Grief, New Church, Rheumatoid Arthritis, The Inner Landscape

A Word About Anger

You may recall that just the other day I wrote about the five stages of grief and my attempt to get to acceptance via shoe-shopping. Of course these phases are not linear, as I would sensibly tell anyone else in the grieving process. But it's hard to be sensible about my own process, and I believe that by claiming acceptance I was hoping to edge past anger altogether.

Although I am a word person, finding words to express my feelings about what being ill means for my work life and my personal life challenges me. I like to package things. That is not to say that I like to make them nice, but I do like to make them pretty, to put all the words needed into an artful sentence, to carefully put the sentences into a paragraph, and then to stand back admiringly.

When I allow myself to get near my anger, I lose that ability.

On Tuesday? I lost it.

On Tuesday I attended a denominational meeting, which I referenced in a post later in the day. What I didn't tell you, what I could not put into words, or at least not into prettily arranged words, would be how very, very angry I felt as I left the meeting.

Anger frightens me. I grew up in a household where one parent never, ever got angry and the other one only got angry at me and her anger invariable ended in a blow of some kind. I love words, but anger comes from a place that might be labeled post-verbal, or at least post-articulate. Or perhaps it is simply pre-verbal for me, a place where every kind of fear (survival, abandonment, rejection, worthlessness) comes screaming up from my core.

Yes, that's it. The adult expression may be post-articulate or extra-articulate, but the component emotion rises from the base of who I am, that frightened baby passed from one adult to another, afraid the cycle will never end, convinced she must be at fault or it would not be happening.

I would like to know why, at 47, I am still working on this.

I have "articulated" this question before. I would like to move on to some other key text that does not include the lilies of the field and the advice to stop worrying about tomorrow. I would love not to be in that place where the future seems ominous and unknown.

Because there can be a difference in how we approach the unknown. If we approach it from a secure base (yes, I'm referring to Bowlby), it's one thing. And that may well describe the source of my anger on Tuesday. It began with my reaction to an infuriatingly smug colleague. On the leading edge, which is to say moving to post-denominationalism, he seemed so SURE of everything. Stuff that I might have deemed "cool" about his work and his church I instead found threatening and disturbing.

Probably the comment that set me off was one–well, no, there were two. First was a remark about the growing trend toward bivocationalism for pastors. I would like to mention that women with families, unless they share things extraordinarily equally with their partners, are ALREADY bivocational. I know I am. Second, in response to a question I asked about whether being post-denominational meant giving up health and pension benefits, I got a response to my own situation with chronic illness about God providing a way.

I left incensed. INCENSED!!!! "God will provide a way," I muttered, "tell that to the people in frickin' Darfur!!!"

Clearly, my colleague is not entirely responsible for the situation in Darfur or my Rheumatoid Arthritis or the general decline of mainline denominations. Lord, I never met him before that morning. "Who am I so angry at?" I asked this question as I drove away, poor grammar and all, because, you know, pre-verbal, etc.

And I concluded, fairly quickly, I WAS ANGRY WITH GOD!!!!!!!!!!


Raised to be a good and respectful girl who does not show inappropriate emotions to figures in authority, I find it problematic to be angry with God.

But, I was. (Maybe I still am.)

I got in the car. I thought about calling someone. I ran through a list in my mind of friends and trusted colleagues I might be able to turn to in my moment of distress, but some were not available and others were still at the meeting that had MADE ME SO ANGRY!!!!!

(Yes, it's still there. A bit.)

Finally I shook my finger skyward and said, "I'M ANGRY WITH YOU!!!!"

In fact, there may have been some colorful language involved, as I clearly expressed myself from that post-articulate frame of mind described above.

I felt better and worse, both, better for expressing what I really felt, worse because I might know in theory that others feel angry toward God, but in practice, it feels lonely.

I called my friend, RevFun, and got his voice mail. I hung up, but then reconsidered. I left him a borderline tearful, none-too-articulate message, saying something like this:

"Hi, it's Songbird. I just came from that meeting we were all invited to and I had a head-on collision with myself, I mean not a real collision in the car, I'm fine, but a head-on collision with HOW ANGRY I AM, and I realized I'm ANGRY WITH GOD, and I'm too ANGRY WITH GOD to pray, and I wonder, would you pray for me? Thanks."

Later in the afternoon, I heard my phone ringing during a meeting and let it go to voicemail. I was feeling better, having finally reached will smama and told her much the same things I left on RevFun's voice mail, which helped a lot. After the meeting, I called for the message, and here is what he said:

"I couldn't even go to the meeting because *I* was too angry with God."

Which made me laugh.

Later he turned up at my church unexpectedly. Talk about a sight for sore eyes. We're both wandering in the discernment wilderness. What does God want from us? How can we be any more faithful than we think we have already been? Are we doing something wrong?

How do I sort out the seeming call to new church work with the chronic illness and the need to keep the same health insurance and the gifts for interim ministry and the desirability of living closer to where I work and the important needs of a 13-year-old who is happy where she is? Why is it so complicated?

And why can't I bend my fingers to touch my palms when I wake up in the morning?

I wish Job could have had better friends. I surely love mine. Even in the midst of anger with God, I had friends to meet me exactly where I sat, or drove, or called, or cried. I'm grateful for them.

And, yes, I'm grateful to God, though I don't imagine God set me up with this or that particular one, providing a way in that micro-managing sense. Because if God did, then we still need to talk about the Rheumatoid Arthritis. Not to mention Darfur.

