When Heartbreak turns to Anger

This article first appeared on Tearfund Lifestyle, 25 June 2014.

In the last few months, my Dad had a major operation to remove a cancer; my dearest, wonderful Grandma passed away; I ended things with my lovely long-term boyfriend; and I was told that my chronic pain treatment was not as likely to be effective as they first thought. Oh, and I had university finals. A friend recently told me I was basically a whole season of Hollyoaks in one person. Unsurprisingly, it’s become a bit much for my mind, body and spirit to process.

All of us at some point or another will deal with grief. Grief can feel like it’s neatly swiped the breath right from your lungs. It also affects us all in different ways. Yet, like mothers comparing the progress of their toddlers at care group, we sometimes question (often by means of a cheeky Google search) how our bodies are dealing with these external factors: am I crying enough? Am I crying too much? Why am I not crying at all? What ‘stage’ of grief does the model say I’m in? Should I be feeling this pain in my chest? What am I supposed to do with all these emotions inside me?

For me, one of my biggest go-to responses has been anger. Not anger at anyone or anything in particular; more like a sudden fierceness that would propel me to violently defend an opinion or get involved in sorting out an issue that doesn’t strictly affect me. Another of my friends has a phrase: ‘my sense of right has been wronged.’ If anything wrongs my sense of right at the moment, I’m on it like a feral lioness who’s just heard someone wants to hurt her cubs. And strictly speaking, that’s really what anger is for: to galvanise us to fight for our sense of justice. It’s not primarily a destructive emotion, although it can be if it’s not resolved in a healthy way. Think about the famous example of Jesus whacking the vendors’ tables over in the temple. He wasn’t doing that for the sake of destruction; rather, he was expressing the fact that this was not how it should be, and the only way to fix that was to remove the cause of concern. His sense of right had been wronged, and He got angry.

Now I’m not saying for one second that anger and/or violence is always (or ever) the answer. Whenever that story is mentioned we should also remember that Jesus lovingly died in the place of everyone who’s ever wronged His sense of right. Perhaps then the answer to anger is forgiveness. The trouble comes when, like me, you don’t know who to forgive, because you don’t know where your anger is directed, if it is directed towards anything at all. In these times, I’m choosing to take comfort in the words of the psalmist:

‘Is anyone crying for help? God is listening, ready to rescue you. If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath’ (Psalm 34:17-8).

Encouragingly, for those times when we don’t know where God is, we also find precedent for a simple prayer:

‘Don’t dump me, God; my God, don’t stand me up. Hurry and help me; I want some wide-open space in my life!’ (Psalm 38:21-22)

When I’m stuck for words, they’re as good as any, as they recognise I need God and help me verbalise the step of faith I’m trying to force my weary feet to make. It’s hard to stay obedient when you don’t have the energy, and I’ve definitely wronged His sense of right while processing these emotions. Right now I’m just thanking God that even when I’m tongue-tied, I can use His Word to give me the words that grief has rendered me incapable of expressing. One day at a time.

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