Each month we ask two writers to reflect on a quote by Dr. Stanley. For October, Jamie A. Hughes and Renee Oglesby explore the ways anger and resentment can impact our relationship with God and how He comes to us in the midst of those feelings. Here’s an excerpt from Dr. Stanley’s book Surviving in an Angry World:
When a person becomes angry with God, he will find it increasingly difficult to hear from Him and can miss His words of comfort and counsel. Think about it. Do you really listen to a person when you’re angry, bitter, resentful, or hostile toward him or her? When you’re really mad at someone, it’s very unlikely that you’ll remember anything the person says in the heat of an argument.
The same thing is true of our communication with God. When we’re angry at the Lord, we will not be as open to hear His voice or as willing to wait upon Him. It’s a surefire way to miss just about anything and everything God wants to say to us … Do not build a wall between you and God. You need to hear from Him!
by Jamie A. Hughes
My husband and I were legally married on January 1, 2000, but I believe our marriage truly began a year or so later when we had our first real fight. Until then, we had been unfailingly deferential to one another, displaying few if any negative emotions. We were husband and wife, after all, and in every storybook I’d ever read, the prince and princess were too busy “living happily ever after” to gripe at each other. (Of course, Charming never left his socks on the floor in front of the hamper, which would make marital bliss a bit easier to achieve. But I digress.)
When the first knock-down-drag-out battle finally did happen, it was something to behold. A real Technicolor, surround-sound melee. Naturally, it started over something small—a forgotten promise to clean up the garage or some such—and before we knew it, we were lobbing hurts and slights at each other like grenades. All those smaller disagreements we should have had out when they arose erupted in one tear-stained afternoon. And, amazingly enough, though I don’t remember much of what was said that day, I do remember things were different (and far better) afterward. We were more honest with our feelings and began to understand one another as the people we were, not the ones Western culture told us to be.
It’s easy to do much the same thing with God: to hold Him at arm’s length emotionally and refuse to confide our true feelings. It’s quite foolish when you think about it, though. He knows us more intimately than best friends, parents, siblings, or spouses ever could. Our names are written on His palms; He formed us in the womb and knows the very number of hairs on our head (Isa. 49:16; Psalm 139:13-14; Matt. 10:30-31).
Our anger doesn’t come as a surprise to God.
That means our anger doesn’t come as a surprise to Him either. In fact, it’s one of the many emotions He granted to us so that we can make sense of being human. It’s when that anger goes unexpressed, when we press it down in our guts and let it fester, that it becomes problematic. It builds up and fills every space inside of us, places where God is meant to dwell. And when we refuse to speak to Him about who or what has angered us, our lives are impoverished as a result.
Our heavenly Father knows our hearts better than we know them ourselves, and when we’re angry—even if it’s directed at Him—He feels it with us. Thankfully, His love is so vast and His compassion so boundless that it is impossible to push Him away. He scales the walls we build against Him in our rage, no matter how high or thick we make them. So rather than waste time muttering and stacking up bricks, maybe it’s time to lay everything bare.
by Renee Oglesby
You may have read about, or lived through, what counselors refer to as the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I’m retroactively grateful for that first step following the sudden loss of my dad years ago. But after some numbness wore off, I discovered an unusual mix of feelings. The remaining four stages weren’t the neat progression I had studied in college. They switched order, they doubled up; sometimes it felt as if I was experiencing every stage at once. And I was not familiar with, or prepared for, what getting “stuck” at the anger stage would look like.
No matter how snippy my attitude, his tone was caring and his words were gentle.
For me, among other unattractive qualities, it looked like being mean to the world’s sweetest boyfriend. The one who dropped everything to be by my side after I learned of my dad’s passing. He stood with me through the visitation and the funeral. And every day thereafter, if we had no plans to see one another, he called to ask how I was feeling and how my day went. For quite some time, as you would imagine, my only responses were, “Terrible, and terrible.” But when I reached the point when other responses came to mind, I held them behind my teeth, and answered only with the briefest, driest, coldest responses I could think of. No matter how snippy my attitude, his tone was caring and his words were gentle. I didn’t understand why I was no longer responding in kind. Our year full of flowing conversations and laughter had ended abruptly, as did our relationship shortly thereafter. All because I was furious, and he was a convenient target.
I was baffled by my own behavior at the time, but it is so clear in hindsight: I was angry at God for taking my Dad away. I was certain I had considered every possible answer to the question “Why?” and discarded them all as insufficient. If God was truly in control of this world, whom else could I hold responsible for the loss of my loved one?
Looking for comfort, I went to the Scriptures, but even the familiar words of favorite verses rang hollow. I tried to pray, but my pleas went no farther than the ceiling. And my boyfriend wasn’t the only person whose support I felt utterly unable to accept. Never had I felt more in need of comfort, and never had I felt less able to receive it. My anger was a wall, and nothing could get through.
If God was truly in control of this world, whom else could I hold responsible for the loss of my loved one?
I was angry for a really long time. I can’t say what exactly opened my eyes to the childishness of my attitudes and actions, but whatever it was that took my anger left shame and guilt in its wake. I came to see both the foolishness of bearing a grudge against my heavenly Father and the toxic nature of holding anger in my heart. I called out to Him in a prayer of repentance, unsure of my welcome. But just as He knows when we turn away, He knows the moment when our hearts turn back toward His. He was waiting for me all along, with the comfort and peace I needed.
I understand now that many of my feelings and struggles were a natural part of grief, a process that can take far longer than we might wish. I see the ways I hindered the Holy Spirit from walking with me through those difficult days, and how He could have enabled me to accept with grace the thoughtfulness of those around me, as gestures of their comfort and His.
Sometimes our emotions are uncomfortable. We may be unsure how to express them, or even whether they are allowed. We may stumble in how we manage—or fail to manage—them. We may forget for a time that “God is greater than our heart, and He knows all things” (1 John 3:20). But He understands. (See Psalm 139.) His Word is a tremendous source of guidance on how to communicate our feelings in a healthy way that honors Him and yields the fruit of His Spirit. And He remains a loving Father who may not spare us from painful feelings but promises to lead us past them, to a place of strength and rest.
Illustration by Adam Cruft