Each weekday at 7:40 a.m. and again at 4:30 p.m. my stress level rises considerably. This stress can last anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on—you guessed it—how traffic is. Yes, I'm talking about my work commute.
My guess is if I were to track my heart rate for a period of time, it would show increased activity in those times—and if it was a road rage monitor, it might show how dangerously close I come to crossing the line some days.
The definition of road rage is someone being possessed by violent anger due to stress or frustration while driving. “Possessed” in this context means the rage has power over the person—it is controlling their actions. And according to Galatians 5:19, fits of rage fall into “acts of flesh,” which only serve to separate people from God.
Backing up in Galatians, Paul instructs us to “…live according to your new life in the Holy Spirit. Then you won't be doing what your sinful nature craves. The old sinful nature loves to do evil, which is just the opposite from what the Holy Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are opposite from what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, and your choices are never free from this conflict,” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT). When the Holy Spirit possesses us the words of Christ are behind our actions and His power helps us control our sinful nature.
Looking at road rage in a biblical context, it fills my heart with conviction and questions—I don't want to be controlled by anger. How do I deal with my frustration? I still have to drive to work!
Living according to the Holy Spirit doesn't mean I decide to do it and then everything that stressed me out before magically disappears. My commute doesn't suddenly become pure bliss. However, the Spirit will give me the strength to face my emotions, my situations, and my stressors with God's power. It's the power to not give in to frustration, and to choose joy instead. Essentially, it's the power to laugh at life, rather than react to it.
In my situation, allowing the Holy Spirit to be a part of my commute has changed the way I drive. I've never been an aggressive driver on the outside, but my mind definitely has opinions about how other people are behaving on the road. Over the past few months I've noticed some ways I'm contributing to my rage…and how it might not be “all the other drivers” after all. This realization has led to three ways I'm learning to take responsibility for my own emotions.
- Trying New Things. One day while sitting in traffic I was inspired to take a country road just to see where it went. From there I've become more adventurous and have explored many different ways to get from A to B. And I've discovered things about my city I wouldn't have known before. Just the adventure of going a new way helps me lighten up.
- Letting Go. At some point I figured out I have a secret expectation that my commute should take 15 minutes. Then if it doesn't, I'm angry because my expectation is unfulfilled. I realized although at some times in the day this can be achieved, a 15-minute commute is never guaranteed. So why am I getting bent out of shape over things I can't control? By letting go of time expectations my drive has been much more pleasant.
- Snacking. I've noticed I'm a lot more partial to rage when I'm hungry. Now I bring a snack with me to and from work and, well, I'm a lot nicer as a result.
I know this isn't a journey with an end point. City driving is always challenging and unpredictable so I will have to constantly be on guard. And some days will be more frustrating than others. But by allowing the Holy Spirit to be a part of my commute I know I will have the strength to choose laughter instead of anger. I'm looking forward to the fruit that will come out of this relationship: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22).
The best advice I can give to anyone experiencing road rage, or any rage, is it's really easy to blame your problems on everyone else instead of looking inwards. The truth is, you are responsible for your actions and reactions, no matter who cuts you off, drives slow in the fast lane, or decides to break down in an intersection. And the sooner you come to terms with that, the sooner you can invite the Holy Spirit to join you on your commute, and start seeing the fruit from following those desires instead of your sinful nature's.