Doctrine: Spiritual temper tantrums are all about getting God’s attention for unresolved issues and attempting to control a situation. Spiritual tantrums are the temporary absence of spiritual coping skills. Spiritual tantrums are the opposite of submitting to God’s will. Tantrums are a form of manipulation and unrighteous dominion. Satan is the father of spiritual tantrums.
Google it. Whether you’re a toddler or an adult, temper tantrums are all about:
- Getting attention for unresolved problems, and
- Attempting to control a situation in a negative, non-productive way.
It’s what people (whether young or old) do when they think they can’t process something, understand something, or endure something anymore. Tantrums and meltdowns are often triggered by a person who lacks (usually temporarily) the following skills:
- Impulse control
- Problem solving
- Delaying gratification
- Communicating wishes and needs
- Knowing what’s appropriate or expected in a given situation
So, what’s a spiritual tantrum or meltdown? You could call it a crisis of faith. But, after having my own spiritual tantrum recently, I realized that it often gets labeled a crisis of faith, but I think fundamentally it comes back to a temporary lack of spiritual coping skills. It comes back to unmet expectations. It comes back to spiritual doubts, fears, and misunderstandings. It is in fact our incredible faith (not the lack of it) that has the potential to bring us to such a crisis or tantrum if we stop using tried and true spiritual coping mechanisms.
For most of us, these above coping skills leave us, temporarily, when we reach a spiritual, emotional, and mental limit. It could be triggered by many things, but ultimately we throw a fit because we want to control our life and get God’s attention so He’ll cow to our demands or show His hand.
Maybe you’re not feeling as fulfilled and happy as you want. Keep the commandments, you’ll be happy, right? But you’re not happy.
Maybe you have an expectation for your life, talents, or career that seems to continually allude you despite your dogged faithfulness, perseverance, and prayers.
Maybe you ticked all the righteous boxes but are still waiting for blessings that you feel are long, long, long overdue. Maybe you feel things in God’s plan for you, His gospel, or the Church He heads up, don’t add up and you feel it’s long past time God gave you answers, recourse, or recompense.
No matter what the frustration, you may have reached what you feel is a spiritual limit. You have an overwhelming desire to exercise some control upon your situation. You want resolution. You want results! You feel, spiritually, emotionally, and physically that you can’t go on without a crumb to hang your usually strong (yet now teetering) faith on. You’re so worked up that your spiritual coping mechanisms either get tossed to the side as foolish or you can’t even remember most of them because your level of anxiety is through the roof.
So, what is your response? What has been your response in these crisis moments?
What was my recent response? To throw a fit. To throw a spiritual tantrum. To try and get attention from the Almighty. To try to force His hand. To attempt to find a way to exert control upon this aspect of my life and spiritual struggle so that I can understand it, resolve it and have peace. What I wanted was peace. What we all want is peace.
While psychologists preach that tantrums and meltdowns are normal and can lead us to peace, they are only partially correct. Tantrums and meltdowns can lead us to peace, but only if we seek to understand what is driving them. Otherwise they are completely unproductive.
What triggers the tantrum is rarely the thing that actually has caused it. Usually, the underlying cause of a tantrum is deeper…doctrinal…fundamental. We are triggered to throw a fit by related, consequential, or problems surrounding the cause; but if you think about it, those triggers don’t carry sufficient weight, alone, to be the true cause of a tantrum. They may be annoying enough to incite them, but are not likely the cause.
In my experience, spiritual tantrums are caused by a combination of two fundamental, foundational, eternal things:
- Our relationship with God, and our understanding of Him and how He works
- Our understanding of ourselves, knowing our deepest desires and most ignored (or unrecognized) weaknesses and sins
If you have an expectation for how God works/is and it goes unsubstantiated beyond what you consider a reasonable period of time, you’re prime for a spiritual tantrum. You have based your faith in Him on a specific understanding or belief and when God acts (or doesn’t act) in a way you have not absorbed into your belief framework, you panic. You freak.
