My Journey with God Through Grief: Anger
Tomorrow (22nd September) will be the 4th Anniversary of my dad’s death. I’m sitting here trying to avoid writing this one because some days it’s still too raw. I don’t want to revisit this place of anger. For too long it was the most overwhelming of all emotions. At first when in denial (which you can read more about here) you don’t want to acknowledge the anger. It’s like this silent scream inside building up with nowhere to go. It still creeps up on me every now and then as these stages are emotions and they don’t happen in a linear way. They come and go and bleed into each other.
“You may ask, “Where is God in this? Underneath anger is pain, your pain. It is natural to feel deserted and abandoned, but we live in a society that fears anger. Anger is strength and it can be an anchor, giving temporary structure to the nothingness of loss. At first grief feels like being lost at sea: no connection to anything. Then you get angry at someone, maybe a person who didn’t attend the funeral, maybe a person who isn’t around, maybe a person who is different now that your loved one has died. Suddenly you have a structure – – your anger toward them. The anger becomes a bridge over the open sea, a connection from you to them. It is something to hold onto; and a connection made from the strength of anger feels better than nothing.” Elisabeth Kübler-Ross & David Kessler
It’s easy to believe that the stages of grief are exclusively for after you’ve experienced the loss. After the person is gone, after the break up or disappointment of a broken dream, but the truth is when you are dealing with an illness like Cancer, where often it is a long walk with the person through treatment, doctors appointments, brief seasons of hope in-between devastating news; anger, bargaining, denial and depression are interchangeable on the rollercoaster ride.
The anger started to build about a year before my dad died. He had been in remission for almost 5 years and the unexpectedness of its return at first led to denial, and a little bargaining (that’s for another post) but eventually the anger sets in when after operations and treatments it becomes clear that there is no miracle about to happen. For friends and family on the outside of this process, there is still hope and the questions and advice are still coming thick and strong, as if every opportunity and available option has not already been exhausted. In the meantime you hear helpful stories about how God healed someone’s brother, mother, father, sister, cousin, aunty, uncle, niece, nephew and French Bulldog…thanks! I needed to hear that because I already didn’t feel disappointed and angry enough.
In your heart and mind you’re asking the questions, “where are you God”, “Why don’t you heal my dad?”, “Is he not worth saving?”, “Did you love them more?” which translates to “Don’t you love me?”. Because all your life you’ve heard “God will give you the desires of your heart”, “Ask anything in my name and it’ll be given to you”, “sickness is from the Devil and God can heal if you just believe”.
And you don’t want to be angry with God because that seems un-Christian, and you’re afraid people will think you’ve backsliden so you hide the anger and pretend everything’s ok. “Yes, I know it’s in God’s hands”, “yes we’ve prayed for him”, “yes I know God has a plan”, but in your heart the rage is building, a side effect from the disappointment and pain.
Ephesians 4:26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger
I still cling to this verse…why? Because God gives me permission to be angry. Anger is just an emotion. It is neither right nor wrong, good or bad. It just is. I have a right to my feelings, to my emotions. However I don’t have a right to use that emotion or feeling to lash out at others or against God. And this is where I struggle daily. Not lashing out at friends or colleagues or family, but lashing out at God. You see I still feel resentful. And maybe this has more to do with how fellow Christians deal with me than with God himself. I struggle to listen to Christian platitudes that whitewash over the emotion or sit in church and listen to others talk about God’s goodness and love. To see families in church on Father’s day celebrating together or watch new parents hold their newborns while they smile and I can see the relief in their faces that they are not me, unmarried and childless.
I still feel guilty that I have not been able to give my parents grandchildren, angry that they’ve missed out. While my mom watches her friends have grandchild after grandchild.
Just once I’d like to hear a sermon preached on those “others”. The ones God didn’t heal. The women God left barren. The bible talks about widows and orphans but who takes care of the spinsters?
I celebrate with my friends their children’s birthdays, I pray for the healing of their loved ones, I rejoice when friends get engaged or married. And yet a part of me remains angry at God.
I’ve made bad choices while being angry. I’ve not been able to achieve the “do not sin” part of that verse. I found myself in unhealthy relationships because if God’s not going to answer my prayers and isn’t listening and if non-Christians seem to get everything they want then why must I follow the rules? Obey? I close my eyes and pretend he’s not watching. Go away God, I’ll deal with this now because I can’t trust you anymore. If I have to rush things so I can have my dad walk me down the aisle and dance with me at my wedding and hold my child before he dies then I’m going to do it my way. (erm…I don’t have to tell you that this doesn’t work…don’t try this at home kids).
The verse seems so simple…be angry but don’t sin. Easier said than done.
I’m still walking this journey so I can’t tell you that it all ends well, that God and I have made up…not yet anyway. I do know that through all the anger I still believe in a God who loves me. I’m just not sure how that looks anymore because the easy simple faith of my youth doesn’t match up to this complicated road I’ve walked. Blind faith that all will work out for my good is not as easy to believe at 43 as it was at 14.