In the midst of grief, we experience feelings we’ve never known. We feel hollow, trepidation, deserted, and invisible. We want others to recognize and acknowledge the depth of our pain, and at the same time, we seek isolation: we know they can never fully understand our pain. It is too big and too deep for us to fully grasp, how could we expect others to know how we feel? This is a very common response to grief.
With empathy, others offer condolences. They want us to know that they care. They want to help us, but they don’t know how. With love and compassion they provide what they think is encouragement: “I know how you feel” or “God allowed this to happen for a reason.” Their intent is pure. They are honestly trying to help. However, in the moment, it doesn’t help.
There is no way anyone can know exactly how we feel. We are uniquely fashioned by our temperament, personality, and life experience. Even if we have experienced a similar life event as someone else, our feelings are distinct. The way we process grief will look different based on our individual experiences. Some of us will spend a lifetime processing our grief, while others may process grief in a few years. Despite how we process the unexpected events that happen in our lives, our pain is real. Our grief is real. Knowing how to live in the midst of our grief is the challenge.
“It has been said, ‘time heals all wounds.’ I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity,
covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.
As we will learn, anger accompanies grief. When we feel pain and loss, we are experiencing a complex mix of thoughts, feelings, and actions that, when put together, culminate as anger.117 In our anger we may have hurt ourselves or others. In the moment, the explosive power of our anger has caused us to become the worst version of ourselves: lost in a hurricane of feelings that have taken control.
It is important to recognize that anger is not one thing. It’s not the result of one incident or one conversation. In fact, it’s basis is much deeper than the circumstance that brought it to the surface. It contains a multitude of experiences, filtered by our thought process, and laid over a lifetime of trauma, woundedness, and pain.
We have all experienced grief and loss in some form. The details of our stories and the extent of the offense against us may be different, but the relational wounds we suffer have common denominators: they run deep, are very personal, and feel gravely unjust.
“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.119
At some point, even in the midst of our pain, many of us will run toward our heavenly Father to receive comfort from his grace. Although we still feel grief and anger, we may gladly receive grace, but it is often a far greater challenge to extend grace to others. God is not content to simply pour his grace into our soul. The grace that flows to us, must flow through us, or our soul becomes stagnant and all God’s good gifts die within us.
Nature provides a riveting illustration of this: two famous bodies of water shape the land of Israel—The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. They are called seas but, in reality, they are freshwater lakes. The waters of the Jordan River flow into both bodies of water.
The Sea of Galilee is known for its rich diversity of underwater plants and fish life. The Dead Sea, however, contains no life. The mineral count is so overindulgent, the waters become toxic and everything dies. Only one factor distinguishes these two bodies of water: one has an outlet and the other does not.
The Dead Sea represents a life without an outlet of grace. We may receive an abundance of God’s love, attend weekly church services, a women’s Bible study, memorize Scripture, and even participate in regular prayer gatherings or group dynamics. All of these thing are wonderful, but can ruin us if we dam up the grace and life freely given to us: we become self-righteous. The waters of our soul reflect waters as toxic and lifeless as the Dead Sea.
The Sea of Galilee, however, represents a life respondent to the grace received. The current, created from the inflow and outflow, invigorates the waters of our life. This abundant grace that flows to every one of us is constantly searching for an outlet to flow from us.
I remember everything about that day: the feeling of the crisp fall air, the sound of the fallen leaves rustling on the ground, a faint smell of smoke hanging in the air from a nearby fire. Since I left work everyday at the same time, it was no surprise to see my husband waiting by my car. As our eyes met, in that moment, I saw an expression never before seen on his face: I knew something was wrong.
Our oldest child, Justin, was dead—killed instantly when his motorcycle rear ended a truck in front of him. He was 20 years old. After high school, he moved to the city and pursued several dead-end jobs. Justin recently moved back in with us: enrolled in the local community college, ready to take life more seriously, and get an education.
The next couple weeks were a blur. My husband and two daughters helped with the funeral arrangements. Relatives came and left. I had taken a couple weeks off from work, but was expected back. How could life just go on?
As weeks turned into months, I went through the motions of life, but internally withdrew. I minimally engaged with my husband and daughters—we were all suffering the loss in our own way. Although I continued to get calls from my friends at church, my attendance was sparse. I didn’t want to hear another person say, “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “How are you feeling?” I didn’t want to hear the pastor preach about how God works everything out for good, how God loves us, and has a plan for our lives.
I was angry: angry that my passion for life was gone; angry that I felt distant from my husband and daughters; angry that I would never again see my son or hear his voice; angry that my life would never be the same; angry at God for taking my son.
