Monday, October 4, 2021

In Grief: Coping with Anger at God

[Reviewed and updated January 16, 2022]

What fire does not destroy, it hardens.   ~ Oscar Wilde

A reader writes: Our daughter was only 41 years old when she died of heart failure a year ago, leaving her three sons behind. Just a little over one week ago, their home caught fire and burned to the ground, taking her dog with the fire. As we stood looking at the burned out shell of our daughter’s house, we were in shock.

The boys are young: 23, almost 19 and 13. We offered a home for all of them. One blessing that was pointed out the day of the fire is that I still have scrapbooks I made for each child, from the beginning of their lives up until now – including pictures of their mother – priceless for them now. I know that faith, prayer and trusting in our Lord will make them stronger men, but they can’t see that right now. Our almost-19-year old is having a very hard time. He is angry with God, grieving again for his mother, and he is so headstrong. 

All I can do is give this over to God, pray and be there for the boys. God’s will… not ours… When we wake up in the morning we don’t have a clue what that day will bring. My words before I get out of bed... thank you Lord for today, thank you that I woke up to do your will, help me. I have done an abundance of Bible studies over the years, I have a wonderful pastor and I have grown so in my very own faith and trust in our Lord... And of course getting older makes us wiser, some of us anyway!!!!

My response: I'm so terribly sorry to learn of the tragic fire that destroyed the home your daughter left to her boys and that took the life of her dog, which I'm sure for her sons were such precious, irreplaceable links to their mother. I don't know why such horrible things keep happening ~ but I know these boys are blessed to have their grandmother there to guide them through. Please know that you ~ all of you ~ are loved and being held in gentle thought and prayer. 

How marvelous God's plan, that so many years ago you were drawn to preserve their memories by making those precious scrapbooks for your grandchildren. What a priceless gift indeed. It was your destiny, I am sure . . .

Because you hold such a strong spiritual belief system ~ and having lived through your own personal tragedies and learned from your own experiences with loss ~ of course you have an entirely different perspective from that of your grandsons. While I honor and respect your belief that “faith, prayer and trusting in our Lord will make them stronger men,” I also think it is it is completely understandable that they cannot yet see any of this the same way you do ~ and of course, that is why they are blessed to have you in their lives. As you say, you and I were not nearly as wise at their age as we are now, either. If only we had known then what we have learned in all the years since. I trust that you will be patient with them.

You say that one of your grandsons is having an especially hard time. If he were not enraged about all of this, I would have serious doubts about his mental health. A most outrageous thing has happened to these boys, and they have every right to be angry about it. Anger at God is normal, too, and, as I once heard a rabbi declare, "It's okay to be angry with God ~ He can take it." It seems to me that if ~ in my capacity as a lowly human being ~ I can understand why these boys would be absolutely furious about the fact that their mother died too soon, and barely a year later her house burned to the ground AND her dog died in the fire, then surely, surely God can understand it, too. 

 Here are two articles about anger that I thought might be helpful to you as you continue to help your boys:

Anger

Anger usually makes you think of hard times and hurtful things. You may think of anger as bad, but it’s really a very helpful and useful feeling. Anger acts as an internal thermometer or a gauge that tells you when something in your life is off balance. When things don’t turn out the way you think they should, your natural response is to get angry. When you get angry, your feelings are telling you that something in your life needs attention.

I think getting mad comes when you get something you don’t want or you don’t get something you really do want. When somebody you care about dies, you hurt, you feel pain, you miss them, and there is nothing you can do to bring them back. Part of this frustration comes out as anger.

• You may be angry at your person for dying.

• You may be angry at the doctors.

• You may be angry at God for allowing this to happen.

• You may be mad at family members who grieve differently.

• You may be mad at friends who don’t understand.

• You may be angry at yourself for not feeling better more quickly, and/or for things you did or said or didn’t say.

