I found my anger in a broken drawer
Do I get a pass because no creature can awaken anger and frustration like a 14 year old boy? We homeschool. My dear wife had taken the primary mantle of responsibility for this calling until they reached high-school. At that point she passed the baton to me. I thought I was prepared. She’d managed it so effortlessly, so I entered the gauntlet like a well intentioned fool. I did everything wrong. I planned to cover too much and chose content too advanced for a freshman high school student. Any spectator could have seen the warning signs like grey storm clouds barreling toward our homeschool room.
I really was dumb. It was the first writing assignment, a five paragraph essay, the first my son had ever attempted. This was going to be on a really easy subject, “Reconcile man’s freedom and God’s sovereignty.” Some of you reading this understand those words and are already shaking your heads in appropriate judgment regarding my foolishness. The rest of you are scratching your heads understandably, because the assignment is more appropriate to graduate level seminarians than freshmen just wetting their feet in high school.
But I was prideful, ignorant, and determined; a deadly cocktail. The first deliverable seemed easy to me, a simple outline of his paper, and I was resolute that my students would deliver on time. But a week into the project it was time for the outline to be handed in and Josh was nowhere near completing it. He’d tried. He’d stressed. And he was now sitting at his little wooden desk at 11pm at night, with red, tired, eyes. I’d been trying to help him for hours and had worked myself into a simmering pot of frustration as a sat on my haunches to the left of him.
“Something is wrong with this boys brain!” I thought. All my help and brilliant lines of reasoning didn’t seem to be making any sense to him and we were making no progress. I tried simplifying my requests. “I’m no longer asking for original thoughts at this point.” I said with unmasked impatience. “I simply want you to write down what I say.” The “simply” carried those verbal barbs parents so naturally place on that word to subtly but clearly drive home just how ignorant a person would have to be not to get this right?
All of the frustration that had been building the whole evening suddenly burst out of me in one swift motion.
“Even a trained monkey can mimic. Surely my son can write down a simple dictation”, I thought as I proceeded to give him a short sentence to write. That’s when he responded with a weak voiced, “I can’t, Dad … I can’t!”. It became clear to my ungracious heart that the problem with this boy wasn’t his brain, it was his heart. “This was rebellion!” I inaccurately concluded in a rush of indignation. I hate rebellion. So all of the frustration that had been building the whole evening suddenly burst out of me in one swift motion.
You see, I had recently joined my kids in their Taekwondo class and had learned how to properly punch. Apparently I forgot the part of our oath that said, “I will build a more peaceful world.”
Before I tell you what I did it’s important that you know that I hate violence. I don’t even like yelling. I’d seen and heard enough of that growing up. Nothing like this had ever happened before. But in a stew of frustration of my own creation, without thinking, and with no possible justification, I wound up a perfectly executed punch that thoroughly shattered the drawer at the bottom of the desk.
Even as I was drawing my hand out of the newly created cavity, I was horrified. Frustration immediately dissolved into embarrassment and regret. I looked up at my son and after a long and uncomfortable silence I took a deep breath and said slowly, “That was a really bad example wasn’t it?” By this time tears slipped down Josh’s face and he simply responded, “Yeah … it was.”
With as much authority as a dog caught peeing on the carpet I quietly told Josh he could go to bed (which I should have told him hours before). As he got up to leave I said, “Tomorrow we’ll have an impromptu woodshop and I’ll teach you how to repair a desk drawer.”
I entered into parenting with a deep conviction of my own patience. God used a desk drawer to show me just how deep my anger was buried, an anger born out of a desire to have things go my way and to not have my expectations transgressed. I’m thankful for that experience now. In fact, Josh is now 18 and we often tell the story and genuinely laugh at my folly. He forgave me. And through my weakness we were reminded that we all need Jesus. Like that drawer, I’m a broken man in need of my own repair. I’m not Josh’s savior. That role belongs to a better man, and a better worker of wood, than Dave Gregg could ever hope to be.