On the one-year anniversary of Justin’s death, I came home and found flowers on my doorstep. There was a simple card that read, “I remember.” The floodgates opened: in that moment, I allowed myself to feel the overwhelming grief and agony of losing my son. I let myself cry. As I cried off and on for the next week, I felt the weight in my chest begin to lift. For the first time in a year, I felt like I could breathe.
That day changed my perspective. I was still hurting, distant from my family, and angry at God for taking my son; but I felt something new. On the anniversary of my worst day, someone remembered—someone remembered my son and remembered my pain. In two words, someone extended to me a measure of grace unlike anything I had ever experienced. Although my heart was still broken and needed to heal, I was able to grasp the Father’s love for me.
Satan desires to make our worst day our defining day; yet God offers us a new beginning. His redemption is not a one-time gift—the saving grace that brought us eternal life is the same grace he offers us daily. He longs to step into every one of our stories, any moment of any given day. He will write a new ending to any situation we allow him to touch.
If we are going to experience true healing, we have to unpack some of the trauma from our past—the trauma we have caused. It is challenging to take responsibility for the pain we have caused in the lives of others. While this may not have been our intent, it happened—we responded in a manner that put into motion a sequence of events that we never intended. Nonetheless, we are responsible for our part.
Many of us have made split-second decisions that set our lives on a course we never anticipated. To this day, we feel immense guilt and shame for the choices we’ve made. If asked, many of us could easily answer this question: “I wish I never would have…
• broke up with the love of my life.”
• started having sex when I was 15.”
• cheated on my boyfriend.”
• had so many sexual partners.”
• experimented with a same-sex relationship.”
• had an affair with a married man.”
• yelled and threw something at my daughter.”
• had an abortion.”
• neglected my kids because of my addiction.”
• cheated on my husband.”
• lashed out at my son.”
• gave up custody of my kids.”
• filed for divorce.”
• exposed my husband to an STD.”
And the list goes on and on.
As we continue to move toward health, we need to understand our anger. Some of us may go from “0 to 60 in 2 seconds,” while others may gradually steam and then boil into anger.120 Many of us are not fully aware of when our anger ignites or the behaviors we turn to when feeling angry. Our anger, like many other emotions, exists on a continuum—a range that is always present, each stage not obviously different than another, but having distinct extremes. We have to recognize the slightest change in our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that contribute to our anger. We cannot discount or minimize times when we think, “That doesn’t count. I wasn’t that angry.”
Watch out for justifications. When we are dieting and we have a bite of cake, we tell ourselves, “That doesn’t count. It was only one bite.” The same is true when dealing with anger. We convince ourselves that because this outburst is not as bad as it’s ever been or we were only slightly angry, that it doesn’t count.
If our goal is to learn how to stay in relationship, despite our circumstance and the struggles we face, we have to take a proactive approach to managing our anger. We have to recognize not only our angry behaviors, but our angry feelings.
Raising awareness to how and why we react in anger is an important step on the path toward lifelong healing. It takes time and intention. It takes recognizing that our anger is fueled by fear—the true feeling our anger is covering.
Use the following tables to keep track of your angry behaviors and angry feelings this week.121 Write down any time you experience an angry behavior: the day of the week, the number of times you experienced this behavior, and how long the behavior lasted. Also, write down any time you felt angry: the day of the week, the event or trigger that created the feeling, the intensity—on a scale of 1-10: 1=mild, 10=extreme—and how long the feeling lasted. On both tables, try to identify the fear that is driving your anger.
As we monitor our angry behaviors and feelings this week, it is important that we track accurately when they occur. We need to be vigilant with this process. Once we become more aware of our anger—when it happens and why—we will be better equipped to recognize when we need to initiate self-care and other practical tools. Example in the above chart: I’m in Ticked Off on the FASTER Scale. Using the double bind exercise will make the best choice obvious. If I don’t confront my mom, I will continue to feel angry and take it out on those around me. If I face my fear and confront my mom, she may reject me. When we choose to face our fears and make the difficult choice, it leads us back to a place of restoration
As we monitor our angry behaviors and feelings this week, it is important that we track accurately when they occur. We need to be vigilant with this process. Once we become more aware of our anger—when it happens and why—we will be better equipped to recognize when we need to initiate self-care and other practical tools.
Example in the above chart: I’m in Ticked Off on the FASTER Scale. Using the double bind exercise will make the best choice obvious. If I don’t confront my mom, I will continue to feel angry and take it out on those around me. If I face my fear and confront my mom, she may reject me. When we choose to face our fears and make the difficult choice, it leads us back to a place of restoration.
Complete the FASTER Scale, Group Check-in, Self-Care lesson, Thoughts/Feelings
Awareness Log, and Change & Growth Analysis in your Unraveled: Weekly Tools before
the next group meeting.