Sometimes people think that, as Christians, we have to be manically happy all the time in times of struggle. We have learned the verse, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds…” (James 1:2-4, ESV) and think it means that we have a weak faith if we question. I have even heard friends refer to people as “immature Christians” as ones who fear and agonize and lament in times of great sorrow.
Promoting this idea that being a Christian means never showing normal human emotion is dangerous. I am here to tell you, folks. No matter how strong your faith is, when your child’s life is in danger, when you see them hooked up to innumerable IVs and tubes, when you come face to face with the pain they suffer, when you contemplate life without them, when you realize there may come a day when the chaplain comes around the corner in the hospital and the doctors tell you that you must make an unthinkable decision…there is no way to be happy then.
Does this look like a face of joy? Daniel had just turned 4 months old, and he had just had his 2nd open heart surgery, his 4th surgery overall. He was struggling to breathe. In this picture, he was wearing a c-pap mask. I had to fight to be able to hold him. He would have to be emergently intubated two more times, and he would eventually need his fifth surgery to plicate his diaphragm. I was so incredibly scared. This was NOT how this was supposed to go. The Glenn is the easy open heart surgery. Why was this happening? It was a dark time.
In my rare moments of quiet, I find myself reflecting back on the last 9 months. I remember the day we got Daniel’s diagnosis at my 20-week ultrasound (“D-Day” Blog Post). I think about Daniel’s birth. I think about the pulmonary banding surgery, the Norwood, the g-tube placement, the first 52 days in the hospital, the 52 days at home, the heart cath at the end of October, the Glenn, the diaphragm plication and thoracotomy, the second 58 days in the hospital, and our time since coming home.
I don’t think of it in order like that. It just kind of all blends together in my head. Remember the old overhead projectors used in schools, and the transparency pages used with them? When I think about our journey, in my brain it feels like what a bunch of different transparencies stacked together would look like. It feels overwhelming. I think, “how in the world did we survive that?”
I would come home on the weekends to see David and Hannah while Daniel was sedated and intubated. People would say to me, “God has this! We are praying. It’s all in God’s plan,” and I would be angry. Mainly I was angry because I felt like people didn’t know what to say, and they were uncomfortable with my grief. I felt like I needed to maintain a “stiff upper lip” for other people’s sake, so I wouldn’t make them feel awkward in my emotional upheaval.
I wrote about bitterness in a previous blog post (Letting Go of Bitterness). Bitterness and anger can frequently be interchanged. The two words seem to mean the same thing, but there is a subtle difference. Anger is felt about something that has happened in the present, now. Bitterness is what happens over time. Looking back, I realize how angry I was all the time.
The word “anger” is derived from the Old Norse word for “grief” and “to vex.” I find this interesting because I think the cause of my anger was always my deep, constant grief. My aunt Pam has always said, “Anger is a secondary emotion.” People don’t inherently feel anger first. There is always some root cause. For me, it was grief for Daniel. Grief that he was in such pain, grief that his life would be so different and uncertain, grief that we were away from our family, grief that I wasn’t able to be the mother I wanted to be to David and Hannah during this time. I felt so helpless all the time in the face of Daniel’s pain. It was a release to be able to give in to anger. At least when I felt angry, I was able to do something.
So. Much. Grief.
Since Daniel’s diagnosis at the end of March, I had been angry at God. I really struggled, and I’ve frequently written about it: If God can, then why doesn’t He? ; Is the pain worth it?; Daniel Updates 11/20/18. How can any of this be good? Why, God? If you can heal, then why don’t you? Why don’t you hear me? I was feeling this in present tense, every time I looked at Daniel in such a vulnerable state.
My anger at God would eventually spill over to other people. On one weekend when I was home to see my children, I brought them to church. Sitting with my children in church was a wonderful treat, a luxury I rarely got to experience in the last 6 months of 2018. Remember, I only got to see them maybe two days out of seven for weeks and weeks. Of course, this one particular Sunday, Hannah decided to be a two year old and talk loudly during Pastor’s sermon. I told her to, “Shh” and she started crying. I took her out so I wouldn’t inconvenience others listening. I didn’t want to “discipline” her over the crying because 1) I only got to see her two days a week, and I didn’t want to spend any of that time fighting my 2-year-old, and 2) I don’t want to teach my children to hate church, and I don’t want them to view it with dread. So I just walked around with her outside during the quiet part of the service.
