When I wake up in the morning I feel the consequence of my anger before I even swing my feet to the floor. My teeth ache from nighttime jaw clenching.
Anger is my go-to emotion of late.
Last week my children dressed up as four of the feelings/characters from the Disney movie Inside-Out. Their choices aligned fairly well with their personalities. Note this: Nobody chose to be anger.
“That is what Mom would be if she came to the costume party“, one of them joked.
It has been a week or two since I have owned and confessed to myself that anger is where I have set up camp — and even though the campsite is hideous and barren, it seems that it is actually where I prefer to stay. I wake up here every day.
Anger is easy for me, I am the offspring of feisty people and I channel the very feistiest ones in my gene pool.
When sorrow or brokenness creeps in, I think of one of the things I am enraged about, one of the things that I do not want to forgive, and push the underlying painful things quickly away.
It has gone on long enough now that a friend and my husband (and apparently even my children) have noticed. They separately suggest there is a better plan, a better way, for me than this.
I believe them but I’m not sure I want to do the work to move to a new campsite.
After all, moving requires I tear all the stuff down piece by piece, pack it all up, move elsewhere, only to unpack it in new light and have to remember and review it all again. I know reviewing it in under new, less angry light, will bring the pain I am working so hard to avoid.
A Persian poet by the name of Rumi wrote, “The remedy for the pain is the pain.”
I read those words of Rumi quoted in Seth Haines’ memoir, Coming Clean.
With a notebook and a fine-point sharpie I list out everything that makes me angry. The list is long. It ranges from the petty and ridiculous, to the deeply disturbing and devastating. While listing it out I notice much of the anger is aimed at God and people who have disappointed me, people I do not wish to forgive.
The short and quick list includes (but is not limited to):
- An October fourth hurricane hit the island hard, (while we all prayed it would not) people are suffering greatly. It will take years and years to recover. I am angry.
- Yet another married couple we love has announced their split. This seems to happen every few months lately. I am angry.
- Every appliance in my kitchen has stopped working properly. I am angry.
- The mother of one of my best friends has been diagnosed with a statistically improbable type of Cancer. My friend hurts. I am angry.
- Yet another person entrusted with dollars and the confidence of many to help in Haiti has turned out to be a crook and an egomaniac. I am so angry.
- Teams and more teams of matching t-shirts flood this place, they come and visit the ‘orphans’ for a few days. They leave. They come. They leave. Over and over. I am angry.
- A little girl, age eight, comes to see us at our clinic. She has been sexually assaulted and her Mother doesn’t know what to do because in this place there is little that can be done. I am so angry.
- A politician says things that are deeply offensive and his words hurt me and people I care about. I am angry.
- A close friend is attacked viciously by her own faith community on the internet. I am angry.
- The man in our neighborhood that abuses children continues to walk free. I am angry.
Small things. Big things. It doesn’t really matter.
The anger keeps me from feeling the pain. I have decided I hate pain and my remedy for pain is staying angry.
Rumi can stick-it. I’ve found my own remedy.
~ ~ ~ ~
Over the past couple of months when, by some force greater than myself and my own stubborn rage, I begin to feel the sorrow creeping toward me, I very quickly do one of a few things. I bet you know and employ some of these tricks too.
- Pain and sorrow can be kept away with two glasses of red wine consumed in quick succession.
- Pain and sorrow can be kept away with sleep.
- Pain and sorrow can be kept away with mindless scrolling of social media on the internet.
- Pain and sorrow can be kept away by cleaning and organizing and obsessing about household projects or chores.
- Pain and sorrow can be kept away by shopping on-line. (I have virtual carts full of beautiful things at several websites. To the relief of our pocketbook, I am able to stop short of hitting “purchase”. The looking and not buying distracts from pain as well.)
- Pain and sorrow can be kept away with work work work, and if we call it “ministry”, better yet. Just stay busy busy busy.
Mostly, it can be kept away by doing anything and everything while refusing to sit alone in quietness and begin to feel.
I have refused for a couple of months.
Anger is my go-to emotion.
I am tired of me.
I am tired of the anger.
Because of this, God feels very distant to me. Unreachable even.
~ ~ ~ ~
I am reading Seth’s book again. It says, “Remember, Jesus abides with those in pain.” I stop and write that down. I wonder if I am alienated from God due in part to my anger and my refusal to feel anything more.
