My friend Dennis asked me if I doubted God during the dark times. “Doubted his fidelity or reality?” I wanted to know. He said the latter. That was easier.
“No,” I said, “I was too p***** at him to doubt that he existed! Of course there’s a God, but I just didn’t like him very much at the time.”
Seriously, it didn’t even occur to me that there was no God in this world. I had seen too much of him to believe that. My mind hadn’t changed; it was my heart that was ground to dust. Plus, if he didn’t exist, I wouldn’t have known where to direct my anger – in the most righteous way, of course. I think sometimes we get mad at God because he’s a safe target. If I were to unleash the full force of my animosity at those who’d betrayed me or at myself for not being a better person or at my body for catching cancer, it wouldn’t have been pretty. For a short time I did take my anger out on my own body at the gym. My buddy Steve caught me in there abusing myself with weights too big for my skinny frame, and asked me what I thought I was doing. I told him I was kicking my own butt in order to avoid kicking someone else’s.
It wasn’t just anger that I felt, though it does tend to by my default emotion – it makes me feel powerful instead of paltry, but only momentarily, and it usually brings less than desirable results. Grief was sitting on my chest like that X-ray apron in the dentist’s office, compressing my lungs, making it hard to breathe. Confusion, frustration, fear – you name it, I felt it.
So what about emotions like those? Are we sinning when we’re angry or afraid or depressed? Does God disapprove of certain feelings? Is he offended by our outbursts of emotion? Was God mad at me for being mad at him? I wondered if I’d passed the point of no return.
After about a year I began to share the Word publicly again. It took me that time to feel qualified (after the divorce) and strong enough (after the first round of chemo) to share anything with anyone. My first several messages were pretty cynical. They tended to be aches and pains put into three rhyming points, an introduction, and conclusion. I think my hearers were patient with me and God forgave me. He even graciously used parts of those jaded talks to help a few other jaded people. One person stands out.
Tamara has suffered since birth, having had dozens of surgeries with varying degrees of success. Because of a tracheotomy, like the guy you see in the anti-smoking commercials, this precious teenager has to plug the hole in her throat with her finger in order to speak. Like many young sufferers I’ve met, she has an incredibly sweet and indomitable spirit about her.
Following one of my cathartic homilies, she approached me in the parking lot and surprised me with what she said. Covering the opening in her neck she eked out, “Thank you for sharing your story and helping me know it’s OK to feel the way I do at times. Sometimes I get angry at God too and I tell him so.” Coolly I thanked her for her comment, got in my car, and cried all the way home. Sometimes we just need someone to give us permission to feel what we feel.