This is the fourth post in a series on frustration. View them all here.
Last post covered a form of faux frustration that I labeled as “outward only” (you can read more about that here). There is another form of false frustration that I’d like to bring up here, the “inward only” form. If outward only was merely way for the world to see how unselfish we are (which is pretty selfish, right?), inward only is just pure selfishness.
That’s why I like to call it childish foot stomping. We don’t get our way and are powerless to do anything else but stomp around. As we grow up, we don’t necessarily mature, and the stomping becomes yelling, or hitting, or seething. Sometimes the inwardly frustrated are identified as “powerful” but make no mistake about it: someone who always fights to get their way and gets it is rarely anything else but a spoiled brat, no matter the age.
It might look like this in the real world: not getting the promotion you should have got, now you’re angry. Your child isn’t behaving the way they ought and now you’ve said something you shouldn’t have. For me, it’s often having big plans and seeing them either (1) fail or (2) move forward very slowly. I get impatient. I get angry. I get frustrated. The root of these types of frustration might actually be good, but we can often flip them around and make the job, the child, the plans about us instead of about God or others (how we were meant to live).
This kind of frustration really does start in the beginning of our human story. Adam and Eve were frustrated that they weren’t given something more, they thought God was holding out on them. Either that, or God really wasn’t good. Either way, we have to reach for our own goodness apart from Him. That story didn’t end well.
The Bible has some great stories of people who experience inward only frustration. Jonah is one of the best comedic examples. Someone who would “rather die” than have other people, or God, get their/His way. Jonah would have rather seen a city consumed by fire than see God’s mercy extended to his enemies.
Adam, Eve, Jonah…of course they’re all like us. History and culture are replete with wars that come from multiple kings vying for power. If everyone is a king, there will always be wars. People become hindrances to getting what we want and our plans become enforced by the sword. We grumble. If creation’s groan is the sound of good frustration, grumbling in our wilderness is the sound of its less than holy counterpart.
Inward only frustration leads to two types of objectification:
- People are objectified. If what I want matters the most and anyone who gets in the way causes me inward frustration, then people are either a hindrance to my plans, or a way for my plans to come into fruition. There is no place for engaging with a person, they are only things.
- God becomes objectified. Inward only, like outward only, doesn’t really look to God. There might be God talk going on, but there is no submission to what He actually wants. Like people, God is merely an object to deliver my wants.
Of course this is all bad, who would disagree? But if it seems so clear, how come we keep finding ourselves in this place? This is pretty much the story of the Bible. From Adam and Eve to Israel to Jonah to the disciples, knowing what to do and actually doing it are two very different things.
One important step I’ve found for myself in this is self-awareness. Let this chart below illustrate for me:
I probably like somewhere on the spectrum between Hitler and Jesus. I know I’m not Hitler and I know I’m not Jesus (at least I’m not that delusional). But I’m more Hitler than Jesus, though I’d like to imagine it the opposite.
What does any of this have to do with frustration? Well, when my plans aren’t working out the way I want, I say to myself, “I’m more like Jesus so now I’m overcome with righteous indignation!” Or when something does work out I say, “I’m more like Jesus, I did all this by my awesome self.” Really my responses should be pretty different. If something doesn’t work out, I should bring my passions and frustrations to God. If something does work out, I should be thankful for Him working through me. I should recognize that I’m more Hitler than Jesus.
The problem is that self-awareness is not enough. Blog posts and books and podcasts and sermons, as good as they might be, are not enough. We are told in 2 Timothy 2:2 to “flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.” Surely childish foot stomping is a youthful passion. But how can we do this? In the next post, we’ll talk about how the person of Jesus steps in and rescues us from our false forms of frustration and delivers us into holy longing.