What Should a Christian Do When We Lose Our Cool?

“In your anger do not sin”

See Ephesians 4:26


My daughter Grace really wants to get better at basketball. So after her 8th grade season was over I told her, “I know a great way for you to improve your game, but it will be very difficult. You can start playing full court pick-up games with us at the Civic Center.”

I’ve been playing full court ball for about 20 years with other men, two or three times a week at our local gym. It’s great cardio, it’s fun, and the competition is normally pretty good. Girls don’t play with us–not because they’re not allowed, but they just don’t. And kids definitely don’t play with us.

Grace is an 8th grade girl.

These are adults, this is fast paced, and they won’t go easy on her. I made this clear, but she was excited to get to start playing with us. After all, there’s no better way to improve your skills than to play against better players. Drills are important but can only take you so far. You need to play to improve. So over the past few months we’ve gone to the Civic Center two to three times a week to run with the guys for a couple hours. I really enjoy this time with Grace, not just for basketball, but the quality time we get to spend together is special.

Because I’ve been playing there for so long I know most of the guys very well, so they’ve said nothing about Grace joining us and have accepted her as just another player. Grace has a great shot and good mind for basketball, but she knows that if she plays against much higher competition–than the kids she’s been playing against–she’ll develop and advance in all other aspects as well.

It has worked. I’ve noticed Grace’s skills and confidence improve by leaps and bounds. She’s even hit some game-winning shots. The ride home on those nights were filled with a giddy teenager. She’s having fun, feeling respected by the guys, and it’s one of the highlights of her week (and mine).

Now, I’m very protective of Grace. I always have been. So I had to have a conversation with God about her playing with us before this new type of training began. Playing with men who scream, curse a lot, blame one another, and sometimes shouting matches break out–I knew I’d have to stay calm when this was eventually directed at her.

I told Grace, “Nobody’s allowed to disrespect you as a female or as a person, but there will be times you get yelled at. Don’t take it personally. Just listen to what they are complaining about and try to adjust your game. Help out on defense, take good shots, and don’t make bad passes.”

“I know Dad.”

“If someone blocks you tell them ‘good defense,’ don’t say, ‘Good job blocking a girl.’ Show respect and don’t make excuses. Hustle, and don’t overreact.”

In a way, I was telling myself the same. “Don’t overreact when someone fouls Grace, roughs her up, or yells at her.” This happens a lot, and I’ve had to walk way. I’ve kept my cool and not played Grace’s bodyguard…until last week.

The gym was packed with about 25 men playing. If you won, you got to stay on the court. If you lost, you’d be sitting a while. So nobody wanted to lose. The score was tied and next basket wins. Grace was on my team, and long story short, she should have helped on her man screening the ball better, because the game-winning shot was hit when she didn’t help. This enraged the guy who got screened on our team, and I get it, but he took it too far.

As we were walking off the court he yelled about Grace not helping. That’s fine. She should have helped. But he yelled again, and again. As we sat down on the bleachers, he continued to brow-beat her and I could see her feelings were really hurt.

I got mad.

“Hey. Watch how you talk to my daughter. That’s enough.”

“Oh shut up, she shouldn’t helped out on the screen!”

Boom.

We got into a shouting match, I got in his face, and we were pulled apart. I had no plans on touching him, but I wanted to make clear that Grace wouldn’t be talked to disrespectfully, repeatedly. That’s not going to work for me. She’s a sweet kid and responds much better when she’s respected when corrected. Barking once or twice at her was suffice. He had taken it too far.

To be clear, since she’s been playing with us, Grace has seen and heard a lot of stuff I’d rather her not see or hear. I tell her all the time, “That’s just ball,” when people overreact because of competition. But now it was me. I had lost my cool.

This was a knee-jerk reaction to seeing how hurt Grace was, and me trying to protect her. Watching her head hang so low, and continuing to hear him, I reacted. Did I over-react? Probably. Christ in me would’ve wanted me to not react instantly. I understand that, as His Spirit has talked to me about this situation over the past few days. Not in an audible voice, but in a knowing:

“Matt, maybe you should have just went and sat by him, and said, ‘Hey, can you please be a little bit more respectful to Grace?'”

