Praying When It’s Hard: Praying When Angry

February 28, 2021

I could feel the burn deep in my throat and tears welling up in my eyes. If it weren’t for the taxi driver in the front seat, I surely would have screamed or gotten sick to my stomach. I finally arrived home to an empty apartment with both roommates out on dates of their own that night. I immediately ripped off my favorite heels and hurled them into the closet. I wriggled out of my black party dress, pulled on a pair of cozy pajamas, and flopped down on the bed. Staring at the ceiling, I shouted every imaginable obscenity at God. What should have been a fun night out at a colleague’s wedding, instead found me as the third-wheel in a room full of couples. I’d had it with being single, and I was furious with God! 

Can you remember the last time you felt so angry you wanted to scream or throw something?

It took me a long time to accept the role of anger in my life. Anger is a strong emotion, but it can be incredibly revealing, and even healthy!  

Women in particular are sometimes told we shouldn’t get angry, or maybe we’ve been taught to disguise or dismiss our anger. Anger is often viewed as not ‘feminine’ and contrary to our expected roles as nurturers and peacekeepers. At the other extreme, women who are confident in expressing their anger are portrayed as overbearing or mean.   

Feelings aren’t right or wrong – they just are. Anger points to the things we most value. We get angry when the things we truly care about are threatened. Anger exposes our passion for another person or for a particular cause. We all have a right to feel angry at times, and it is one emotion worth paying attention to. 

What would it look like to bring our anger before God? Anger can be a powerful and intimate way of entering into prayer.

When I’m angry at a person  

I had a falling apart with a friend many years ago. She had inappropriately intruded on my personal life, and I was disappointed in myself for not being able to set better boundaries. I was bitter with her for a long time, and while we eventually reconciled, our friendship was never really the same.

A wise spiritual director at the time, taught me a short yet profound prayer. It simply goes like this, “God bless her [insert name], and God change me.”  

The first half of the prayer taps into a fundamental truth of our faith – as much as my anger causes me to despise this person, God still loves them. And God loves them with an extravagant and unconditional love, whether the person is a family member, a co-worker, or one of our elected officials. I invite you to pray for this person by name, ask God to bless them, and to shower them with an abundance of grace, mercy, and compassion. 

Second, ask God to change your own heart. Ask God to tame your rage, to soften your bitterness, to help you see with new understanding. You don’t have to become best friends with this person, but give God the benefit of showing you where transformation is possible.

When I’m angry at a situation

A friend recently confessed that she yelled at her health insurance provider. There had been a change in her employment situation because of the pandemic, which initiated a change in her health care coverage, and she was not able to make an appointment at the doctor’s office. The situation had been brewing for weeks, and one unlucky customer service representative ultimately took the brunt of my friend’s verbal wrath. Sound familiar?  

None of us cares to admit that we’re capable of firing off foul mouthed insults at a complete stranger. Maybe you had a moment of road rage or lost your temper in front of your kids. I’ve done it, and the worst part is that I’m even more ashamed to bring these outbursts of anger into prayer. And yet, God’s love extends its embrace, even in our darker moments.

The Examen provides a wonderful framework in these moments. Find a quiet place and remind yourself that God is already present. Give thanks for this time together and ask God to shed light on this moment. Then without judgement, recall the scenario, and share with God what took place. What values were being threatened? What was really beneath all that anger? Be real with God. Ask God to help you see the situation through God’s eyes and then listen. Spend time resting in God’s presence, and ask God if there are any next steps that you need to take.

When Righteous Anger is an Appropriate Response

Sometimes our anger extends to the very structures in which we live, where what’s being threatened is life and dignity itself. Righteous anger is a healthy response to the grave injustices in our world including racism, clergy sexual abuse, abortion, the death penalty, and so many other issues.

In many cases, our anger gets directed at authority figures or decision makers. We get angry when cries for help go unheard, when it seems as though our activism makes little difference, or when real change feels insurmountable.

A few years ago, I attended a community meeting about how we could better support our immigrant neighbors. There was a tremendous amount of goodwill and financial support offered, but deep down I knew we were dealing with a broken system – hateful rhetoric in the news, families being separated at the US southern border, children being detained in cages, and a complicated legal system and citizenship process. Hearing the concerns of my immigrant neighbors, I felt a deep sorrow and sadness, and I felt completely powerless to do anything.   

I was also angry, and this anger burned inside of me like embers in a fire, fueling my desire to take action. So much was outside my control. How do we pray in moments like this?

During the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius invites us to pray for the grace of sorrow, to acknowledge not only our personal sins but the sinfulness of the world. God weeps with us and for us. Jesus, too, who suffered on the cross, knows the suffering of our world. As we connect our sorrow with Jesus’ sorrow, we ask, “What ought I do for Christ?” Let God speak to your heart and direct your anger and sorrow into action. 

Praying through anger is rarely easy. But I am confident that God, who formed and shaped each one of us, also knows the source of our anger. God knows our deepest selves, and God is strong enough and tender enough to handle all the anger that we bring into prayer.

 

 

Going Deeper:

  • Reimagining the Examen – available as a book or in the App store – includes several versions of the Examen that are adapted for challenging moments 
  • The question “What ought I do for Christ?” comes from the Colloquy, where we pray with Mary, Jesus, and God. For a guided triple colloquy, listen here.  
  • Pray with the Psalms, which are filled with deep emotions, including anger.  

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash.com

Beth Knobbe is an author, speaker, and ministry professional based in Chicago, Illinois. She earned a Master of Divinity Degree from Catholic Theological Union and serves as a Community Engagement Manager with Catholic Relief Services, engaging Catholics in living their faith in solidarity with the poor around the world. Beth is an avid traveler and is passionate about her vocation to the single life. Beth is the author of Party of One: Living Single with Faith, Purpose, and Passion (2011) and Finding My Voice: A Young Woman’s Perspective (2009). Her personal blog can be found at www.bethknobbe.com.

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