I don’t like forwards. Forwards are to me what toupees are to Donald Trump. Overrated and unnecessary. But this short video caught my eye in a way that may be surprising to you. I watched it with the sound turned off, as I was simultaneously glued to some post-modern drivel on TV at the time. (I’m a rabid multi-tasker, you see.) I’d recommend that you watch the 30-second video below before reading on. And for best effect, set your computer’s speakers on mute.
At first glance, it’s a funny scene that elicits a chuckle and tugs at the heartstrings of animal lovers. But my reaction to it wasn’t a giggle and a quick click of the “Share” button. By the time Rover had finished his “Please play with me” dance, I had a knot in my stomach and tears in my eyes. Just the day before, I’d received a jarring email from a former student, this portion reprinted here with permission:
“You’re right. I’m angry. I’ve spent the better part of my life begging God for everything he’s supposed to offer: peace, joy, contentment, hope, healing…and I’ve done my part. I’ve learned the Bible verses and taught the Sunday school classes. I’ve followed my parents half-way around the globe without complaining even though they never asked me if this is what I wanted. I’ve been a ‘good little girl’ and it has landed me here. A defunct marriage to the ‘man of God’ I prayed for, a child with autism and a mortgage that will probably lead to foreclosure in the next few months. So where’s the God of Peace now? Where’s the rescuer my parents preached about?”
Jennifer* is 29. And her world is imploding. Her reaction, understandably, is anger.
Anger is not a new concept to me. If you’ve read my “Shards of Shell,” you’re aware of that already. Sometimes it’s a blistering red wind that packs the power of an indiscriminate, bursting dam. Sometimes it’s creaking black steel, a barely perceptible roiling of hard fury just below the surface of our lives. Whatever its manifestation, I’ve known anger. So, as my life stumbled, in early years, from unbelonging to assault to inner torment, it was a normal response for me to fall into familiar anger. Like Jennifer, I’d begged for the comfort that was supposed to come from the Source of Peace, the Maker of Miracles, and like her, I’d found nothing but silence and unreprieve. Like Rover, I’d done my “Please see me” dance. It felt like I’d waived my arms at a blind God and deposited my offerings (my bribes?) at lifeless feet. I’d prayed—and I’d asked others to pray too. I’d pranced, begged and blustered. But the God of my comfort had remained immobile and mute.
He didn’t exist. He couldn’t exist. The anger born of those conclusions became the comfort I sought. It was the outlet through which my disillusion, hopelessness and pain would funnel as I tried to help myself—since The Helper had apparently been a man-made impostor of historical proportions. I’d done it all right, and He hadn’t shown up. I was finished with hoping. And every time someone tried to convince me to pray one more time or to give God one more chance, I fell back into the comforting arms of an anger born of grief that released the bile of my pain and kept me invulnerable, un-needing of the Force that had failed me. I was arrogant in my disbelief and unconsciously condescending of those who were simple and stupid enough to have faith.
Looking back, I can recognize the anger for what it was. But while I was still encased in its protective arrogance, it felt like a benevolent armor. Inside and outside of the rigid place of safety, though, it was wreaking havoc. Everything from my outlook on life to my ability to love others was crippled by the anger that tinted my perception of, well, just about everything and everyone around me.
The problem wasn’t God.
The problem was my understanding of who God should be.
In my case, I had to temporarily ignore the God I’d been spoon-fed all my life. He was too tinted by the bias and expectations of those who spoke of Him, too tangled in the unbalanced image we have of Him. He sounded abusive to me. Angry. Impersonal. Distant. Condemning. Dictatorial. Cruel. It was to this God, to this tyrant, that I had brought my feeble attempts at relationship, my pleas for healing, my yearning for comfort. And like the statue in the video, He had seemed to neither hear, see nor notice me.
I had to start with Jesus, a person whose character and heart are so much more tangible because He lived among us in a tangible way. It is from the blueprint of His life that I reconstructed my image of God. Someone once told me, “If you want to know who God is, look at His son.” The attributes I see in Jesus are so different from the tyrannical traits “religion” likes to dwell on. Was He unflinching in His abhorrence of sin and His commitment to our salvation? To the death. But for our sakes and with so much love.
It took me years—desperate, wasted years—to realize that I’d been pummeling God with demands for the world to be a different place. Fix this. Heal that. Rearrange this. Eliminate that. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I realized the error of that thinking. There will forever be loss, pain, and turmoil in this world, despite what Christianese-spewing do-gooders might proclaim. (Please read this blog post on that topic if you haven’t already.)
What I know now is simple: I don’t need the world to change. I just need to know I’m not alone in it. I don’t need Him to make death extinct. I just need to know He is with me in my grief. I don’t need Him to promise me I’ll never have cancer again. I just need to know He’ll walk with me if the disease comes back. At a time in my youth when I desperately needed the assurance that I was not alone, I spat on the only One who already knew the brokenness of my heart and stood waiting to comfort me. The waste—the self-injury—of that mindset grieves me today. If only I’d realized that the unresponsive God from whom I demanded comfort was the fabrication of misinformation and an easy target for the anger that consumed me. The real God was near, but my anger blinded me to Him.
I had to lay down that anger, release my demands and rest in my pain before I found Jesus. Only then was I given the courage to fight, the boldness to seek rescue, and the peace to hope for a future in which bitterness and fury held less power.
Jennifer—beautiful, strong-but-wounded Jennifer. I know it will cost you dearly to release the anger and allow your grief to exist unshielded by its armor. Will you take that risk? Will you whisper your need (not your demands), mourn your losses and seek the wordless comfort Jesus offers? It requires a complete abandonment of the artifices that make us feel strong. And it yields the kind of overcoming that can only be deemed miraculous.
* Jennifer is an alternate name used to protect the former student’s privacy.