21 thoughts on “A Word About Anger”

  1. God! I hate that. Those smug know it alls who have all the answers. Wait till something awful hits them. When I wasn’t in denial, I was angry, angry, angry. Angry at God. Angry at all the nice people who told me all those swarmy sweet things. (God will provide, indeed. God wants us to live in a world where people don’t have to depend on God to provide. Where we don’t have to worry about having a job so we can have health insurance.)
    I grew up in a household with an angry dad and a scared mother. Unfortunately, I caught the anger gene. I have spent a long time coming to terms with my inappropriate anger. I have concluded there are things about me that I would love to change that probably never will.
    One day, I hope we can meet and talk. In the meantime, I’ll hold you in prayer.

  2. I’m glad your letting your anger come out. Those old childhood scripts can last a long time. My former therapist told me that issues like that don’t ever go completely away; with healing, they just become less intrusive in our daily lives. I found that to be a really helpful and comforting perspective because it let me know what to expect and it let me off the hook of feeling like a failure whenever the old issues cropped up.

  3. Oh, I love you so much Songbird…for a whole raft of different reasons, not least because I know that you are one person who understands me completely.
    I don’t have any answers to any of the c**** but I’m glad you know that your friends are with you in it.

  4. ((songbird))
    Yeah, I’ve had my anger with God. I’ve been so angry that I’d stop praying. I’m glad that you have found a way to communicate with God in the midst of your anger. Always holding you in my thoughts and prayers.
    Peace and love,

  5. I think those childhood issues are definitely pre-verbal. My fear of anger lives in a place in my body that I call the “lizard brain” because it usually wants to be cold and dead and unfeeling; but if someone gets angry, I am terrified and feel it there. It’s where some people have a “dowager’s hump.”
    Many loves to you. Good for you on the finger shaking and hollering! And poop on that person. Poop I say.

  6. Why can’t people understand that the church SHOULD BE THE MODEL OF HEALTHY LIVING!?!?!?!?!? How in the world are we ever going to be able to advocate for the care of souls when we’re starving our professional staff physically, medically and vocationally?
    Great. Now I’M angry. 🙂
    I won’t comment on the anger stuff because, well, I don’t feel it’s my place to presume on a blogging relationship. But know that I’m praying for you about this stuff, my friend!

  7. So sorry but I am also glad you wrote this post. Those who read it will be blessed and maybe have the courage to give God an earful.

  8. SB, you are amazing. I can’t even believe how you manage to get this stuff out there!
    I too have been so angry I left a meeting. And I’ve been so angry at God that we Weren’t.Talking. Well, God wasn’t anyway because I was too busy shouting to let God get a word in edgewise.
    This isn’t the healthiest thing ever (much more healthy is talking to people!) but when I’m feeling like that and none of my friends are answering their phones, I eat either mashed potatoes or mexican food. Somehow it makes me feel connected to my mom and to love, and then I can calm down enough (after hand-mashing potatoes or homemade refried beans…) to listen to One who loves me even more than my mom did.
    Never let it be said that there’s NOTHING good about a teensy bit of potato therapy. just saying.

  9. Rage all you like. God can take it. I’m pretty ticked with the church right now, but not God. He can take that too. And does and will.

  10. “I’m praying for you” sometimes means I know you can’t pray so I’ll say your prayers for you
    fwiw, A very dear friend once had me take the psalms of lament and use them as a form to articulate my own anger at God substituting specific things in my life for “my enemies” or whatever the Psalmist listed.

  11. oh, songbird. like you and mary beth and probably lots of others, i find anger very frightening at a deep, visceral level because anger = abuse in my childhood. but in my intellectual self, i know that anger is sometimes justified, and that it can be turned to constructive use — just, for me, not at the moment i’m hit with something that brings it up.
    those smug pieces of your colleague’s presentation hit buttons for me, too. yeah, yeah, like he’s INVENTING double-duty — most working parents, and anyone who is seriously involved with do-good projects that don’t pay or don’t pay well, has been there and done that. but the *really* infuriating part is reducing your question about health care and retirement to something personal, something that appeared to be sneering at your personal age and health rather than recognizing these are issues for ALL of us. issues of basic fairness; issues about which we worry on a broader scale.
    it’s not like you are suggesting the parishes each buy a yacht, a wine cellar and a chalet, the better with which to entertain. dude could learn something from the “oxygen mask” speech on airlines.

  12. When manBoy was just a boy, I wondered out loud to a friend why he would get and act so angry with me and not with others. My friend pointed out that I was safe. He could be and act angry with me because he knew I would still love him. That statement colored my understanding of what it really means to be angry with God. Rage on. Shake your fist. Shake your finger. Holler and scream inarticulately. Know you are loved. ((Songbird))

  13. following up on vicar of hogsmeade, yes, indeed, Psalm 88 is my own particular “doozie” for these moments. (((songbird)))

  14. OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOh. I get SOOOOOOOOOOOO angry with God, and I scream and curse at him/her . . . and I think it’s ok — but I have to say that it scares me to be that open with the God of the Universe.

  15. I wish I could do or say something here. I don’t pray.
    I do get mad and swear a lot. Could I do that for you?

  16. (((((Songbird)))))
    Boy, your description of what the anger makes you feel really hit home for me too. Anger frightens me to my core. Makes me feel unsafe, unworthy, unvalidated (is that even a word?). This entire post resonated with me, and I wish I had been there to just simply offer a very warm hug. The fact that you are able to acknowledge the anger and let it out is so needed, and so healthy for you. I wish I had answers, but know that you are my hero.

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