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“It’s not fair!” my insides screamed. My mom was only fifty years old. I was twenty-one and working over 8,000 miles away in South Africa when she got the diagnosis: breast cancer.
Fear clutched my lungs. Tears flowed as I heard about the surgeries from afar. The chemotherapy and radiation treatments she endured, along with all the hostile side effects, seemed like too much.
I thought God was being unjust. My mom deserved more. I made a mental list of all the reasons she shouldn’t have to suffer. She loved the Lord, and people. She had labored as a single mother for years, sacrificing her time and energy for my sister and me. Mom was a perpetual optimist, never complaining, always cheerful. Of all people, why would God allow this to happen to her?
My spiritual pulse went flat. I was supposed to be teaching college students about Jesus, but couldn’t bring myself to crack open the cover of my Bible. I couldn’t even make myself pray.
I wouldn’t have called it anger at the time. Experience in the church taught me that I wasn’t supposed to be angry at God. But looking back, my spiritual apathy and neutrality during that period were symptoms of underlying animosity.
What Can You Do When You’re Angry at God? 3 Steps:
1. Start Smiling: External Behavior Affects Internal Attitude
My kids have mastered the infamous scowl. When they’re not happy about something, all it takes is one glance at their faces, and it’s obvious. Like most kids, they wear their hearts on their sleeves.
Often, when I’m persuaded that their anger is not legitimate, I’ll tell them, “Change your face.” What I mean is, “Stop pouting. Unclench your teeth. Turn that frown upside down.” Of course, I really want more than an external change. I don’t want a fake smile if they’re still harboring anger in their hearts.
But the interesting thing is this: Even if they start with an artificial expression, it almost always ends in laughter. They look so ridiculous trying to keep their angry eyebrows while turning their lips into a grin, that we all burst out laughing. And once they’re giggling, the anger diminishes.
What’s in my kids’ hearts and my own heart reflects outwardly. But I’ve noticed that my external behavior affects my internal attitudes and emotions, too. It’s nearly impossible for me to be angry when I’m smiling. It’s even harder to be angry when I’m sincerely thankful.
When my mom was sick and I lived an ocean away, it was easy to focus on what I didn’t have. For several months, I languished in a slump – discouraged and frustrated by Mom’s prognosis and my inability to do anything about it. Then one day, a retired doctor told me that decades ago, there were only two options of chemotherapy. During that time, people diagnosed with cancer sometimes got to try one of the options. If they were fortunate, they got to try both. If neither worked, there was nothing else to do.
My mom had multiple strains of chemotherapy available to her, reliable medical insurance, and excellent doctors and nurses caring for her. I started to realize how blessed I was to live in this generation.
My gratitude list grew: They caught the cancer early on a routine mammogram. Even though I wasn’t there, Mom was surrounded by loving friends and relatives. She had a supportive church family. Yes, she had cancer – but she was not alone.
Most importantly, she had Jesus. No matter what happened to her, deep down I knew that because she put her faith in Jesus, her eternal home was secure.
Like my kids, even though I started with a superficial expression, I soon found that my heart had sincerely changed.
2. Surrender Your Anger by Counting Your Blessings
When I harbor anger in my heart, whether expressed outwardly or hidden in apathy, it always has negative effects.Personally, my anger almost always stems from not getting something I want. I didn’t want my mom to have cancer. I didn’t want her to suffer. But I had no power to change her circumstances.
Rather than dwelling on what I didn’t have, it helped to take a step back, look around, and notice the gifts God had given me.
Even if they were seemingly small, somewhat insignificant things, I couldn’t deny that they were from God. I’ve always had clothes to wear, food to eat, and a warm bed. Because I’ve put my faith in Jesus, I have the promise of heaven. What do I have that’s not from God? Could I really be mad at Him for giving me something I didn’t want?
My mom had cancer, yes – but she also had Christ. And Christ beats cancer every day. Jesus has already overcome every trial and temptation we’ll encounter in this life – including cancer (John 16:33b). I would much rather have cancer and have Jesus than be cancer-free without Christ.
Eventually, God helped me realize that I have nothing without Him. I was wrong in my thinking; the ruler of the universe owes me nothing.
3. Consider: Do We Have Any Just Cause for Complaint?
In the story of Jonah, after God caused the great fish to vomit Jonah onto dry land, Jonah obeyed God’s second command to proclaim a message to Nineveh. When the people of Nineveh heard the message, they turned from their ways and called on the Lord. “When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened” (Jonah 3:10).
When Jonah saw that God showed compassion toward the Ninevites, he got mad (Jonah 4:1). Then God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4) Jonah crossed his arms and sat in a toddler pout. God gave Jonah a plant so he had shade, but the next day God sent a worm to eat the plant, and that tipped Jonah right over the edge. Then “God said to Jonah, ‘Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?’” (Jonah 4:9)
When I really stop to think about it, I have to ask myself, “After all that God has done for me through Jesus, do I really have any right to be angry at Him?”
Kate Motaung grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan before spending ten years in Cape Town, South Africa. She is married to a South African and together they have three children. Kate is the author of the e-book, Letters to Grief, hosts the Five Minute Friday blog link-up, and has contributed to several other online publications. She blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Twitter @k8motaung.