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Spirituality and Anger

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She taught me that grief is a time to be lived through, experienced fully, and that the heavens will not fall if I give voice to my anger against God in such a time. Elizabeth Watson


Spirituality, in its simplest form, is an awareness of the sacred through a relationship with a power greater than ourselves. This Higher Power, or God, has many names according to personal beliefs. We strengthen our spiritual connection with the Divine through prayer, meditation, religious practices, spending time in nature and many other ways.

According to author Elizabeth Johnston Taylor, spirituality is the part of us that seeks ultimate meaning in life, especially in the midst of suffering. At its core, spirituality is our relationship with God that underlies the nature of who we are as people in community—communities at home, work, with friends and at our places of worship. Spiritual beliefs and practices help all of us to touch upon the mystery of life and the mystery of death. (1)


For many of us, a relationship with a Higher Power is a source of great comfort during grief, especially if we believe in life after death. In grief, we may become closer to God, resulting in deeper spirituality. Or, we may pull away from God in anger, perhaps blaming God for allowing the suffering and death to occur. It is not uncommon during grief for us to fluctuate between seeking God and being angry with God.

The process of questioning faith in God is complex and personal. In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis chronicled his painful struggle with grief and anger at God after his beloved wife died of cancer. Lewis, a well-known writer and theologian, was tormented by questions of faith. He wrote with honesty about desperation and painful doubts. He concluded that his faith in God was a “house of cards” that collapsed in one blow. In his book, and in his grief, he gave himself permission to rail against God and to be consumed with anger. Here is an example of his eloquent writing:


Meanwhile, where is God? When you are happy...so happy that you have no sense of needing Him...so happy that you are tempted to feel His claims upon you as interruption, if you remember yourself and turn to Him in gratitude and praise, you will be—or so it feels—welcomed with open arms.

But go to Him when your need is desperate...and what do you find? A door slammed in your face...after that, silence...The longer you wait, the more emphatic the silence becomes… Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?

...Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God. The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him. The conclusion I dread is not, "So there’s no God after all," but, "So this is what God is really like. Deceive yourself no longer."
(2)



God may not be the only recipient of our anger. When we hurt, we want to hold someone accountable for our torment. If a person is to blame for our loved one's death, as with drunk driving or murder, we have an obvious focus for our anger. Less obvious, but just as powerful, is anger directed at the deceased for dying. We may also displace our anger to anyone in close proximity: doctors, nurses, friends, other relatives and unsuspecting strangers are all vulnerable to our anger.

For me, a helpful spiritual outlook means that our beliefs help us to accept human feelings as human feelings. In the throes of grief, spiritual persons are just as likely to have the same intense feelings as everyone else, including anger at God or the people around them. Having faith in a Higher Power does not negate our need to grieve. The only difference is that a helpful spirituality allows us to acknowledge that God accepts and understands potent human feelings such as anger.

Some religious traditions teach us that strong emotions such as anger, bitterness, or longing for the deceased are inappropriate responses to the death of a loved one. (I personally do not understand how anyone can be that cold-hearted in the name of God.) In this case, spirituality does not help, but hinders, the grieving process because of shame: I must be a horrible person for feeling this way. I don't have enough faith. I feel worse because of my beliefs, not better.

With a helpful spirituality following the death of a loved one, we come to know ourselves as worthwhile people, worthy of God's love in sorrow and loss, regardless of our feelings. We love and are loved, warts and all. Sadness and anger are honest expressions of grief: we are sad or angry because of our love for the dear one who has died.

As we grieve, we eventually learn that the God of our understanding makes all kinds of allowances for our potent human emotions, including anger, and keeps on loving us. Love is a powerful instrument of healing, but we must be patient and kind with ourselves. Our anger is legitimate, and it will burn away sooner if we acknowledge and express it. We are human, and grieving, in all its forms, takes time.


Footnotes:

1. Taylor, Elizabeth Johnston. What Do I Say? Talking to Patients About Spirituality. Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press, 2007, pages ix–x.

2. Lewis, C.S. A Grief Observed. HarperSanFrancisco, A Division of HarperCollins Publishers, 1961, restored 1996, pages 5-7.

I recommend A Grief Observed because it is an unflinching, honest account of personal grief and healing. The bonus is that Lewis was a gifted writer. To be fair, some people find his writing stiff and of another time, but for me, the words soar with eloquence. Available in most book stores and public libraries.
 
 

 
Further Reading:

Here’s a quote from The Jesuit’s Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life by James Martin, SJ., HarperOne, 2012, pages 123-124. Five star reader reviews. Even if you are not Catholic, the author writes with compassion, honesty and wisdom.

 

Being honest with God means sharing everything with God, not just the things that you think are appropriate for prayer, and not simply your gratitude and praise. Honesty means sharing things you might consider inappropriate for conversation with God.

Anger is a perfect example. It’s natural to be angry with God over suffering in our lives. Disappointment springs from all of us. Anger is a sign that we are alive.

God can handle your anger no matter how hot it burns. God has been handling anger for as long as humans have been praying. Just read the Book of Job in the Old Testament, where Job rails against God for his seemingly endless pain…..I loathe my life. I will give free utterance to my complaint, I will speak in the bitterness of my soul. (Job 10:1)

Anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment and bitterness in prayer have a long history. Why shouldn’t you allow yourself to express those same honest feelings, too?

A few years ago, I told my spiritual director I was so frustrated that God didn’t seem to be doing anything to help me and that I used an obscenity in my prayer. One night I was so angry that I clenched my fists and shouted out loud, “How about some @#$% help, God!”

Some readers might be shocked that a priest would use language like that, especially in prayer. And I thought my spiritual director would reproach me. Instead he said, “That’s a good prayer.”

I thought he was kidding.

"That’s a good prayer because it’s honest, Jim" he said. “God wants your honesty.” Being honest also made me feel that God now knew exactly how I felt. Have you ever had the experience of confiding something to a friend and feeling relief? It felt like God could now better accompany me, as a good friend might. Or more accurately, I would be able to allow God to accompany me.

 


 

Or, on a related topic: The Search for God


  December 2017
 

 
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Patriot Par: Give a wreath, donate a wreath
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Why can’t I find a page or link that used to be here?

Over the last nine years, The Grieving Heart® meandered into many topics and lost its purpose. I have deleted 40 pages to bring it back to the original focus of grief and helping grievers.

Web addresses come and go and I cannot guarantee the accuracy, safety or longevity of third-party (external) sites. Adding links by request, or finding and fixing broken links are massive time consumers, so I have deleted many outside sources and will limit additions in the future. The external links that remain are checked on a regular basis and related to grief, helping grievers and pet loss. 

I will continue to honor and remember veterans and fallen soldiers because it is the least I can do for those who have given so much.

I hope that my renewed attention to grief information will make The Grieving Heart® a better experience and comfort for you. Thank you for visiting. CJ

 


 

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Christine@thegrievingheart.info 

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How complicated and individual mending is, the time required for healing
cannot be measured against any fixed calendar
. Mary Jane Moffat
 
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