Author's Note: Some of this is inspired by the sermon Tim Keller preached on John 11 after September 11th, 2001 entitled "Truth, Tears, Anger, and Grace." It's on itunes, please please please listen to it. It's phenomenal.
I was only distracted for a moment. But it was that moment that changed my world. The smoke detector blared, I walked in to check what was going on, and the sight of consuming flame chased me outside.
Over four months later, we have a lot to be thankful for.
But I also have a lot to take ownership of.
The months that followed I've told myself (and been told by others) that this could have happened to anyone. This is nobody's fault. Don't blame yourself. And while I've told myself these things, and others have reinforced it, it's done nothing but deepen my sadness. Why?
Because it's rubbish.
It was MY responsibility to watch the stove. It was MY responsibility to cook dinner for our family that night. And when I took my eyes, my presence away from where it was supposed to be, catastrophe struck.
My irresponsibility caused my family to be displaced for three and half months. My irresponsibility caused over $100,000 dollars worth of damage. My irresponsibility caused countless hours of buying back different items and designing a new kitchen. My irresponsibility caused our friend Sarah, who rented from us, to live in a hotel for four months, and lose her handcrafted possessions to the smoke.
I was so afraid to admit it. I dared not accept it. And culturally, no one ever wants to put the blame on the hurting. Why add to the burden?
But it was the presumption of innocence that added to the burden. You see, I knew, deep down inside of me that there was something I could have done that day. Yes, it's seen as an incidental fire, but there were a number of things I could have done to limit the incident. (Since the fire, I now have three fire extinguishers... part of my responsibility kicking in!)
But here's the thing. My wife has a right to be angry. She has a right to be sad over the time we lost having to redesign our home and buy back new possessions. She's been incredibly gracious to me, but there is a right to grieve loss over my irresponsibility. My kids, as young as they are, have a right to be angry. Angry that their home was taken away from them. Sarah has a right to be angry, to grieve her losses, to grieve the suffering she endured. And, honestly, they all have a right to be angered by my miscue.
Anger is such a funny thing. For the longest time, I thought anger was a bad emotion. But it's not. We, as humans, just don't know how to use it well. Much of anger turns toward sin. But anger itself is a proper response to sin and suffering. We should be angered when men and women abandon or abuse their responsibilities.
It was in this I realized the freedom of accepting my guilt. As we all have realized our hidden anger, expressed in ways that weren't helpful, we realized that part of the reason why we didn't display it was of the fear of hurting me. Not wanting to crush the man responsible. And yet, when I admitted to myself all the things I had caused by my moment of distraction, a feeling of freedom rested in my soul.
The indwelling anger at myself, the anger of others over loss, it can turn three ways. One can turn to despair and rage. That's never good. On the flip side, it can move inward and we suppress it, which turns to passive aggressive barbs. Again, never good. But there's a third way. It leads to grace.
We see this in John 11, when Jesus revives Lazarus. Jesus is deeply distressed, and He weeps. But He also is angered. Angered at death. Angered by the brokenness of the world. And then, we see His grace. He revives Lazarus, defeating death. But at what cost? Well, it was Lazarus' resurrection that was the final straw, and the religious leaders began plotting Jesus' death. The anger of Jesus led to grace, to the point of His own death.
Anger can be good. It's what a loving God feels towards evil and brokenness. It's one of the reasons why Jesus dies to undo it, to make all things new. That's why guilt and anger towards both my distraction, and the circumstances are actually good. It's good to be angry at a broken world with broken circumstances. It's okay to be mad that your soul is stained. But God's grace in the Gospel gives us the hope of resurrection.
Anger that turns to grace always involves a death of some kind. For me, that death is the death of my ego. The shattering of an illusion that I was merely a victim. The destruction of the idea that I can be an ideal Father, the perfect husband, and a friend who never causes pain. But when anger turns to grace, there is resurrection.
In accepting the guilt, I can move towards Jesus, remembering His love, and letting Him change me into the man He has called me to be. I can grow as a Husband, Father, and friend, remembering all the while that it's Jesus Himself who is the best of all these roles. It's the acceptance of guilt and anger that makes me free, and refreshes my soul.