I did not know myself to be frustration-intolerant until I was middle-aged. It wasn’t just the wisdom of more birthdays that made my diagnosis clear. It was also that I had kids late in life and so middle age was when I started confronting things like:
“Hey look, my new shoes from Zappos came today. Can’t wait to try them on! Wait. Why is there only one shoe in this box? KIDS!! Where is my other shoe?” (silence).
“Ok, everybody, in the van quick, quick, quick or we’ll be late for Mass.” Husband comes back inside groan-growling, “KIDS!! WHO locked the door of the van with the keys inside?” (silence; and rescheduling of Mass).
Every parent relates. It’s a many-times-a-day reality. There’s just no end to the little frustrations that come with child-rearing. And so if in earlier days, I managed to keep my inadequate frustration-tolerance hidden to myself by keeping a tightly controlled life, now it takes therapy, anti-anxiety meds…and prayer.
But the fight for self-control has become more important to me than ever because I’ve realized that at least some of my offspring share my struggle (just as my dad did), and are facing a life where, simply, they get rubbed the wrong way by little things much faster than their peers.
Standard—and Often Ineffective—Tactics
In trying to research tactics to help myself and my children (and material on frustration tolerance, specifically, has been harder to find than I expected) I’ve come across a lot of the typical:
- Take time to count to 10.
- Breathe deeply and intentionally for several breaths.
- Get away from the situation to cool down.
I have no doubt these tactics are helpful, but unfortunately, many times they fall short for me (and for my frustration-intolerant kids as well). It seems that, too often, we’re already boiling over before we’ve even realized anything is brewing. Or, for some of us, underlying issues that can’t be resolved for now keep us perpetually too tightly wound up, and thus always near breaking point.
I am not giving up my research and I hope to find further tips and tricks (maybe one or two that will be the silver bullet). I also am sure that further mindfulness training will be part of our long-term treatment.
But in addition to all that, I’ve been seeking places in Scripture that might help me to chill, before a minor frustration has set me to screaming.
Here are four that have brought fruitful prayer, along with an “aspiration prayer” (also known as arrow prayers, or ejaculatory prayers) to become oft-repeated refrains during the day, and especially at the critical moments of feeling frustrated).
1) Matthew 14:28-31
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, bid me come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus; but when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “O man of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Here’s an insight that is clear as a bell but had never occurred to me before: Guys, Peter could swim. Really well. We don’t even have to presume this (even though it would be the safest presumption ever, since he was a Galilean pro fisherman). The Bible explicitly tells us he jumped into the water to swim to shore and meet the Resurrected Christ (John 21:7).
So why does he cry out to Christ in a panic when he realizes he’s been walking on the water? Because of the “strong wind”? Maybe. But maybe it was because he simply had forgotten himself.
Sometimes, issues that we really can handle (and know we can handle, or at least feel we should handle) become too much for us, for whatever reason. Perhaps we got a bad night’s sleep or have a bellyache or know that this month’s paycheck isn’t going to stretch quite far enough. Whatever the reason, we suddenly can’t deal (even though under other circumstances, we could definitely deal).
Takeaway from this passage: Reach for Christ’s hand when you’re sinking, whatever it is that is making you sink (regardless whether the factors are known or unknown). Trust that you’ll be back to your normal self later on, and more confident in your Lord to boot.
Aspiration prayer: “Lord, save me!”
2) Luke 8:22-25
One day he got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side of the lake.” So they set out, and as they sailed he fell asleep. And a storm of wind came down on the lake, and they were filling with water, and were in danger. And they went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, we are perishing!” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; and they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, “Where is your faith?” And they were afraid, and they marveled, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that he commands even wind and water, and they obey him?”
Again, here we are with experienced sailors and swimmers, but this time, they really are in a storm that has gotten the better of them. (Apparently that is Jesus’ fault, since he was the one who told them to go to the other side of the lake. Perhaps if one of them would have been calling the shots, they would have seen from the clouds and wind that now wasn’t a good time to set sail.)
The Gospel tells us they were taking on water, and they wake up Jesus for help. What kind of help were they expecting? Almost certainly it wasn’t the kind of help they got. Jesus was a tall, powerfully-built workman, and I think it’s possible that they woke him up because they wanted him to take a bucket and bail, buddy, bail! We’re perishing here!
Instead, he rouses himself from sleep and deals out a rebuke. But not for the disciples. He rebukes the winds and rains.
Takeaway: If he’s in your boat, you’re not going to perish. Ever. Even if he doesn’t seem to be showing up. But go ahead, in those moments of frustration overwhelm, tell him that you’re perishing. Then sit back and watch what he does. He can calm it all instantaneously. Let him do it.
Aspiration: Master, master, we are perishing!
3) Luke 4:29-30
And they rose up and put [Jesus] out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong. But passing through the midst of them he went away.
Just what happened here is a bit mysterious. The Bible tells us that Jesus’ fellow Nazarenes were very (very!) upset by his sermon in their synagogue. They got so mad that they rose up and put him out of the city, and then went further: “They led him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw him down headlong.”
His response? “But passing through the midst of them he went away.”
How exactly did they lead him to that hill? Presumably, it took force of some kind. But then when they get there and are ready to force him to dive off, he just “passes through” and “goes away.” Whether it was by miracle or some other form of ducking away, this passage offers a great image for dealing with frustration. The whirl of emotions has us in its grips and is about to hurl us from a cliff, headlong. But Jesus pays no mind to any of it. He just disappears right from the middle of the whole ruckus.
Takeaway: No matter how riled up you’re feeling, Jesus can get you out of the situation. (And also, don’t forget where your out-of-control emotions are inevitably going to take you, and how you’ll end up).
Aspiration: Release me! (taken from this “enraging” sermon at Nazareth, in which Jesus said that he had been sent to “proclaim release to the captives.”)
4) John 18:3-6
So Judas, procuring a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to befall him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When he said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.
This one might be my favorite. I was praying with it one Holy Thursday night, at the Altar of Repose, and it struck me how Jesus, the model of purity, innocence, and irreproachability (not unlike my small children) was confronted with so much rage. Judas had procured a whole band of soldiers, and some officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, and they are all after him with “lanterns and torches and weapons” (John 18:3).
Do you remember how much news the tiki torches generated a couple of years ago during the most intense stage of the nationalist rampages and resulting tumult? Think something along those lines, multiplied several times, and facing off an innocent child. Quite a picture, isn’t it? And that’s what is happening here.
It also seems a great picture of what happens when we’re overrun by angry frustrations. Our reaction is way out of proportion. And we’re being faced down with irrational, furious pandemonium.
What did Jesus do? Again, something rather mysterious. He asks them who they are looking for. They answer, “Jesus of Nazareth.” He answers, “I am he.” And then what happened?: “They drew back and fell to the ground.” Wait, what? This whole angry, torch- and weapon-wielding bunch of big guys drew back and fell to the ground?
Commentators talk about Jesus’ answer harkening way back to the answer Moses got from the burning bush: “This is what you shall tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you,” and also a phrase from Psalm 56, “my enemies will be turned back,” but when it comes to dealing with frustration, I can’t think of anything more encouraging. All Jesus has to do is say who he is, and all of that rage and frustration will draw back and fall away.
Takeaway: Jesus is the same God who can dwell in a burning bush that isn’t consumed. His power is mightier than anything we could ever confront, and he can easily turn our feeling of frustration to smoke and nothing.
Aspiration: Jesus, be Jesus in my life!