It’s no joke then that God bases the gift of eternal life on a knowledge of Him and a relationship with Him (St. John 17:3). How can you be one with Him if you don’t know Him and understand how He works?
If you have an expectation for yourself and your life and despite your best efforts your expectation/or perceived idea of the results of what you seek seem continually beyond your reach, you may be prime for a spiritual tantrum. You feel you are ticking off all the commandment boxes to keep God happy with you. You have documented your hours of service, temple attendance, calling fulfillment, food storage accumulation, etc., and yet, He still isn’t letting you do the rest of life your way. You even feel like He might even be purposely giving you road blocks which feels totally unfair to you.
Or, are they roadblocks? Or are they instead detours back to the path He knows is best for you? Your misunderstanding of how God works and your skewed expectation has the ability to lead you to a spiritual temper tantrum.
If you see yourself differently than God sees you, and you expect Him to change His view of you to match yours, you will have a spiritual tantrum—it’s inevitable. Until you are willing to see yourself as you are, and He sees you, you will consistently butt heads with the Almighty. And, if you don’t take the time to figure out why God isn’t cowing to your tantrums, to your attempts to change Him and control His plan, then you are going to be forever kicking against the pricks (Acts 9:5, Doctrine and Covenants 121:38).
Want to throw a tantrum about plural marriage? You can do it. But your real issue is your trust in God’s promises. Your real issue is your knowledge of God and your relationship with Him. If you believe His promises and know Him well enough to know that He will keep them, then mortal sacrifices and Abrahamic requests are but a chance for you to find out for yourself the extent of your own faith.
Want to throw a tantrum about the imperfections of all of God’s prophets and leaders both now and in the past? You can do it. But your real issue is your expectation that prophets, apostles, and other lay leadership are supposed to be flawless. That they shouldn’t be working out their salvation at the same time you are. Your real issue is that you expect God to control, minimally, the children He enlists to guide His church—which is contrary to His plan which requires moral agency. Your real issue is that you want grace for yourself, but you want perfection, efficiency, and politically correct church leadership.
Want to throw a tantrum about the sins of others and how they keep you from being as good and as happy as you can be? You can do it. But your real issue, and the cause of your misery, isn’t the sins of others. It’s actually your unwillingness to own your own actions and responses and to control them independently of the actions of others. Your real problem is your unwillingness to see yourself as you really are.
Just last night, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, in his address to the women of the church, talked about three sisters. He said:
The second sister was angry at the world. Like her sad sister, she felt that the problems in her life were all caused by someone else. She blamed her family, her friends, her boss, her coworkers, the police, her neighbors, Church leaders, current fashion trends, even the intensity of solar flares and plain bad luck. And she lashed out to all of them. She didn’t think of herself as a mean person. To the contrary, she felt that she was only sticking up for herself. Everyone else, she believed, was motivated by selfishness, pettiness, and hate. She on the other hand was motivated by good intentions, justice, integrity, and love.
What did the Savior teach. ‘I say unto you love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you…’ (Matthew 5:44). This is the Savior’s way.
‘Yes,’ you might say, ‘I would be willing to love my enemies if only they were willing to do the same.’ But that doesn’t really matter, does it? We are responsible for our own discipleship. And it has little, if anything, to do with the way that others treat us. We obviously hope that they will be understanding and charitable in return. But our love for them is independent of their feelings toward us. Perhaps our effort to love our enemies will soften their hearts and influence them for good. Perhaps it will not. But that does not change our commitment to follow Jesus Christ. So, as members of the Church of Jesus Christ, we will love our enemies. We will overcome anger or hate. We will fill our hearts with love for all of God’s children. We will reach out to bless others and minister to them, even those who might despitefully use us and persecute us.
Want to have a spiritual meltdown to try to force God to give you what you want right now? You can do it. And on and on and on. But your real issue is that you want to bend God to your will when you’re supposed to be bending your will to His.
