if you’re worn-out, confused, afraid, or a bit paranoid about what others are saying about you; if you’re angry, bitter, lonely, or misunderstood; when your anger makes it clear that your way isn’t working, I urge you to ask yourself a vital question: Am I humble enough to address the cracks?

In Genesis 4, God puts a heavy hand on the door that Cain is about to walk through. God warns Cain to pay attention to the anger he feels and not to keep going down that path. Look at your dashboard. Check your frustration meter. It’s one of the most accurate indicators of a disconnected life. The question is this: Are you going to keep doing things your way?

Bob Merritt’s story was published in Leadership Journal in 2012, but I came across it in 2020. As I read the story, I kept thinking, This must be a different Bob Merritt from the one I know. I became friends with Bob four or five years ago. He had retired from his role as senior pastor at Eagle Brook, but he has been a pastor to me. He has gone out of his way to encourage me and challenge me. When I visit with him, he’s always willing to share, humbly and vulnerably, the variety of struggles he had in ministry.

Recently, I had dinner with him and told him about reading the article. I said, “When I read it, I kept thinking, This must be a different Bob Merritt because I don’t know this guy.” Bob spent the rest of our meal encouraging me and empathizing with the challenges I was going through. He prayed for me and made sure I knew he was available if I needed anything.

Bob’s way simply wasn’t working. The busyness and demands of his role made it difficult to find the time and emotional energy to connect deeply with Jesus and others. Over time, his frustration meter started to tell a story. His anger started spilling out onto the people around him. But as he focused on his connection with Jesus, he was humble enough to address the cracks. Through his connection with Jesus, he found the grace to be honest with himself and the strength to start doing things differently.

A few months after my dinner with Bob, I sat down for a meeting with a couple of the leaders I serve with at church who had some concerns they wanted to share. That’s not surprising; the majority of my meetings are with people who want to “share some concerns.” What made this meeting different is that the concerns they had were about me. It had been an exhausting season of ministry navigating significant transitions in our church and the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. These leaders sensed that the exhaustion of the season was causing me to become more easily annoyed with people. One of them said, “You seem angry.” I was immediately defensive. “I’m not angry; I’m just frustrated.” I went on to list all the things I was entitled to be frustrated about.

Instead of humbly receiving their concerns and setting aside time to check for cracks, I demanded examples of what they were talking about. “Have I ever raised my voice? Have I ever lost my temper? Give me some examples of how I’ve been sarcastic or harsh?” I was starting to get . . . well . . . frustrated. When I finished, they both sat in silence for a few moments. I took a breath and realized that this was what they were talking about.

One of them said, “It’s not so much what you’ve said or done that we can point to; it’s more the look you have on your face right now.” There was no mirror around, but I didn’t need one. Apparently my RPF wasn’t communicating the gentle kindness that tends to flow when the branch is connected with the Vine.

As I sat in that meeting, I remembered the words of my friend Bob. I asked myself the question, Am I humble enough to address the cracks? My way wasn’t working, and now God was using these two leaders to put a hand on the door and warn me before I went any farther.

My prayer is that this chapter will do the same for you. Maybe you don’t have someone in your life who has the courage or the permission to speak freely to you, but you know you’ve been on edge. The people around you may not be saying anything, but it’s because they know you’ll be defensive and overreact. But maybe the truth is that the people closest to you feel like they’re living next to a volcano. They never know what’s going to upset you or set you off. Instead of minimizing your frustration or justifying it, what if you humbly acknowledged it?

What if you found time to take a breath and listen to God?

Kyle Idleman, When Your Way Isn’t Working: Finding Purpose and Contentment through Deep Connection with Jesus (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2023), 67–70.

We have just released a 12-week study on the topic: When Your Way Isn’t Working by Kyle Idleman. You can get it on Amazon. It is also available as part of Good Questions Have Groups Talking