Feeling the Great Grief and Anger in Men
Life is not easy. For many of us there comes, somewhere in life, a great grief. A grief we didn't ask for, or deserve. We are left feeling like the people of Israel; conquered and destroyed, and dragged into exile.
We may be sexually abused as a child. Or our child dies.. Perhaps we have a disease... cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, schizophrenia.
Or in the middle of life, meaning, confidence, and hope may depart us. We become aged, before being old men, with no reason to go on, but with a family needing keeping. And in this we may be utterly alone, with no ability to tell anyone- even if they cared.
Sometimes, we have more than one such grief. One heaps upon another.
What have these things done to us? What happened in us with their coming- and what happens to us now as we live with their results?
There is pain. Sometimes great physical pain, sometimes a deep sobbing pain in our soul.
There is shock... How did this happen? Why did it happen to me? Those unanswered, unanswerable questions about the unfairness of life.
There is often great anger in us. Anger that it should happen to us. Anger at the person who violated us. Sometimes, even anger at our loved one who has died, or is ill, or is lost. Anger, and all sorts of other feelings, that daunt us with their immensity and sheer violence. We may be afraid to feel them… what would stop the endless rage that might begin.
And then there is often guilt- Guilt that we are angry. Guilt that our feelings are overwhelming us. Guilt that we survived when someone else didn't. Guilt that worms into us and whispers that maybe we deserved it- even though we never did. Guilt that we can't forgive such a thing as was done to us.
Often… we repress our grief. We shove it down inside and try and ignore it. Sometimes all the pain and anger and other feelings leave us too afraid and unable to deal with them. Other times we just need to be strong and go on earning money to feed a family, or get everyone through the funeral. There simply is no time for us to grieve.
Perhaps we shed some tears at a funeral but then we must push it all down and get back to work, even if a great distress smoulders deep inside us. We are not supposed to cry.
Sometimes we have forgotten how to feel anyway. It may be that there is a great boredom… a loss of taste and colour from the shutting down of our feelings. To avoid the feelings of pain or anger, we have to forgo taste and colour and hope and joy and vision and fun and….
Or perhaps we do feel. And all the while, deep inside, is a great fearsome agony. But there is no one to listen. Who is around us?
Partners too irritated with our lack of sensitivity to notice the wound. Too ready to give us an answer to listen. Or because of our previous rages, or the rage of some other man, too afraid of us for us to tell.
Or the blokes at work, too busy, uncaring, or too afraid our unemployment will hit them next!
And so, we are alone.
We may despair. Life may lose its colour, its hope, its joy, and its meaning. A quiet bitterness may seep into our souls, and whittle the fullness of life away from us, long before we die. Suicide lurks as a stray thought, then a longing among all the other longings for escape, and then maybe in the end…. a coldly considered option.
And there is a hard, outraged anger at God.
Job 7:20 "[God]... what do I do to you,... ? Why have you made me your target? Why have I become a burden to you? Job 13:24 Why do you .... count me as your enemy?
Job 19:6 .... God has put me in the wrong, and closed his net around me.
Even when I cry out, 'Violence!' I am not answered; I call aloud, but there is no justice. He has walled up my way so that I cannot pass, and he has set darkness upon my paths. He has stripped my glory from me, and taken the crown from my head. He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone, he has uprooted my hope like a tree. He has kindled his wrath against me, and counts me as his adversary."
Or is it the case that God disappears? In the despair and depression there may no longer be a sense of God. If I cannot believe in anything, or feel anything, how could I sense God?!
Yet I find some belief in God again by determining to feel my feelings.
The bible says Job was blameless and upright, one who feared God (that is, who revered him) and turned away from evil. Yet he was angry with God. The gospel for we men is that the feelings of our great grief are natural, and common. We are not alone. We are not wrong to feel what we feel. Even to FEEL great anger and hatred against one who has violated us is not wrong. The Psalmists, Job, Jeremiah, Lamentations- all express these feelings to God, and yet God does not condemn them.
Our feelings are not wrong to have. Our feelings are God given as the path of healing of even our greatest grief. They alert us to our hurt. They tell us to seek God. In themselves feelings are neither bad or good; they just are.
It's what we do with those feelings that matters. They can be used for ill (against ourselves or others), and fuel terrible destruction. We're not silly to be afraid of them.
The Faith teaches us that God does not want, and does not intend, for us to live in a world where bitterness slowly, inevitably seeps into our souls, and whittles away the fullness of life. We are not meant to live in resigned despair. Jesus says in John that he came so we might have life, and life in ALL its fullness. [John 10:10] The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases.
Men try not to cry in our culture. Tribal people wail at a death. In Jesus' time people hired professional wailers to come and cry with them. They cried our their grief at death and other distresses. They let themselves feel. And they blamed God. The Lamentations reading does this. Job does this. Jeremiah does this. [Jer 20:7-18] They all attack God. And God takes it. They get angry with God, and God takes it.
Know this: we who refuse to be angry at God in the time of a great grief, will dump our anger on others. And we who, deep in our soul, feel God is responsible, but refuse to blame God during the time of our great grief, will heap our blame on others. Our feelings will come out despite our best efforts, and hurt others.
Often we will not let ourselves feel the real depths of our anger or sadness because we are afraid of what will happen. We fear the rage will overcome us. The anger and pain and despair that Lamentations and Job and Jeremiah felt fully, and spoke out fully, did not destroy them. It brought them into the presence of God. It saved them from being destroyed by the great grief which had happened to them!
Being polite to God, and holding our feelings in, or denying them, leaves them to fester and pus inside our soul. Our attempt to be polite to God pushes us away from God and poisons us.
Feeling our feelings, and telling them to God, allows us to be cleaned out and healed, and made stronger and closer to God. That's whether our feeling is anger, sadness, pain, despair, fear... you name it.
So let us feel. Maybe we need to be well away from our family! But God calls us to feel!
Lamentations 3:1-40 Written after the defeat and exile of Israel.
I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God's wrath;
he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light;
against me alone he turns his hand,
again and again, all day long.
He has made my flesh and my skin waste away,
and broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me sit in darkness like the dead of long ago.
He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
he has put heavy chains on me;
though I call and cry for help,
he shuts out my prayer;
he has blocked my ways with hewn stones,
he has made my paths crooked.
he bent his bow and set me as a mark for his arrow.
He shot into my vitals the arrows of his quiver;
I have become the laughing stock of all my people,
the object of their taunt-songs all day long.
He has filled me with bitterness,
he has sated me with wormwood.
He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
and made me cower in ashes;
my soul is bereft of peace;
I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, "Gone is my glory,
and all that I had hoped for from the LORD."
The thought of my affliction and my homelessness is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it and is bowed down within me.
But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases,
his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
The LORD is my portion," says my soul,
"therefore I will hope in him."
The LORD is good to those who wait for him,
to the soul that seeks him.
For the Lord will not reject forever.
Although he causes grief,
he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.
Jesus prayed, 'I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one.'
All Bible quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version 1989 National Council of Churches of Christ USA)
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