“But I have been bending my will to His and I’m not happy!” You exclaim.
Then, from personal experience, I suggest you read Mosiah 3:19.
Submission to God is not empty and emotionless (you cannot be a spiritual zombie…) It is not resentful. It is not ungrateful. Submission is not angry. It is not jealous or covetous. It is not hateful. Submission is not afraid of what others think. It is not doubtful. It is not a dare.
Submission to the Almighty God, our Father in Heaven, is done by submitting to the enticing of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Ghost tries to attract us to the positive impact of certain traits. Including, meekness, humility, patience, love, and being childlike. The Holy Ghost tries to entice us to trust God as a toddler trusts a parent who can see a better way. We have to be willing to be a spiritual toddler (in a manner of speaking).
When we fight the enticing of the Holy Spirit; when we fight submission to God, we become (using scriptural terminology) an enemy to God. We are technically, warring against Him. We become, in no uncertain terms, a type of Satan. Let me explain. This is the epiphany I got out of pondering this post.
People of all religions and beliefs throw spiritual tantrums all the time. These tantrums and meltdowns often happen in people we once thought were pious believers with unshakable faith. Then, suddenly they are removing their names from the church, going in active, committing serious sins, giving way to horrific addictions, divorcing spouses, getting back in with old unsavory acquaintances, or becoming sympathetic with groups that actually fight against their previous religion and beliefs.
These people dissent, or apostatize, many times as a sort of spiritual tantrum or meltdown. They’ve temporarily lost the spiritual skills they need to ride out a storm, a doubt, a question, a struggle, or a trial. Thus, they try to get God’s attention or exert control upon their lives, and especially His will, by acting out in such ways. Notice again, they are trying to get God’s attention in a negative way and control His will.
I’ve finally come to understand that this temptation, or negative enticement, to throw a fit and “stick it to God,” is from the adversary. Satan (Lucifer) is the king of tantrums and meltdowns. He’s the king of throwing a fit and trying to force the hand of God. He threatened (and succeeded) in throwing such a convincing fit that he led away many of God’s spirit children (Moses 4:1-4, Doctrine and Covenants 29). And Satan threw this fit and led others away in an attempt to force God’s hand—to make the Almighty cow to his damning demands. When Christ wouldn’t succumb to Satan’s temptations during His 40 days of fasting, Satan threw a fit and left (Matthew 4:2-11). When Moses wouldn’t worship Satan, Satan threw a fit and left (Moses 1:18-22). Satan throws fits in a selfish and childish attempt to manipulate God, Christ, and Moses to do things his way. Satan never takes ownership of his actions—they are always someone else’s fault.
God is God. We can’t bend Him to our will. If we try to control Him the way Satan does, we will be as Satan is—miserable (2 Nephi 2:27). But, if we let go and simply decide to be the person we want to be and do not base our actions upon forcing God’s hand, or getting a specific blessing or answer, then we will find peace and joy. Why? Because we are choosing to take spiritual control of ourselves, to spiritually cope, in the only way that is productive.
I admit to very recently having a spiritual temper tantrum. It involved becoming selfish, defensive, and entitled. I was mad for a few days. I wanted answers, explanations from the Almighty about things in my life I just couldn’t make sense of. I saw everything through a glass darkly (1 Corinthians 13:12). Everyone around me was attacking me. Their flaws became beams. I justified being unkind, impatient, and angry. After all, everyone needed to know that was unhappy. I wanted them to pander to my requests, take notice of my plight, and offer comfort (because I wasn’t about to ask for it). I wanted to control my environment, exerting unrighteous dominion upon it. It was such an ugly few days.
Then, one morning, I got up. Several days of melting down and throwing spiritual tantrums had not increased my happiness, peace, or brought me any of the answers I was attempting to demand from God. “Tell me what I want to know God or this is how I’m gonna be!” I’d thought a few times. I knew, in my gut, I needed to be kinder to my loved ones. So, I exerted just a bit of effort one morning to do so. And, suddenly light flooded in. Happiness flooded in. Peace came.
