surprised by anger

Posted: June 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

Once upon a time, during one of the most difficult passages of my life, I developed a coping skill that worked for me at the time:  I refused to feel my feelings when everything was going to pieces.  If I felt threatened, if my security seemed to be slipping away, if all the things that had made my life seem safe appeared on the verge of being ripped from me, I shut down all emotional switches.  I did it on purpose at the time; it was useful and helpful and kept me from ending up on the news or in jail or locked in a mental ward somewhere.  I would get suddenly very calm as I silently told myself, “We can feel this later.  It’s not safe to feel it now.  We’re not going to feel this.  Not right now.  Right now, we’re going to survive.  We can feel LATER.”

It seemed at the time to be just a smart, practical tool.  Later I learned that I’d been perhaps hasty or arrogant or at least foolish to think I could control such a thing; the mechanism stuck, long beyond the expiration of any need for it. This has proven to be inconvenient more than once, both in the inability to feel (and respond accordingly) at the appropriate time, and the ugly, awkward timing of when something in me decides that “later” has arrived and it’s time to process, regardless of convenience.  I believe I am slowly unlearning it, but it’s taking decades, and once in awhile circumstance holds the mirror up to show me that I’ve not come as far as I had hoped, despite a lot of serious work done toward intentionally sitting with feelings and letting them be what they are without trying to insist they be more acceptable.

That mirror showed up this morning for me in church.  We were finishing a two-part series on physical fitness (as in, being a good steward of the temple that is my body), which I’ve been gritting my teeth to get through.  It’s never fun to be one of the heavy people in a room where so much of the topic turns to weight, no matter how sensitively it is handled.  I went into the series resolved:  I will show up listening for what God has to say to me.  I will not make assumptions.  I will remember that those who are speaking are people who care about me and would never take personal shots at me.  I will work intentionally against any temptation to take offense.  I will listen for what God has to say to me.  I will listen for what God has to say to me.  I will listen for what God has to say to me.  In the end, the only thing that matters for me about this message is what God has to say to me.  I won’t raise objections, even inside, that might keep me from hearing what that is.

I give myself a full 10 points out of 10 possible for showing up in listening mode.  I give my pastors 10 full points out of 10 possible for handling the subject matter in a non-shaming way.

Here’s the one and only thing I realized this morning:  I’m angry, and not just a little bit.  I’m angry that arthritis came along.  I’m angry that after a lifetime of struggling to exercise, I obediently followed as God led me on an incredible journey that ended up with me loving to run…and then it was taken away from me by the failure of my feet.  I’m angry at how often I am driving along a road in my neighborhood and I remember how great it felt to be running down that same road, and I get a homesick pit in my stomach, which inevitably leaves me pushing the emotion away.  There are giant hills in the area that I was once so very proud to be able to run up – even doing many laps up per run – and as time goes by that memory gets less joyous and a little more sad, having slipped beyond my grasp.  When I could run, I was one seriously bad-ass runner.  I ran in all weather – heat, snow and ice, driving rain, all of it.  When I fell, I got up bleeding and ran on for miles.  I was slow, but I was so tough, and that felt great.  I’m angry that now if I try even just to walk a little bit, or if I stand too long on my feet, the pain is overwhelming.  I’m angry at the loss and I’m angry at the blow to my pride – that I KNOW I am tough, but from the outside it surely looks like I’m just another middle-aged lady making lame excuses about why she “can’t” work out.    I’m angry that following the doctor’s orders to listen to the pain in my feet looks like being lazy.  Oh yeah, there is a real loss here, but also my pride is deeply wounded.  One doesn’t cancel the other.

I didn’t really know how angry I am.  I mean, it sometimes surfaces for a few moments and I feel it, and then I push it down and stay busy about life.  But this morning as I listened for what God was saying to me during the message, 100% of what I perceived was my anger.  Rage.  I wanted to scream, to cry until I ran out of tears.  To throw things.  To punch things.  To break things.  I sat still and let a few tears slide, and went quietly on about my day.

I feel all that again right now as I write.  It’s why I’m here, writing and letting the tears be what they insist on being.  I don’t know really at all what to do with this anger, now that God has ripped its cover off and fully exposed me to it.  I suppose it is part of grief?  For sure arthritis has brought death to some parts of my life that I wasn’t ready to let go, and I guess no amount of deciding to be reasonable about that has managed to eliminate the anger that I didn’t realize I was deciding not to feel.

I’ve got a hunch that my best bet right now is to let the anger be what it is, and not try to deny it away.  I’m not going to find my way to acceptance, which is living life on life’s terms, absent that processing, I suppose.  I don’t like being angry.  It’s not comfortable.  But I think it’s where I’ll need to be for as long as it takes to finish this phase of a conversation with God that seems to be taking interminably long.  I love to be a more apt student than I am.  But I can make up for lack of wit by sure stubbornness.  I know this from experience.

Once upon a time when something had tripped my rage-o-meter, I found a batting machine and hit balls until my arms just about fell off.  It helped.  I’d consider doing that tonight, if I knew where I could find such a machine.

Maybe God’s got something else in mind, though.  Guess I’ll keep on listening.

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