Seth’s words again, “I know it’s time to begin turning in to the pain, headlong, rather than numbing it away. It’s time to go back. How? Simple practice. Begin with the last hurt and ask myself, What emotions do I feel? Are the emotions chaotic, disorganized? Are they like a tempestuous sea or a burning atmospheric reentry? Can I sit in those emotions and write them down? I’ll consider the emotions, confess them, find the truth in the moment. And then maybe I’ll move into the practice of forgiveness. Maybe. In the forgiveness, I wonder, will I find myself being made more like the Jesus I claim to follow? Is such a thing possible?”
Later, further into his memoir Seth says, “To pray through the pain, to live in it instead of numbing yourself to it, to subjugate your will to the will of God, even in the face of potential suffering — this is what it means to be like Jesus. This is what it means to yield to the mystery.”
~ ~ ~ ~
Reading these words I lament that if I choose to believe this is true and put it into practice, I have so much work to do. I have this huge campsite set up and I have gotten quite comfortable here. I am even a little smug about how well I function in my anger. Most people around me don’t even know I am this way. Only I know how bad my teeth hurt every morning. Only I know what I do to numb myself and keep from feeling pain.
I am writing this today as I consider the first steps I will choose if I want to change campsites, stop numbing and running.
If the remedy for the pain is the pain, I need to choose wisely. If Jesus abides with those in pain, I need to choose wisely.
If forgiveness and redemption are what I seek, they will also have to be what I offer.
What about you? Are you running to other things to avoid your pain? Are you stuck at some hideous campsite, your tent affixed permanently to that ground?
I leave you with a condensed and paraphrased version of one of the last chapters in Seth’s book. I leave you with this because it spoke to my anger, my refusal to allow the pain.
“We are an odd company, I don’t suppose I’m special among you, that I’m the only one who confesses the power of a risen Christ and drinks himself into the icy numbness. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who hoards hurts until well after the accusers have disappeared or passed on. I don’t suppose I’m the only one who has let the perception that God is dormant burn and burn.”
“You know this pain, yes? For some perhaps it’s the itinerant preacher, but for others, maybe it’s the runaway father, the dead mother, or the friend who’s disappeared. For some it’s a minor pain that’s allowed to fester — mine was — but for others it’s the unfathomable, unthinkable pain of abuse, rape, prejudice, or murder.”
“You feel it, don’t you? Has it upended your faith in God, in yourself? Has it driven you to self-soothing, to the icy numbness of sex or materialism or even theology? Has it created in you an agnostic heart, an agoraphobic heart, an alcoholic heart?”
“Perhaps this is all too mystical for you; perhaps you are uncomfortable with the simplicity of a Jesus who abides with the simplest faith-bearers — with the children and the forgivers. Maybe you’d rather find comfort in the cold adult numbness, the coping mechanisms: the booze, the sex, the chocolate, the systematized theologies that reduce God to a proper but cold equation. Maybe you’d rather build structures around your pain, tuck them behind protected and thorny hedgerows, hold them in a safe place of your making.”
“But I see through your drinking, your affair, your theological systems. I know all addiction is undergirded with pain, and when you strip the addiction away, all questions, doubts, and accusations are sure to come screaming to the surface.”
“Be honest: in moments of clarity, of stone-cold sobriety, do you ask how a good God could allow so much pain? Do you wonder whether Jesus is a figment of your imagination, whether God is real? Do you have fond dreams of dying — not of suicide but of dying? Do you see the prospect of death as release?”
“Perhaps you love your spouse, perhaps you don’t, but do you love yourself and do you forgive yourself the way God loves and forgives you? Do you wonder whether God will ever speak again, and whether he ever spoke in the first place? Do you wonder whether it’s just your noggin talking to you? Do you wonder whether God likes you? I know you ask these questions, that you hear these accusations and feel the pain. How do I know this? You are my brothers and sisters. We’re all human, aren’t we?”
“Perhaps many of us need to move from a place of addiction (any old addiction) to freedom. The process hurts, there is no doubt, and I know I’m not yet done. There is more pain to explore and more accusers to forgive. But if we are going to practice the forgiveness taught by Jesus, if we are going to find the freedom of reconciliation with our enemies, and in that find reconciliation with God, perhaps it’s time for a serious exploration of our pains and anxieties.”
~ ~ ~ ~
I have five copies of Seth’s book to share.
If you are like me, stuck in a angry (or insert your word) place but feeling the nagging need to move, please email me your name and mailing address at Livesayfamily@gmail.com and we will send you a copy in the month of November.
If you miss out on one of the gift copies, you can also buy it here.
MONDAY MID- MORNING UPDATE: ALL Five books have been snapped up, hoping for all of us to keep figuring out how to work through anger and pain.