Illness and Anger: 3 Steps to Avoid the Spiritual Pitfalls
"When I was first diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, I was relieved at first," shares Cindy. "So many doctors kept telling me to see a psychiatrist, but I knew it was my body, not my head, that was in trouble." She explains, "I had spent so much time before my diagnosis being mad, having my illness finally validated was a great feeling. But six months later, the anger set in the pain management of the illness seemed to barely exist."
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a doctor in Switzerland, wrote a life-changing book called, "On Death and Dying" which describes the cycle of emotional stages that is often referred to as the grief cycle. Anger is the third stage, following the shock stage and the denial stage.
When we discover that we have a chronic illness, meaning an illness we will likely have for the rest of our lives, anger is a natural reaction. So many hopes and dreams seem to be taken from us.
Recognizing these feelings and dealing with them is part of the mourning process. We all need to go through this process, and it comes at different times for each individual and at different levels at each stage of the illness. Ironically, the first year of diagnosis may even be easier than the third year.
Says Krista, who lives with chronic fatigue syndrome, "I know that my anger stages come and go. I have been angry at doctors, at God, myself, my church, even my husband and daughter and other family members."
One thing is definite: anger will come. For some people it will be a mild irritation with everything in life, and for others a flaring temper that doesn't seem subside.
"It is my observation," says Linda Noble Topf, author of "You are Not Your Illness", "that the absence of anger in the face of a serious illness suggests that we have already withdrawn from life, that we have relinquished our passion for living, that we are resigned and emotionally numb."
When you are Christian it can feel shameful to even express that you have angry feelings. Too often Christians believe that their angry emotions are sinful and something that those with a great deal of faith never experience. They even believe that those feelings they do have are not even quote "allowed." Have you ever experience some of these feelings?
- If I truly have faith in God and trust that He knows best, than I shouldn't get angry about my circumstances. Doesn't anger signify a lack of faith?
- If I reveal to other Christians that I am angry about my situation, won't they think I am weak in my walk with God?
- I know the Bible says, "wise men shouldn't anger." So how can be my real self with the Lord?
- I know that anger leads to bitterness. So if I don't acknowledge these feelings I will be a "better Christian" and I won't ever become bitter about life.
None of these feelings are unusual, yet they keep us from dealing with the grief that we are going through because of our loss of health and lifestyle.
Here are a few tips to guide you in dealing with anger.
1. Are you angry? Acknowledge your authentic feelings and then get on with life.
If you insist on ignoring your emotions, believing that in the end you will be a spiritually healthier person for it, you are wrong. Topf advises, "Think of anger as a resource that you can learn to harness and refine for your own benefit." If you can learn to recognize your anger, it will help you reclaim your authentic identity. Faking it won't take you through this.
In the Bible the story of Job shows how he became angry at the events in his life (including the outbreak of sores all over his body). He even cursed the day he was born. As Job's life went on, God bless him with even more material assets, family, and choice. Job told God, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful to know" (Job 42:3b). Through his anger and frustration, he eventually found wisdom and character. You can't fake it through life or you will never benefit from this challenge you've been given
2. It is all right to have angry feelings.
God designed us to feel a wide variety of emotions and one of these is anger. There are numerous instances in the Bible where Scripture specifically tells us about how even God got mad. What does the Bible tells about how to cope with our own angry feelings?
- "For man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (James 1:20).
- "Wise men turn away anger" (Proverbs
- "A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control" (Proverbs 29:11).
God knows that although anger is a natural human emotion, it should not be our lifestyle. Some people may argue that it takes anger to get things accomplished. One example of this is the emotional name of Mothers against Drunk Drivers which have a seemingly appropriate acronym called "MADD." "We discover that anger is first and foremost demand for change," writes Topf. Great things have happened in our history, because of the "I'm-not-going-to-take-it anymore-attitude," but it's not how God calls us to live our entire life.
In Amos 1:11, God says, "I will not turn back my wrath... because his anger raged continually." God isn't upset because of the presence of anger, but because the anger was continuous. God calls us to put our focus on Him and try to make a difference that will bring glory to Him.
3. Walk alongside God and He will walk with you through the anger.
The Bible tells us how David discovered this. "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me." (Psalm 138:7). God can calm the anger of not only ourselves but also our enemies. He's there to offer protection and guidance as you go through the various episodes of anger and the emotions of your illness.
"I'm still dealing with anger toward this illness, after two years diagnosed, and eight years of being sick," shares Peggy, who lives with fibromyalgia. "Each time a new realization hits me about my limitations, I experience anger. And yet, I know that God has a plan for my life that is perfect. I still battle the angry feelings, which rage inside, every time I have to say no to something I would like to do. I pray and expect His perfect grace and that He will become slow to anger, counting on the scripture, 'The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love'" (Psalm 103:8).
We will all face the emotion of anger for the rest of our lives. Some of the most basic advice to cope with it is that which is in a scripture that I refer in my book, "Why Can't I Make People Understand? Discovering the Validation Those with Chronic Illness Seek and Why" where I walk through the emotions of anger and bitterness we deal with in regards to our illness. In Hosea 7:13b-14 God says, "I long to redeem [you] but. . . [you] do not cry out to Me from [your] hearts, but wait upon [your] beds." Don't flop down on your bed and wail "Why me?" Instead pour out your heart to the Lord and wholly ask Him for help.
"Why Can't I Make People Understand?" is author, Lisa's newest book that will get you through your emotions of anger atwww.whycantimakepeopleunderstand.com . Get a free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from when yousign up for HopeNotesat Rest Ministries. Lisa is the founder of Invisible Illness Week.