Eventually it would come back to me that someone was talking bad about my parenting and about Hannah’s attitude. This devastated me. I have always struggled with needing to please others, and I was already paranoid about Hannah’s behavior. All of a sudden, I was filled with this incredible force of anger. I was angry at the person speaking badly of me and Hannah, angry at God for allowing this to happen to Daniel, angry at the Lutheran Church for somehow producing evil people with no mercy and compassion, angry at human beings in general, and most of all angry at myself for being a failure. I had failed Daniel when pregnant with him, I had failed David and Hannah by being away from them, and now I was failing Hannah in training her on how to sit in church. It was like an explosion of wrath, pain, and guilt.
Another time I was talking to someone I dearly love and respect. I referenced something I wrote about in my blog, and this person laughed and said, “Well, I’m not really a blog person.” These simple words cut me to the core. I pour out my heart and soul in this blog. I felt deeply rejected. Very quickly, the pain I felt turned into anger. Once again, I was not only angry at the person I was talking to, but also at myself.
As I wrote in Letting Go of Bitterness, “when [the Devil] can’t get us to doubt God, he does the next best thing. He gets us to hate His (God’s) image bearers, our brothers and sisters who are made in the image of God, with whom we are called to share the Good News above all else.” Additionally, I think he also makes us hate ourselves. If the devil can get us to forget that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for [God’s] own possession” (1 Peter 2:9, ESV), a people “bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:20, ESV), then he can steal our joy and make us forget that the war has already been won by the blood of Christ. If we forget who we are and what we are “fighting the good fight of faith” (1 Tim 6:12) for, he can get us to treat one another with merciless hate, and he can sow discord and ire in the Church when there should be unity.
I am not writing this blog post to tell you not to feel. As human beings, we have deep-seated emotions. Instead of trying to mask them or feeling guilty for being scared, I implore you to take your fears and worries to God in prayer. When we are scared, our fear and grief turn into anger, which leads to bitterness, which all leads to death. Not literal death, but spiritual death, where we are constantly at odds with people, when we feel hatred and show no compassion to others and to ourselves.
In the Psalms, we get a complete picture of what a relationship with God looks like. David never shied away from feeling, and he frequently poured his heart out to God. He writes things like, “I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears; I drench my couch with my weeping. my eye wastes away because of grief; it grows weak because of all my foes,” (Psalm 6:6-7, ESV), but then finishes the Psalm with “for the Lord has heard the sounds of my weeping. The Lord has heard my plea; the Lord accepts my prayer.”
He even expresses his anger with words like, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1) and “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest” (Psalm 22:1-2). Another piece of incredible imagery is found in verses 13-15 of Psalm 22: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.”
Coupled always with this raw emotion is reverence and love for God. At the end of Psalm 13, he writes, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” And toward end of Psalm 22, he writes, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: You who fear the Lord, praise him! For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.”
Can you feel simultaneously overwhelmed and scared while rejoicing in God’s faithfulness and steadfast love? Yes! In fact, it is through these incredibly dark times that we see the truth of God’s faithfulness and mercy.
I write this blog because it is my way of processing my emotion. It is also a way for me to give voice to others and to give back. For many, all these feelings are swirling around all the time, and it can make you crazy. You are a hurricane of insanity all the time– one moment crying, one moment filled with wrath, one moment manically happy. It can be exhausting to witness; imagine what it must be like for the people feeling it. If you don’t take the time to really understand yourself, then you start to feel like you are going crazy.
For me, I have also found refuge in other people who have truly suffered. You don’t have to look far to find someone who has experienced tragedy. Usually these people are the most supportive, most eager to comfort and listen. I feel most at peace when I am around other people who have gone through difficult times. Find your “tribe.” You don’t have to tell everyone your feelings or write a public blog, like I have chosen to do. Don’t ever feel you have to apologize for “weak” moments, and don’t feel like you are weak in faith because you are weak in heart.
People say, “God will never give you more than you can handle.” That is such a misleading statement that is not grounded on Biblical fact. Here is the truth– God will never give you more than HE can handle. Rejoicing in that fact when all else seems uncertain is why we can “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you ay be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4, ESV).
What does rejoicing look like? Does it mean smiling while saying, “Daniel is reintubated! And he can’t breathe on his own! And he is in horrible pain, but God provides!” No.
This (picture below) is what joy looks like for many of us. It isn’t that we cling to Jesus in times of trouble; instead, He holds on to us.
So, feel and feel deeply. Don’t run away from feeling. Take your feelings to God in prayer. Read the Bible and earnestly seek comfort and wisdom and refuge in His Word. I think you will find that your anger turns into grace. How can I, who have been forgiven so much, be so angry at one of God’s children? How can I feel angry at all when I live in the light of the truth? Let go of the anger, and find peace.
“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7, ESV). Amen.