But at the same time, I’m allowed to get angry. God gave me that feeling for a reason. Growing up I was taught that getting angry was sin–and that is where feeling-stuffing begins. Then people-pleasing. Then accepting unacceptable behavior as normal. Then codependent behavior grows. Then addictions fester to change those feelings. Then misery and guilt over emotions finally take over.

That’s no way to live and I’m not doing it. Being angry is not sin. Sinning while angry is sin (see Ephesians 4:26).

So when we get angry–not if–it’s best to not react immediately. But, I did. So what. I can learn from this and move forward, or not. I choose to learn and mature. The enemy wants us to believe that just because we get mad we’re less of a child of God or not a child of God any longer. People who struggle with self-righteousness and legalism do the same thing, “No Christian would ever act like that.” Don’t fall for it. Happy, sad, mad, or scared, emotions don’t define us. Christ’s life does and His life never changes.

Afterwards, I’ve had some time to think about the situation better.

So what can we do when we lose our cool as holy people who house God’s Spirit? First, realize we are not identified by any emotion. Emotions are a part of our soul. They ebb and flow all the time based on what’s happening around us and in our minds. They are indicators, not identifiers.

Second, realize we are naturally peaceful in our spirit. Self-control and peace flow from our supernatural DNA–our heart–organically, so both will always feel right even if it takes time to agree in our head (see Galatians 5:22,23, Romans 12:2, Philippians 1:6, 2 Peter 1:5-9). Peace with others is our ultimate desire (see Romans 12:18). Peace with others and with ourselves. We matter too. We are not door mats. Boundaries are extremely important so we should set them and enforce them with love and respect.

Third, realize we are free and always swimming in grace (see Romans 5:20, Hebrews 13:9, Titus 2:11,12). We are free because of grace to just let situations be, and we are free to reach out to those whom we’ve gotten angry at if we decide to. For this scenario I chose to reach out and message the guy. I’ve known him for about a decade. He’s a good dude, but like me, sometimes his passion on the court overtakes his normal actions and attitudes.

In the message I told him I was sorry for yelling at him and I should’ve approached him privately. Did I have to do this? No. I could have just let it go “as ball.” We’ve all gotten into it with each other over the years. We forget about it and just keep playing, a fist-bump always confirms we’re over it, “No big deal. It’s fine.” But as children of God, we never feel more like ourselves than when we go out of our way to make peace with others. We are peaceful, even when we temporarily lose our cool. That is who we are.

So today, my friends, know this: What should a Christian do when we lose our cool? Listen to the Spirit within. He’ll always guide us toward peace, comfort, confidence, love, and a sound mind. I’m glad I messaged my friend because he messaged me back and said he was sorry too. He also said to tell Grace he was sorry for yelling at her. I did, and she lit up with a smile. Do you see it? Do you see how the Spirit works through us when we let Him? You never know where an apology might take you and others. So be yourself, Christian. Always be yourself.

A prayer for you: Dad, your Word says in 2 Timothy 1:9, you saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of your own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus. I believe this! I believe it’s our purpose to allow Christ to gracefully live through us! I know you don’t want us to beat ourselves up, or stay in condemnation, when we get angry. You want us to feel what we feel and then listen to your Spirit within for guidance–for how to respond. Sometimes you say, “Stand up to this with respect.” But other times you say, “Just be quiet for now.” Thank you for giving us your Holy Spirit to lead us each day! Right now, I lift up all who are reading this, directly to you. For those who struggle with losing their cool more often than not, teach them how to pause, pray, and proceed, when faced with frustrating situations. This has helped me greatly over the years, and I’m still learning from your Spirit. But also, teach them that if they really want relief from a blow up to just say sorry without excuses. You take care of the rest, and the person we’ve apologized to gets to see Christ through us. We love you and we trust you, in all things and in all situations! Amen!

This devotional is from my upcoming book, The Christian Identity, Volume 2. Check out my other bestselling books here!

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