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
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.
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.
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.
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.