Originally published November 21, 2014
If jealousy is the “green-eyed monster,” then, surely, irritability is the “red-eyed monster.” Confession time: irritability is a sin I struggle against on a daily basis. And all too often, that red-eyed monster wins, and I lose, giving in to temptation once again. I snap at my children or my husband or the dog, not because I’m seeking to build them up in Christ, or admonish them toward godliness (and lemme tell you, the dog desperately needs this admonition), but because I’m annoyed, my agenda is being thwarted, somebody rubbed me the wrong way. Hmmm…seems like there’s a common thread there.
Me. I’m not getting things my way.
And when I put myself first by venting my frustration and anger on others instead of putting my own feelings aside in order to serve them, I am dishonoring and disobeying my Master who put everything aside to redeem me. Me. A selfish, rebellious sinner who didn’t deserve His grace. And I am not being a picture of the gospel to the person I’m being short with.
I am so deeply grateful that when I confess my sin, Christ is faithful and just to forgive me for that sin and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). If it weren’t for His grace and mercy, well, I don’t even want to think about what would become of me. But I love my Jesus, and while I’m grateful for His forgiveness, what I’d really rather do is honor Him by not sinning in the first place.
Did you know there are some proactive steps you can take to wage an offensive attack on irritability? Here are seven weapons for your arsenal. As Mr. Mandelbaum would say, “It’s go time.”
1. Start the day off with Bible study and prayer.
I’m not just saying that because this is a Christian article and I have to make sure I stick that in somewhere. I’m saying that for two reasons.
First, Jesus tells us to, and that’s the most important reason. In John 15:4-5, Jesus says:
Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
Daily study of the Bible and prayer are the primary ways we abide in Christ. It nourishes and shapes our spirits and forms us into His likeness. Prayer is also the place where we can ask forgiveness for our sin and for the Holy Spirit to strengthen us for the next round of temptation.
Second, my experience bears this “abiding” thing out (and I’ll bet yours does too). When I neglect prayer and Bible study, I am far less likely to respond to irritation in a godly way. When my spiritual tank is full, however, it is much easier to be aware of, and obey, when the Spirit prompts me to keep my mouth shut, or take a deep breath and wait a minute before responding to someone.
Want to be a branch that bears good fruit? You’ve got to abide in the Vine.
2. Remind yourself where irritation comes from.
As I mentioned above, it comes from selfishness. Completely inappropriate for a Christian. While the world tells us that every feeling we have must be expressed, Jesus tells us we are to deny ourselves, not indulge our sinful flesh and vomit our emotions all over any hapless soul who stumbles across our paths.
3. Preach the gospel to yourself, and mirror Christ.
The heart of the gospel is Romans 5:8:
but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Think about all the sins you’ve committed over the course of your life. Think God might have just a skosh of a reason to be irritated with you? Yep. But instead of pouring out His anger on you each time you transgressed, what did He do? He sent His precious Son to die for you. He loved. He gave.
Now, usually, when somebody irritates me, it’s not even because he’s sinning. What excuse do I have for pouring my anger out on others instead of remembering the grace God extended to me and extending that same grace to them?
4. Memorize Scripture.
Funny thing about memorizing Scripture– you get it imbedded in your brain, and the Holy Spirit causes it to pop back up right when you need it. Some verses I would suggest:
Matthew 16:24- Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
Galatians 5:22-23- But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
1 Corinthians 13:4-5- Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
Ephesians 4:32- Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
Proverbs 31:26- She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
5. Let’s get physical.
Let’s face it, when our bodies are out of whack, it’s harder to control our emotions.
- Making sure you get enough sleep should be a no-brainer. We’re all more irritable when we’re tired.
- Eating a nutritious diet is important, but so is eating at regular times and not skipping meals. Who’s happy with anybody when she’s starving? Also, get the right amount of caffeine for your body. Too much can make you irritable, but so can too little, depending on what you’re used to.
- Exercising regularly is a great way to prevent irritability, but it’s also a great way to work out all those frustrations in a healthy way. Ready to let loose on somebody? Lace up the running shoes and take it out on the pavement instead.
- Go to the bathroom. That’s right, I said it. When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go, and not just for your own sake. You can’t focus on being kind to people who are annoying you when the call of nature is demanding to be answered.
- And, to get even more personal, ladies, chart your periods so you’ll know when PMS will be rearing its ugly head. Then, do what you can, whether it’s taking medication, eliminating things from your schedule to reduce stress, or locking yourself in your room for a few days, to curb your propensity to rip everybody’s face off.
6. Proactively manage your exposure to other humans.
Although I wouldn’t consider myself a genuine introvert, I definitely lean that direction. It’s not that I don’t love my husband, children, and others, but I’ve found that I need some time alone each day to maintain my emotional and spiritual health. In Scripture, we see that even Jesus had a similar need. Luke 5:15b-16 tells us:
…crowds of people came to hear him and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.
Also helpful is knowing who irritates you, in which situations, and why. If it’s someone you don’t have to see everyday, try to arrange your meetings with her for days when you’re rested up, hormonally balanced, and had a good long quiet time. And don’t forget to pray for patience before you meet with her.
7. Get help.
Know your warning signs of irritability and get your family and friends to help you. My husband knows when that time of the month rolls around and knows exactly how to kindly and patiently bring me back down to earth. He has also learned that it takes a couple of minutes of wakefulness for my self control to kick in. So he is quiet and doesn’t try to engage me in those moments of half consciousness when I’m just waking up.
I have also considered employing the “Muskrat Method” for my husband. If you’ve seen the movie Meet the Parents, you’ll remember that every time the dad was about to lose his temper, his wife would say, “Muskrat, Jack!” It was a code word that meant, “Hey, I see you’re about to go berserk. Let’s rein it in while there’s still a chance to opt for sanity.”
Irritability isn’t becoming of a Christian. Whereas patience, kindness, gentleness, and self control are fruits of the Spirit, irritability is a fruit of the flesh. What are some of the ways you fight irritability?