formation friday: when we're mad at God

blog formation friday when we're mad at God

* formation friday has kind of become formation saturday. or now maybe even sunday. that’s just the way it goes sometimes.  i decided this one is maybe perfect for sunday–a day when some aren’t in church because we’re mad at God or are sitting in church feeling some of these things with nowhere to say it. this one will be the last formation friday post for a few weeks because i am leaving for israel/palestine learning trip this thursday!  i am going with my mom as part of a lifelong dream. i have a few posts this week before i leave (martin luther king day is one of my favorite holidays) but then i’ll be on a little break while i’m there. usually when i go out of town i don’t share much but this trip will be a learning one & i definitely plan to blog about it. 

* * * * * 

” o Lord, how long will you forget me? forever?  how long will you look the other way? how long must i struggle with anguish in my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?” – psalm 13:1-2

when we are in conflict with someone, we all have a default pattern that we resort to.  some of us are fighters.  we actively engage in conflict and it’s not hard for us. others of us freeze or flee. we protect ourselves from the dissonant feelings by retreating or closing down.  my experience has been that fighters have it better than flee-ers or freez-ers on the whole because at least they are trying to engage, even if it’s often not in the best way.

my first reaction when i am hurt or angry with my husband, jose, is to flee.  i will want to get out of the room as soon as possible. i will want to find a way of escape in some way, shape, or form that will shut down the hard feelings–for the moment. i am learning to change that pattern. it’s not that i need to engage in that exact moment (sometimes it is good to get a little space and figure out what’s going on) but it means that i need to try to stay in instead of run.

when it comes to God, some of the same things apply. we either tend to flee or fight and often don’t end up in a better place.

for many of us, our narrow faith experience would not allow us to be mad at God–or even be angry at all.  we weren’t supposed to question or challenge God in any way. we were supposed to tuck our emotions under and respect God properly.  the problem for some, though, is that when we started to get more honest, we realized just how mad we are at God for all kinds of reasons:

why does God allow such cruddy things to continually happen? is he powerless to help or what in the $*#!&!&! is he thinking, just stand by watching us hurt?

where are you, God when we cry out to you?  why does it feel like no one’s listening?

why do some people get breaks in this world and others never seem to?

am i ever going to feel less lonely or passionately connected to God again? 

i have asked and prayed and begged and nothing seems to change.  why bother?

some of you might not connect with any of these thoughts, but i know i feel them often and know others who do.

on top of just regular hard life stuff, when we throw in our church experiences the anger can get even stronger:

how could we give our lives to God for so many years and end up here?

how can God allow such injustice in his name, so much ugliness in the place that’s supposed to most accurately reflect Christ’s image?

a lot of people have reasons to be mad at God, and i believe it’s a natural part of any relationship.

but what are we really supposed to do about it?

i don’t think hardening our heart and running away is going to help, although sometimes we need to do that for a season.

i also don’t think continually shaking our fists for years and years is going to help, either, although i do think God can hack our anger.

for me, when it comes to my relationships with people, it seems like the very first step in dealing with my anger is acknowledging it.  saying it loud.  accepting “i’m really mad about…”  and “here’s what this situation triggers in me…” (usually for me, a lot has to do with abandonment and feeling like it’s all up to me).

then the next step is to hear from the other person, to listen to their perspective, to strain to understand with new eyes.  i am getting a lot better at dong this with jose and my friends.

when it comes to God, this is tricky because God is usually not sitting across the table from us looking us in the eye.  but i wonder if maybe this is a place to start to connect with God in a new way, bring the realities of our anger to the table and ask for some revelation about it in some way, shape, or form. a few years ago, i had this huge movement-in-my-spirit about bad theology i had been taught and it helped me let God off the hook and released a lot of my anger.

for this formation friday (um, sunday), i wanted to take a little time to address that all this talk about God and spiritual formation can sometimes be really rough when the bottom line is that we are actually just mad at God for all kinds of real & valid reasons.

what’s the way out?

i think there are a few questions that are worth asking:

is this anger really toward people and i’m connecting it to God because ultimately it feels like his fault for letting it happen?

what am i getting out of staying angry with God?  (i don’t have to feel, i don’t have to let in the good, i don’t have to make myself vulnerable, i don’t have to move forward into the unknown).

what do i need to forgive God for?  what do i need to forgive others for?  what do i need to forgive myself for? (sometimes they are all tied together, and i always think it’s good to look at each. yes, i know these are huge questions!) 

how can i maybe soften my heart and unclench my fists to engage with God more tenderly?  

anger really is the prelude to courage.  it takes guts (and time) to let it go and make peace.  

this all looks so different for each of us, but my hope is that we’d keep trying to stay in and figure out what’s going on instead of running away or raging forever because with those two options we never seem to find any peace or healing or acceptance or connection.

God, it’s so hard to know what to do with some of our feelings about you.  we could really use a little help to let go of some of this anger and find our way toward peace.  

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

10 Comments

  • Thank you Kathy, that’s a great post.