It suddenly occurred to me, when the spiritual lights came on, that I might never get the answers or blessings from God that I was seeking. Or, perhaps His plan was so far above my thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9) that though He might want to communicate them to me, I simply wasn’t equipped to understand. But, no matter which, I had certainly not been happy throwing a fit. Throwing a tantrum and altering my way of life and living drastically to get attention had not gotten me anywhere but to misery. My tantrum was not working how I wanted it to. It wasn’t working, because that’s not the way to get answers, happiness, or peace. It’s Satan’s way and his way never works.
In my attempt to exercise control upon God and get His attention I had lost all spiritual coping skills. I was temporarily unable to control angry, resentful, and selfish impulses. I was so blinded by my selfish agenda that I couldn’t problem-solve or get revelation from the Holy Ghost. I was so determined to get the gratification and information I wanted that I became temporarily unable to wait for anything positive in my life—so I went about demanding it from everyone and everything. Negotiate? Nah. I was not in the mood to make more covenants with God. I did try to communicate my wishes and needs to God, but because they weren’t in my lap after the first day, I simply assumed He wasn’t listening. And, I lost all of sense of what I could appropriately expect from God and my loved ones. I did try to soothe myself, and this did keep me from a total meltdown, but it was tough—herculean even—to go through those motions because I had so little faith in them during these days.
After giving my all (which was very little at the time) to be kind to my family, listen to them, focus on them, and try to serve them for just a few minutes in the morning; I remember this thought coming clearly to my mind, “I may not get the answers I want. But, I do know the kind of person I want to be. And it’s not the kind of person I have been. I want to be Christlike. I know that whether I get what I want or not, that I will be far happier trying to be Christlike than throwing a fit like I have the last several days.”
My whole day brightened immensely. My whole life seemed to clear. The smoke of misery blew slowly away. I could remember how to cope again. It wasn’t a big pillar of light, but it was huge! Why? Because I found the way to control my life. I had to choose to be what I wanted to be even if I didn’t get what I thought I wanted or deserved. Throwing a fit didn’t give me any control. Deciding what kind of person I wanted and would be did.
So, when was your last spiritual temper tantrum? Did you turn it into a journey to peace? Or are you still trying to get God’s attention with drastic actions or life changes? Are you still hell bent (pun intended) on getting God to do things your way? Are you still determined to blame others instead of taking control of your own behavior and eternal identity? Are you still determined to rip apart the perfect and complete puzzle of the Gospel that you had and rearrange it, forcing pieces together, just to show God it can work your way?
On the other hand, when was your last spiritual epiphany? Can you remember taking a small step toward something good and rising out of your tantrum into the light of enlightenment, perspective, and hope? Can you remember a time when you saw yourself more clearly? When was the last time you owned your own actions despite the actions of others and it brought you a sense of empowerment and peace?
If you’d like to avoid future spiritual tantrums and crises of faith, the two solutions are to eliminate the two primary problems. Get to know God. Develop your relationship with Him. Study His words and take notes on how He works and deals with His people. Next, get to know yourself. Take off your rose-colored glasses and take responsibility for who you are and the actions that are required for who you want to be—independent of the actions of others.
Finally, be willing to submit to God’s plan and will for you without resentment, anger, daring, ingratitude, distrust, pride, covetousness, and entitlement (Mosiah 3:19). Sacrifice the natural man. Sacrifice the world and it’s teaching—no matter how appealing or logical they sound. Don’t make war against God, or others.
It all sounds so unfair—to give in. To let God take you in a direction other than the one you want to demand. But it will bring you back to peace and happiness faster than you ever believed or suspected. Tantrums will only drop you in a pit of misery and darkness. You will be at war not only with God, but everyone around you—except perhaps fellow commiserators (thank you C.S. Lewis for this imagery adapted from Mere Christianity). Being at war with God…never smart. Even if you don’t like His ways. Because, spoiler alert…He wins.