I'M FLIPPING THROUGH my phone in Target, and glance over at my son. He doesn't want to leave and has been lying facedown and noncompliant on the floor for about five minutes.
I straighten my back, pull up Instagram, and take a picture. Despite the circumstances, it's a humorous shot of my otherwise gentle and quiet son as he lies spread-eagle in an aisle. I look up to see a woman sinking into the products, quietly observing this standoff between parent and toddler. We share a short, sympathetic glance.
Mulling over how to write the caption for my picture, I decide on #babyplanking #lifeishard #longtimenoliedown. I post it and wait some more.
There is purpose in anger, a telling truth to it. My son was angry that we were done shopping and strongly desired to stay in the wonderland that is Target. Through his tantrum, he was expressing himself the only way he knew how. I realize through my three wonderful children that perhaps God, in His infinite wisdom, created anger to allow us to know what we want. The greater the anger, the greater the desire in our hearts.
Yet when we've watched that parent in a market trying to calm a reactive child or been the parent trying to maintain composure, it's easier to assume that something must be wrong when someone is angry. We first see the anger rather than the desire it communicates.
It's easier to assume that something must be wrong when someone is angry. We first see the anger rather than the desire it communicates.
We've winced as we experienced little ones toe the depth of their emotion and range of vocal chords through the form of tantrums or emotional outbursts. We've judged the way the parents react — or choose not to react — in how they speak to their child and how they address the situation.
As a father, I am well-versed in this habitual display of noncompliance in my young children; I have been the embarrassed and exasperated parent chasing after every thread of sanity as it unravels in front of strangers. And I have the camera roll to prove it.
Anger is expected of children who are just learning to control their emotions. Yet growing up in the Asian American culture, I never learned to value anger — I thought it was an emotion that should be hidden, repressed, or always controlled.
After a lifetime of conditioning and muzzling my own anger, as an adult, I sometimes feel like I don't know what I want. I don't know what I stand for. I don't know what I should be bothered by, let alone get impassioned about. If I can't get angry, is there anything I truly want? I almost envy people who are able to post about their anger on Facebook.
It took having children who were unashamed about demanding what they want to do for me to learn that anger is not a bad thing. Anger gets to the heart of who we really are and what we value.
Anger gets to the heart of who we really are and what we value.
While it looks like I am doing nothing to calm my child in aisle 19, on the floor in Barnes & Noble, or on the sidewalk, I am actually actively communicating with him. With anger, he's communicating to me that he desires something. And with my silence and lack of response, I'm showing him that anger is not how he's going to get his way.
As I wait out my children when they resort to lying on public, dirty floors when they don't get their way, I imagine if this is how God feels sometimes.
How often do we throw our hearts to the wind and cry out in anguish when things don't go the way we want, or when we don't get something we know God is able to give us? Children, and frankly even adults, have yet to learn what waiting for something entails.
I think about my eldest son when he lies facedown on the ground in anger, pleading to me with the same question over and over again. All he can fathom is the present, and presently, I am withholding something he wants, which must mean I don't want to give it to him. But, why can't I give this to him when I certainly have the power to do so? Don't I love him?
Anger is relational. Many times, it's a reaction to when you feel someone has wronged you. It is the visceral expression to our wanting something in the context of a relationship. So when that desire is not met — when instead we must wait — love is called into question.
I, too, have prayed the same prayer again and again, wondering why God doesn't see that I'm asking for a good thing. I have cried when I am granted the same result, the same silence. Maybe sometimes He waits us out, just as I wait out my children, because He, too, has a desire for us and it's something more than what I have in mind. Perhaps He is teaching us to trust that He loves us, whether He gives or not.
As a father, I wait, because rather than giving my child what he wants in the immediate, fleeting moment, I am letting my child come to the realization that I still love him whether I buy him a toy or not. My love for him cannot be shown simply by gift-giving or extended TV time.
As a father, I wait, because rather than giving my child what he wants in the immediate, fleeting moment, I am letting my child come to the realization that I still love him whether I buy him a toy or not.
I love him enough to be patient with him; to show that withholding something is also an act of love — that all things I do are out of love for him in order for him to learn character, obedience, and effective communication. I wait because I love him.
However, in rare instances, I do give him what he cries out for — because to be honest, it breaks my heart. Of course I want to give him good things and make him happy! And there are times I give in because I believe it is important to encourage him to desire things and to express it — especially since I understand what happens when anger is stifled completely: You lose touch with what you want.
I understand what happens when anger is stifled completely: You lose touch with what you want.
Because anger points to deep desires being unmet, perhaps God created anger to give us the emotional energy to take action, to channel that energy into creating a world that He has always desired.
I've discovered how each of my children express their emotions and desires, and I've learned throughout the years — albeit through trial by fire — that their unique expressions and reasons for anger help me get to know who they are. Anger is honest, because it reveals the heart of who we are and what we value.
Back in the toy aisle of Target, my son, still on the floor, reaches out to me. I breathe out and peel him off the ground to hold him close to my chest. "I love you," I whisper into his ears. His arms and legs tighten around my body. His little body fits perfectly in my arms. "I love you so much," I say again and again.