    And it certainly does look like the Psalmist is angry with God doesn’t it? It seems does it not that this is perfectly OK in the Psalms to get the emotion out, and then yet, turning to God and trusting him. As opposed to the complaining by Job that God rebuked him for which he then repented of?

    Fight freeze or flee? I think at various stages of my life I have been any one of these. Where am I at now? Well it’s helpful to reflect with your prompting. I know for example where my behaviour patterns have come from. I was brought up with undiagnosed dyslexia. And a distant, yet loving father. So I was always lazy, should know better etc. All done wiht the best of intentions but mistaking symptoms of dyslexia for somethign else out of not knowing. So I would retreat to music, escape into sport, being on my own etc. I suppose you could call that the “flee”.

    I was picekd on at school and bullied, my mother taught me to stand up to bullies, I guess you would call that the “fight”.

    And I’ve often had times of confrontation when I have frozen like a deer in front of the headlights not knowing what to do – I guess you cal that the “freeze”.

    Also I am ex Air Force, and untill recently had been carrying a false guilt around about being in a war where equipment I had worked on killed innocent women and children.

    So add a false sense of guilt, to a false sense of being lazy, should know better, careless etc, a distand father and you have a pretty potent tape playing in your head. Which you can guess I projected onto father God.

    so I’m familiar with the burying feelings, false sense of self. After coming to the Lord, I became aware of such issues, and that’s when the anger really started. Anger at myself, others, God anythign as what had been buried became released and I knew no other way to express myself. After support, and some great friends who could see me for who I am, and tease that out, speking powerfully into my life and being gracefull with me when I am less than Christ like, I have a profound peace now. i was just talking wiht someone this week about how he has seen a dramtic change in the last 4 years in me since I was diagnosed wiht dyslexia.

    Now – thinking about it, I stll have feelings associated with a false guilt that are taking time to catch up with the reality I know to be that is politicians not servicemen who are responsible for the decisions made about war and therefore carry the guilt for such. I also struggle with studies with working through the issues of dyslexia. But my suffereing has given me empathy with others. And I have confidence from doing new things like stand up comedy, that has a domino effect on others too with how they view their own stuggles.

    Looking back on my time, I wouldn’t change a thing. Thought havine said that – I’m not to keen to be going back to expereincing that kind of suffereing again! Free but wounded, right?

    Adam

    Reply
    • thanks adam. yes, our suffering does somehow bring empathy but that sure doesn’t mean we’d want to do it again. thanks for always sharing your heart.

      Reply
      • Thanks yes, I agree we don’t want to continue to suffer tho we can be grateful fro the empathy we have for others. In that light, please see my engagement with your latest post. Thank you in advance for your understanding.

        Reply
  • you’ve given us much to muse on today … and I’ve always loved that the Psalmist has shown us how to walk through those painful, unsettling emotions …

    Reply
  • Thanks for this Kathy. This is exactly where I am in my journey, however, not yet ready to tackle some of these questions. I know I need to, but I will save them for when I don’t clench my fists just reading them. I am so grateful for your formation posts and for your deconstruction/reconstruction series. They have both helped me tremendously as I muddle through this season. Thank you for your honesty and your courage to say these things.

    Reply
    • yes, that is the idea for sure. do what works for you, how it works for you, and i think it’s so great that you recognize that the time is just not right. glad you are here and let me know over time if they are at all helpful…even if it’s a long ways out 🙂

      Reply
  • Hi, I thought this was a great post. On my Facebook page, I linked to Psalm 13 and asked “How do I get from verse 1 to verse 5?” I really think I have moved beyond being mad at God. I like your comparison to how you deal with conflicts with people. For me, I always try to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. With God, just like with some people in real life, if they don’t really want to talk about it, sometimes you just have to let the relationship go. For so long I felt like I was missing out on what all the other Christians seemed to have – a loving personal relationship with God. I just don’t have that. I have never felt God’s presence in my life and don’t feel like he has guided my life or really had any effect on me at all. But my anger and depression was coming from comparing myself with other Christians. If I put aside my expectations of this super-relationship, I can and have learned how to be happy all on my own – my wife and wonderful children help too! I was like some love-sick teenager thinking that if the girl of my dreams would just look in my direction, all my problems would be solved and my life would be wonderful. Well, if you send love letter after love letter and never get a response, anger is definitely not a healthy reaction. The best way is just to let the relationship go, maybe send a birthday and Christmas card every year (I still pray a simple prayer every night saying, God, I’m still down here and would love to have a relationship with you if that is possible – let me know) but besides that you have to just get on with your life and quit beating yourself up. I know this is not orthodox, but it is really how I feel and honestly I have been much happier in the 6 months since I made this final decision than I was in the previous 30.

    Reply
    • thank you so much for sharing your story, T.J. i know so many who could connect to it. i wonder if so much of what goes wrong for us is the teaching of the way it’s supposed to look and what we’re supposed to feel and it really sets us up. maybe it’s in the letting go sometimes that something completely different–and simple–and real emerges. for me, what i keep learning is that God is showing up in all kinds of small & interesting ways that are maybe in the simplicity of feeling free and connected and not trying-so-hard. thank you.

      Reply
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