One of the most overlooked parts of the experience of anger may be how lonely anger is. The heat on the outside of anger distracts from the isolation on the inside of the experience of anger. This loneliness can be accounted for by at least two factors.
First, it is hard for someone else to truly know our pain. Proverbs 14:10a says, “[Only] the heart knows its own bitterness.” There is a limit to how well we can describe our pain and anger. There is limit to how well someone can enter that experience with us and resonate with what we’re feeling. When we’re hurt and angry, we feel alone because we know that even those who care enough to ask only “get it” to a degree.
Second, anger pushes people away. Anger doesn’t make us easy to be around. Often, we are sharp, harsh, or rude when we’re angry. We resist those trying to care for us. Even if we express the self-control to avoid being rude, there is an aloofness to anger that pushes people away more than draws then in. Many people are simply intimidated to be around an angry or deeply hurting person.
If your faith in God has been important to you, then a third dynamic emerges: we don’t want how we feel to become “contagious” or adversely affect the faith of others. If someone else is on good terms with God, we don’t want to mess that up for them. We miss the innocence of what they’re experiencing and don’t want our emotions to destroy that for them.One of the most overlooked parts of the experience of anger may be how lonely anger is. The heat on the outside of anger distracts from the isolation on the inside of the experience of anger. Click To Tweet
But that’s just the from-us-to-them side of the equation. There is also the from-them-to-us dynamics that add to the loneliness of anger. We’ll consider two of these factors that can add to our sense of isolation.
First, some “nice” people aren’t sturdy enough to bear the pain and hear the anger of others. They want solutions to be prompt and tidy. They want to say the right thing that makes the unrest “all better.” They wilt under the penetrating gaze of hard questions and internal angst. If we talk to someone like this, we either begin to care for them or live with the guilt of knowing what our upset-ness is doing to them. Either way, it’s not helpful.
Second, some sympathetic people are all empathy. We don’t get anything constructive from them. They are a wonderful mirror to our emotions, but that’s all they have to offer. They can weep with those who weep (Romans 12:15) and snarl with those who snarl, but when that is done the conversation doesn’t go anywhere else. For a moment we feel less alone, but then our distraught-ness is reinforced. This is short-term helpful, but not much more than that.
Why do I bring up these challenges? For one reason, anger is raw. If I don’t bring them up, you’re likely to use these challenges (whether you could articulate them or not) to dismiss me as over idealistic. We also bring them up simply because they’re real and we need to account for them as we seek a good friend to help us on this journey.
With these things in mind, here are six qualities you are looking for in a friend to walk with you as you work through the rest of this series.
- They listen well even when they do not know what to say. This is the middle ground between being all empathy and avoiding hard situations. You want someone with the humility and courage to say, “I’m not sure I fully understand yet, but I want to. Please explain more,” or, “This is really hard. I can understand why you feel stuck.”
- They are willing to learn about your experiences before speaking into them. Christians may be most prone to violate, “let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak,” (James 1:19) when the person speaking to them is upset with God. We don’t want someone who will resort to quick rebuttals saying we shouldn’t feel that way.
- They have your best interest at heart. When we’ve been hurt in a way that makes us upset with God, we often have grievances about church as well. This is a point where many Christians feel torn between caring for the individual and defending the group. We want someone who realizes listening to us (individual) doesn’t mean dismissing them (the church). But having our best interest at heart also means they will also speak up when we are distorting events or being selective in what we focus on.
- They realize they cannot rescue you from your hurt and anger. Caring Christians can often creep towards “doing life for” instead of “doing life with” a person who is hurting. You want someone who will honor your autonomy and not begin to try to make choices for you.
- They do not take your anger personally. You are talking to them because you trust them. You are expressing your anger and hurt “to” them, not “at” them. You are looking for someone who knows the difference.
- They direct you to wise, healthy choices even when you’re upset. You want someone with the backbone to say, “You can do that, but you’ll regret it. I discourage it and you asked me to join you on this journey for moments like this,” when you’re about to do something that will further disrupt your life.
I hope your response to this list is, “I’d really like to have a friend like that right now. It would make a big difference even if they got on my nerves from time to time.” If that is the case, then here is process for finding that kind of friend if a name and face doesn’t immediately come to mind.
- Pick from the available options. There are no perfect friends. Even if a name does come to mind, they won’t perfectly fulfill everything I listed.
- Ask them to be this kind of friend. This is not the time to wait for the friendship to “develop organically” into what you want it to be.
- Invite them to read this article. Simply say, “I’m struggling with my faith and how I think about God. I’m using a resource to help me with that. It says a friend would be a big help. Would you read what it says about the role of that kind of friend?”
- Catch them up to where you are. If they say yes, catch them up on the work you’ve done to this point. This both helps them get to know you better and helps you further assimilate the narrative work you did in the “timeline and topography” exercise.
- Continue the rest of the journey together. The goal is that you begin to feel less alone with your pain. As you wrestle with your unrest towards God, it would be best if you experienced what God wants from you from the church, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” (Galatians 6:2).
To get to this point, you’ve done a great deal of work. Thank you. We have focused mainly on making preparation for the journey ahead. As we pivot towards more overt processing of the experiences that prompted your pain, I believe you will experience the benefits of this early work.
Questions for Reflection
- Which of the challenges about finding a good friend for hard times have you already experienced? What type of discouragement did it create for you?
- How does understanding the parameters of what it looks like to be a good friend in hard times help create hope that you could identify one or more people who would be willing to fill this role?
* * * This article is part of a series entitled Anger with God: Grappling with God Amidst Life’s Greatest Pains and Betrayals.