Anger makes energy. That can be good or bad. If you use anger to hurt yourself or others, your anger becomes a negative. For example, if you intentionally hurt someone’s feelings out of anger, then chances are they will feel bad and so will you. It may make you feel better for a few minutes, but this feeling usually doesn’t last.

Angry energy also can have good effects. Anger can push you to change things. You may say “Enough of this!” and find ways to move or better ways of coping. You can let your anger out in healthy ways, like writing, drawing, exercise, talking, screaming, punching a pillow, or even crying. Be creative!

Anger that is not expressed builds up inside. If your anger builds up, it can come out in spurts, like

• Messing up a class because you feel mad at a teacher.

• Exploding and hitting someone.

• Yelling at someone you don’t even know.

Anger is like cement – if it sits inside of you, it can harden and become hard to break. That can make you bitter, or you can become so angry and frustrated that you no longer care. Don’t let that happen to you!

When you feel angry, try:

• running

• hitting your bed with a tennis racket or a towel

• turning up your stereo and yelling really loud

• talking to someone who cares about you

• Use your anger instead of letting your anger use you.

[From “When Death Walks In,” in HOPELine Newsletter, February 2005, HOPE for Bereavedmail@hopeforbereaved.com]

 ~  ~  ~

Grief, Anger and God

by Howard R. Winokuer

One question which is frequently asked when a crisis occurs is,“Where is God?” Other questions may be:“How could God allow such a terrible thing to happen to me?” Anger may be directed in different directions.  Sometimes we are angry with ourselves. We may direct our anger towards a disease, a situation, at friends, or other family members. Or, anger may be focused on God.

Anger towards God can be very devastating for some individuals because it may confront them at the very core of their being. It might cause them to re-evaluate their deepest and strongest beliefs. People often blame God for allowing painful events to occur in their lives. These feelings often cause the individual to doubt God, doubt their faith and doubt all that they may have ever believed in.

Many people have a very difficult time allowing someone who is grieving to be angry with God. They believe that anger of this nature is sacrilegious and should not be allowed to be expressed. Others tend to defend God with scripture or platitudes. An example of some of the platitudes used might be:It was God’s will, God wanted another angel for His garden, or God never gives us more than we can handle. These comments, while well intended, and often expressed with love and a desire to be helpful, tend to alienate those grieving individuals further away from God and their faith. We have learned that if a person is feeling anger towards God, it is very important for caring friends and professionals to honor those feelings and allow that person to express them. This can be a very critical part of their healing. Remember, God does not need for us to defend Him. God is strong enough to handle our anger. If a person is permitted to express their anger, and to have the opportunity to work through their feelings of anger towards God, they will usually return to God with an even stronger faith and conviction in their belief.

Most people are familiar with the poem Footprints. To paraphrase the poem, God and another person are walking together along the beach, and left behind them in the sand are two sets of footprints. As the poem continues, the person talking to God expresses anger because when he is having the worst time of his life, he notices that there is only one set of footprints in the sand. The person cries out in anger because he wants to know where God was during this very difficult time. God explains that during this time, the one set of footprints belonged to Him and that the person was being carried by Him.

God does not leave us in times of tragedy, even though we sometimes leave God. Sometimes going to church, talking with the pastor, saying prayers or just sitting in the sanctuary during a time when no one else is there can be helpful in our search for God. When God has been an important part of our lives, He will be there once again, if we allow the healthy expression of our anger. Sharing these expressions can be therapeutic and a very special gift which may be given to a grieving friend or loved one. ■

(This article was originally published in Journeys: A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement, March 2000, © 2000 Hospice Foundation of America.  Reprinted with permission. More information about Journeys can be found at Journeys or by calling 800-854-3402.) 

 Please know that I am thinking of all of you at this sad and difficult time.

Afterword: Thank you so much. I am copying off all of the information listed. Your understanding of death and grief of which you deal with every day of your life in your work, has helped so many people, bless you. Hold tight to today, fill it with all the love that you can find.

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