How to process and pray through your grief and anger
In a pattern that is right on the cusp of comical and depressing, yet again I had thought I was ok. I had been reading all of the stuff about Weinstein and other offenders, I’d seen the disgusting Ben Affleck video, and I’d been angered, saddened, repulsed, but nothing that rose above what I recognise to be my own emotional flood line.
And then, I wasn’t okay.
This has happened before – during any number of social media storms, I often think to myself ‘Gee, I’m dealing with this stuff well. I seem to be trundling along as per usual.’ And then something will settle in deeper than expected and I realise I’m not okay, not at all. In the past, that’s manifested in me crying suddenly in a meeting, or a previously subterranean bitterness lashing out.
This latest time, I noticed that I was getting jangly, even more fidgety than usual. I’d been dipping in and out of social media all day, with almost every second post on my feed related to Harvey and those like him. On Monday night this week, I realised that I was putting off going to sleep - a consistent signal to myself that I have more processing to do. So I had a shower, I stretched, I did things I thought would help.
But when I tuned into my thoughts they were these: it hurts. It hurts. It hurts. I was angry.
I became conscious that I was preparing myself for the meetings I would have the next day - meetings in which I would be the only woman amongst men. I was angry in anticipation.
I could feel barbs aimed at the men in my life forming on my tongue.
I thought of the next guy I came across manspreading on the bus, and the picture in my mind was something akin to a Liam Neeson script: I will find you, and I will make you make space for me. It was like I was putting on armour, preparing to fight.
Fomenting might be the word for it. Grief maybe. During the day, as I was editing a project I’m working on for the support of women experiencing domestic and family violence, I wrote and then deleted my own '#metoo'. But I was too unprocessed to post it. I could tell that there wasn’t enough prayer behind it for me to be confident that what I said, with its exhortations and challenges, had its roots more in God’s anger than my self-righteousness.
Over the past few years I’ve tried to be more conscious of the voice of God, more sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings. And I felt him saying 'Not now. You need to bring this before me before you bring it to them'.
So here's the process I took. I’m offering it here because I hope it might help others.
It's not fancy. It's not clever. When you're tired out and grieving those things are aiming too high.
1. I thought about the one to whom I pray. I reminded myself that prayer is not an exercise in futility because I pray to a powerful God who cares. I reminded myself that I’m not pleading with God to get on my side. He is the author not just of my salvation, but also of justice, compassion, truth.
2. To help my thoughts, I read scripture. For the past year or so I’ve pretty much camped out in the OT prophets when I’ve been struggling with grief and anger. They are so raw and so full of hope. I need both. I’ve become a broken record on Isaiah 40-60. On Monday, though, I just turned to where I was up to in my devotional time. I needed to be oriented in something other than my own thoughts. I needed to see God’s perspective. So I read, and I asked: God, what do you have for me here?
3. Then I prayed. I prayed something like this: ‘God, I give you my anger and my pain. Please take it from me. God, I hand it all over to you. I don’t want it. I can’t carry it. It’s too much for me. But you can carry it.’
Then I asked: ‘God, what do you want to do with them? Would you give them back to me? If you want to give them back to me at some point, I accept that from you. I trust you. I trust that you can redeem all things and make them beautiful. Please do that with my anger and my pain.’
4. I gave myself some space. Yesterday, I took the whole day off Facebook. That shouldn’t sound like a radical decision, but it was! I affirm that there’s so much value in engaging, and facebook can be really helpful for that. But I knew that I was too raw for that. I knew I needed some distance. I needed more space for prayer and I needed to hear God’s voice more. I spent most of yesterday listening to Hillsong on repeat whilst I worked.
And that was it.
This process isn’t magical, and it hasn’t suddenly alleviated all of the griefs that prompted it. But it has grounded me where I needed to be: with God, experiencing intimacy with Him, looking to Him. I can sense that it has given me self-control I wouldn’t have had otherwise. It has given me a sense of God’s participation in my grief, our grief. It has reminded me to whom this world belongs.
Is there anything about this process that would be useful to you?
If you want to work through things more, here’s something that you can do.
It will take more time and energy, so I suggest leaving it to your Sabbath.
Apply a gospel framework to your grief and anger, working through:
What is right about my anger? How does this reflect God and His will and purposes?
What would the gospel affirm about my anger?
What is broken about my anger?
Where has it gone astray?
What would the gospel challenge or correct about it?
What will make my anger right?
What saves me from my anger’s brokenness?
How does Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection deal with or relate to my anger?
What hope do I have about my anger?
What hope do I have about the things that make me angry?
Sisters, as you grieve, and wrestle and reflect, bring it to the God who can carry it.
Erica is an Associate Minister at St Barnabas' Broadway, Sydney. She is also part of the Domestic Violence Justice Team at Common Grace.