calming my son. He demonstrated to me unequivocally that his flamboyant exasperation was quite out of his control.
I decided it would not be the wisest course at this moment to introduce a lecture on anger and the use of certain words by Christians and would simply play the part of the compassionate mother. At the same time, I noticed an interesting phenomenon: When the phone finally rang, and it was his boss, my son was able to change his tone and language on a dime. This, even in spite of the fact that during this phone conversation he was laboring with great difficulty to express himself to an employer whose English was just embryonic enough to make him miss important nuances of a sentence on which hinge the entire meaning (like the negative adverb “not”).
My son and his boss hung up and we flew to the bank, and again the multi-colored, emotion-laden verbal expressions of displeasure flew all the way down the road. But suddenly the boss called again, and again my son’s demeanor was instantly quieted and respectful. Moreover, another phone call, from one of the employees whom my son likes, provided me with yet another pleasant intermission from the histrionics of the evening.
All of which seemed to hold a lesson about self-control: Sometimes we contend that we have been made so angry and undone by circumstances that we can certainly not be expected to act with any self-control over what comes out of our mouths. But the true test of that proposition turns out to be something as simple as a sudden phone interruption. If we are able to muster the wherewithal to harness our affections for a five-minute encounter with someone before whom we prefer not to be seen in a state of psychological disarray, then we are able to muster the same wherewithal without the aid of that phone call.
That is to say, the classic justification of “I couldn’t help myself” is easily exposed for the specious excuse it is. I suspect we will not be able to use it before God.