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Illness And Anger: 3 Steps To Avoid The Spiritual Pitfalls

Feb 15, 2008
"When I was first diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, I was relieved at first," shares Cindy. "So many doctors kept telling me to see a psychiatrist, but I knew it was my body, not my head, that was in trouble." She explains, "I had spent so much time before my diagnosis being mad, having my illness finally validated was a great feeling. But six months later, the anger set in the pain management of the illness seemed to barely exist."

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a doctor in Switzerland, wrote a life-changing book called, "On Death and Dying" which describes the cycle of emotional stages that is often referred to as the grief cycle. Anger is the third stage, following the shock stage and the denial stage.

When we discover that we have a chronic illness, meaning an illness we will likely have for the rest of our lives, anger is a natural reaction. So many hopes and dreams seem to be taken from us.

Admitting that we have deep emotions about the losses is part of the mourning process. The stages of the grief process differ for each person and how much time is spent there. You may find you breezed through the anger phase the first year for illness, but the second year when you lose another ability, you are angry for months.

Eddie, who lives with fibromyalgia, says, "My anger comes and goes. When the drug stops working or I flare uncontrollably for a few weeks, I want to lash out at everyone--my wife and child, the doctors, my friends, and even the telemarketers that call me. I hate it, but I just get stuck there. I have to work hard to move back to being a fun person to be around."

One thing is certain: anger should come. If it has not, you may want to take a closer look at why.

"It is my observation," says Linda Noble Topf, author of "You are Not Your Illness", "that the absence of anger in the face of a serious illness suggests that we have already withdrawn from life, that we have relinquished our passion for living, that we are resigned and emotionally numb."

When you are Christian it can feel shameful to even express that you have angry feelings. Too often Christians believe that their angry emotions are sinful and something that those with a great deal of faith never experience. They even believe that those feelings they do have are not even quote "allowed." Have you ever experience some of these feelings?

- If my faith in God is solid, I should trust that He wants what is best for me. Doubting His hand in my circumstances to shows my lack of faith.

- If I tell other Christians about my angry feelings, and how frustrated I am with this disease, won't they think I am weak in my walk with Christ?

- I know it says, "wise men shouldn't anger" in the Bible. How can I, in good faith, express the emotions that I am feeling?

- I understand anger can lead to bitterness. So if I don't admit I am angry, will I be a better Christian, focusing on just the positive stuff in life?

These feelings are not unusual, yet, they prevent us from coping with the grief that we are experiencing by the loss of our health and lifestyle.

Here are a few suggestions for coping effectively with illness and the anger that accompanies it.

1. Are you feeling angry? Acknowledge this emotion and then move on with life.

If you insist on ignoring your emotions, believing that in the end you will be a spiritually healthier person for it, you are wrong. Topf advises, "Think of anger as a resource that you can learn to harness and refine for your own benefit." If you can learn to recognize your anger, it will help you reclaim your authentic identity. Faking it won't take you through this.

In the Bible the story of Job shows how he became angry at the events in his life (including the outbreak of sores all over his body). He even cursed the day he was born. As Job's life went on, God bless him with even more material assets, family, and choice. Job told God, "Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful to know" (Job 42:3b). Through his anger and frustration, he eventually found wisdom and character. You can't fake it through life or you will never benefit from this challenge you've been given

2. Feeling angry is okay.

God designed our whole being and that includes the ability to feel anger. Even the Bible provides specific examples when God became angry. What does the Bible tell us about how to handle our angry emotions?

- "For man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires" (James

- "Wise men turn away anger" (Proverbs 29:8b).

- "A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control" (Proverbs 29:11).

God understands that anger is a part of our human instinct, but it should never become our lifestyle. Some people may point out that it takes anger to get things accomplished. Even Mothers against Drunk Drivers seem to have an appropriate acronym of "MADD." Topf says, "We discover that anger is first and foremost a demand for change." Some would argue that the attitude of "I'm-not-going-to-take-it-any-more" has been the beginning of great changes in our history. And this is true, but the key is not to get stuck in that anger phase for the rest of your life.

In Amos 1:11, God says, "I will not turn back my wrath... because his anger raged continually." God isn't upset because of the presence of anger, but because the anger was continuous. God calls us to put our focus on Him and try to make a difference that will bring glory to Him.

3. Walk with God and He will walk with you through your anger.

The Bible tells us how David discovered this. "Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life; you stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes, with your right hand you save me." (Psalm 138:7). God can calm the anger of not only ourselves but also our enemies. He's there to offer protection and guidance as you go through the various episodes of anger and the emotions of your illness.

"I'm still dealing with anger toward this illness, after eight years of being sick," shares a woman who lives with fibromyalgia, Peggy says, "Each time I experience a new limitation, I get angry all over again. But as I learn to cope with living with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, and the limitations it places on my activities, I expect God's perfect grace. I pray that He will become slow to anger, as I am depending on the scripture, 'The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love'" (Psalm 103:8).

We will all face the emotion of anger for the rest of our lives. Some of the most basic advice to cope with it is that which is in a scripture that I refer in my book, "Why Can't I Make People Understand? Discovering the Validation Those with Chronic Illness Seek and Why" where I walk through the emotions of anger and bitterness we deal with in regards to our illness. In Hosea 7:13b-14 God says, "I long to redeem [you] but. . . [you] do not cry out to Me from [your] hearts, but wait upon [your] beds." Don't flop down on your bed and wail "Why me?" Instead pour out your heart to the Lord and wholly ask Him for help.
About the Author
"Why Can't I Make People Understand?" is Lisa's latest book that can get you past your anger at www.WhyCantIMakePeopleUnderstand.com . Free download of 200 Ways to Encourage a Chronically Ill Friend from when you subscribe to HopeNotes at Rest Ministries. Lisa is the founder of Invisible Illness Week.
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