Spend some time in the Cheever home, and it won't be long before you hear laughter.
For much of their marriage, Jim and Julie Cheever's home, which they shared with three daughters, was stocked high with stress and strain and was lacking in freedom. "There are not as many long silences or as much tension now. I don't live in fear anymore," Julie said. "I'm not afraid to talk with [Jim] about things."
Reaching that point was a testament to God's power in Jim's life, giving him a clearer understanding of his dark heart and opening his eyes to the harm his actions had caused. Today, Jim Cheever considers it a blessing to acknowledge his struggle with anger. Without Christ in his life, that would never have happened. However, when he was younger, he followed in his father and family's footsteps and "gave himself over" to it.
Jim's father sat Jim down at a young age and explained that crying or being emotional wasn't something a man did. The easiest way Jim knew how to release his negative emotions was in anger, most often with hurtful words or actions directed at his family, though it never crossed into physical abuse.
"As a young man, when things went different from what I expected, I think resentment, and then bitterness, really began to build in me," Jim said.
Jim's father sat Jim down at a young age and explained that crying or being emotional wasn't something a man did.
Serving in the Navy in Hawaii, Jim met a young woman named Julie, just down the street from his condo. After a bit of persistence, she agreed to go out with him and eventually became his wife. For Jim, a wife was just a piece of the puzzle he wanted to put together to become what he believed it meant to be a man.
"Marriage is hard to begin with," Jim said. "But when you put two selfish personalities together and either person has this idea of 'You’re going to complete me and make me happy,' problems will inevitably follow. There was a lot of that in my thought process."
Jim considered himself a believer, but after getting married, the Cheevers stopped attending church. Also, Jim hadn't developed any ways of controlling his natural bent toward anger. For Jim, being a man meant being a leader, and being a leader meant dominating. Sometimes anger veered into manipulation and control.
"Around that time, there was a lot of tension in our home," Julie said. That was all before the Cheever's added more children into a volatile home environment.
"My displays of anger left emotional scars on literally every one of our children, as well as Julie," Jim said.
When one of his daughters disappointed him or embarrassed him, he took it personally and the reaction was, of course, laced with anger.
At one point, Jim became angry enough to disown his oldest daughter. She wasn't allowed in the home and her name couldn't be mentioned in his presence without spawning anger. "I had given myself over to anger. It was a precious thing to me, something I held close," Jim said. "It affected every area of my life."
He intended to direct his anger at his daughter, but his eyes were blind to its effect on his wife and two daughters who were still living in the home. Jim knew he needed to do something, but the only answer he knew was to seek counseling. He went to a counselor and poured out all that had transpired.
His counselor told him a good first step would be to forgive his daughter, but he didn't know how. "I don’t know if you believe in this, but you can pray and ask God to help you," the counselor told him.
"I walked out recognizing truth had been spoken to me," Jim said.
A process of more than two years began that day in 1999. Months later, Julie planned on going alone to visit their daughter in Colorado. Jim hadn't seen or spoken to his daughter in five years but brought the idea to Julie of making the trip a family vacation. Julie was stunned.
"God had softened my heart to a point where I wanted to see [my daughter]," Jim said. "When I saw her, I held her in my arms and told her I loved her. That’s God’s work. That’s His hand. It wasn’t anything I did."
Though God began working in Jim's heart, he looks back on that time now and knows he wasn't truly a believer. He had the knowledge of the gospel but he'd never experienced real heart transformation. Three years later, after reconnecting with his daughter, Jim was sitting in church. During a song, he felt the Holy Spirit open his eyes to the damage he'd inflicted on everyone in his life.
"I saw my sin from His perspective," Jim said, "and it revolted me. It undid me. It all happened in an instant."
He cried out to God. For the first time, he understood the depth of his sin and the glory of being forgiven for all of it: past, present and future. His prayer lost the formality of those he grew up hearing in church.
"Lord, I’ve screwed up my life so badly. Would you please take control?" Jim prayed. "I don’t ever want to go back."
Not all salvation stories come with immediate change, but within hours Jim felt his perspective shift.
"My daughters didn't know if they could believe what they saw," Jim said.
One of his daughters later enlisted a Christian counselor to help reconcile God's work in her father.
For the next six months, God began to grow Jim's transformed heart. All Jim wanted to do was be around believers. In a miraculous way, Jim began to thirst for and absorb God's Word. Some days, he'd spend 12-15 hours reading and studying the Bible. Today, Scripture spills out of him easily, especially James' words on anger in the New Testament.
"Where [the Bible] speaks about anger, it typically also speaks about forgiveness," Jim said. "The Lord has taught me that when I'm dealing with anger, forgiveness must be quick, so that resentment doesn't turn into bitterness, and thereby take hold, giving root to something deeper and darker."
Suddenly, Dad was interested in their lives and asking questions; his cold exterior had melted away.
Jim recalled reading something that Tim Keller wrote—that the act of forgiveness is a decision. Jim has made that decision over and over, running to the Lord to rid himself of anger so that it doesn’t turn into sin. "Strange enough, that’s the first thing I was told to do: Forgive," Jim said. “I see that as the Lord’s provision."
Jim and Julie began to take church membership seriously and sought community. They began attending The Village Church in 2004. Julie and their daughters watched and waited for the old Jim to come back. More than a decade later, he hasn't arrived.
"The Lord is the head of our home. I’m not afraid to follow Jim because I know he’s following the Lord,” Julie said. “Jim leads our home well and I respect him. He encourages me to be the woman God has called me to be. It is my joy to serve alongside him. I can't tell you how many times that I have heard people say that God uses Jim to bring calm into difficult situations. He has become a minister of reconciliation."
Jim knows his heart well, better than he ever did before coming to Christ. In that, he knows what it's capable of believing.
"I’m not near perfect,” Jim said. “The Lord has redeemed my heart. He’s done a fabulous work. I don’t struggle with anger like I used to. That doesn’t mean I don’t experience anger—because I do. The iniquity in my heart will lead me astray. I just have to be careful. It’s a daily watch."