So I’ve had a huge chip on my shoulder lately. I’ve been mad at all kinds of things, perhaps most of all at what has been a disappointing fall so far: the weather has been warm, without the usual delicious crisp autumnal chill, and the leaves aren’t bursting into glorious color the way they usually do (we should be surrounded by dazzling crimsons and oranges and yellows by now). Facing the human steamroller behavior of someone I interact with regularly and feeling obligated to try things I’m terrible at haven’t helped. I’ve been letting God know how I feel pretty frequently, mostly silently, but loudly and with plenty of four-letter words one miserably drizzly evening.
Whence cometh the rancor? I made a major decision recently that was incredibly difficult. It’s been a long time in coming; for years I’ve been driving myself crazy trying to keep one foot in each of two camps. It’s a decision with important consequences, equally positive and negative, though the positive ones are in the future (right now they feel like they’re faaaaar in the future) and the negative are immediate, far-reaching, and tremendously painful. These negative effects have had me absolutely furious. So when I was yelling at God about the leaves–well, it wasn’t really about the leaves.
I was talking with my counselor about this last Wednesday, complaining about the feelings of anger that I felt stemmed from my own lack of maturity. I was annoyed with myself because I couldn’t just “suck it up” and be a big girl. I’ve heard over and over, including from the pulpit, that if one has an Attitude of Gratitude one will feel grateful for one’s trials; that pain means yer doin’ it wrong; that an eternal perspective would cure my petulance if I were a more righteous sort of person. Hence frustration at being frustrated. And a belief that God was sick of me acting like a two-year-old.
But after a few minutes my counselor looked at me and asked, gently, “Are you familiar with the stages of grief?” That made me pause for a minute. She continued, “Anger is one of those stages–it sounds to me like you’re grieving.” Like, whoa. She then said that she supported my decision, adding that she thinks it will be very helpful in the long run–and then added, “It’s a loss, Sylvia–this is a loss. You can grieve.”
Apparently that was all my soul needed to hear. Suddenly so many things made sense; I had a visual of puzzle pieces dropping from the sky and snapping into place. This is a loss and I am grieving. The floodgates opened and I cried for the rest of the session, then sat in my car, sobbing, for another 45 minutes. As other circumstances came to mind, feeling like final nails being hammered into an unseen coffin, the sobbing was almost convulsive at times. Thoughts of “This is a loss and I am grieving” alternated with “Oh, my God” over and over. Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?
Realizing that I was grieving cast the situation in an entirely new light. It made me understand both the situation and God better. I had a distinct impression that God hadn’t thought I was acting like a two-year-old all along–that He understands much better than I do the pain of loss and the feeling that multiple doors are simultaneously and permanently slamming. God was OK with my swearing and fury and bitterness toward everyone I saw. He didn’t even give me a lovingly stern “It’s OK this time, but don’t do it again” warning. Instead, I felt that he said, “You’re grieving. Acting out of anger is expected. Of course the ultimate rules haven’t been relaxed, but this is what the Atonement is for.” (He may have even said, “Scream at me a little more. I can take it.” At least, that’s the way I’ve decided to remember things.)
So it turns out that my God isn’t a punishing or withholding God after all, but a merciful, loving, kind, understanding God. I think the adversary takes the lessons that are least applicable to me and tries to throttle me with them. I’ve long been terrified of accepting any imperfection in myself because if I thought I would then swing to the other extreme and become a thoughtless spiritual freeloader of the “eat, drink, and be merry” or prodigal son variety. But even the prodigal son received forgiveness, and Jesus told the woman taken in adultery, “Neither do I condemn thee.” Perhaps I don’t have to worry so much about being perfect, or “mature,” or whatever. Maybe the Atonement covers all that stuff.