Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Asking Myself: Have you ever felt resentful, angry, or afraid of God?

This is the 31st post in my series "Asking Myself," in which I weekly ponder one question posed in Teresa Blythe's excellent book, 50 Ways to Pray. You can find the start of the series here and last week's post here. The first nine posts focused on theological musings, while posts 10 to 25 prayerfully consider the specific questions Jesus posed in the New Testament. Posts 26 to present focus on Questions on Spirituality.

Q: Have you ever felt resentful, angry or afraid of God?

I wanted to write about anger and resentment because I have a ready wellspring of life episodes that fit this category of my dynamic relationship with God. But, I realized, all of them were deeply personal; writing about them on the internet just didn't seem safe or fair to the other people intertwined in these moments.

So, I moved on to my third choice-- a time when I feared God. I touched on the topic of fear a couple of posts ago. But this time I want to tell a story of fearing God--- or maybe, more precisely, of fearing because I didn't trust God's goodness. I feared that God's will would not be for my own good. 

Winter in Taiwan, 2002.

Taipei winters are wet and breezy. Sometimes typhoony. Sometimes with earthquakes. Clouds and pollution settle on the city's mountain-rimmed basin. Fist-sized snails suction themselves to the palm trunks, and the geckos come inside. (I add these latter details not to creep you out, but because I'm actually very fond of both geckos and giant snails. I digress.) The main trouble with Taipei's winter and the 24-year-old version of me was that I was damp and bone-chilled and tense and allergic and asthmatic and covered in eczema, and having diarrhea 8 times a day. I was also prone to nightly anxiety attacks. 

While I could reasonably pin the blame for my stress on a new marriage compounded with a new country, a new climate, a new language, a new culture, a new career, a new church, a new noticeably smaller circle of friends... I'm pretty sure the first anxiety attack, which left me dry mouthed and shaking uncontrollably at midnight, heart beating in my head, too afraid even to swallow, was caused by my irrational terror at the thought of throwing up. The stomach bug had gone around the school where Joe and I taught English. I was sure I was destined to be next.

Yet, it was still an irrational fear because I wash my hands religiously and because I actually never throw up. As in, not since I was six. 

The aspect of my phobia that causes me to go white in the face upon witnessing, hearing, smelling or knowing someone else in my vicinity had thrown up has lessened in recent years, thanks to the involuntary "exposure therapy" I've received over the last 8 years of parenting three boys through annual stomach bugs. 

But my personal fear of throwing up myself still ranks up there with my fear of death. I only wish I was exaggerating in that last sentence.

I'm going to spare you the details of the alternate routes of relief my body takes when it has made a blood pact with my mind to never, ever, under any circumstances throw up. But know that it's equally unpleasant, and for a long time, was a trigger for me to crumble, body and soul, into a shivering, teeth-chattering, hot spell of anxiety. 

I would pray to God to help me stop shaking, to find peace, to find sanity. I would pray for healing of all my ailments. For relief from the physical pain. And I would beg, please, please, please, please, PLEASE don't, dear God, don't let me throw up. Don't make me. Don't will for me to take this bitter cup, because I cannot handle it. 

When my stomach settled, and my shaking gradually subsided and my mind collapsed back into midnight sleep, I uttered an exhausted "thank you Jesus" and wondered if the next time He would show such mercy. I recognized the pattern, but felt certain that one of these days God would force me to depend on Him through what I felt would be overwhelmingly traumatic. I feared what seemed to be a "tough-love" kind of God. And I didn't like what this fear was doing to my relationship with Him.

I was turning into a groveler. I was no longer convinced of His deep love for me. And I was starting to get a little resentful to feel so pressed upon every side without the buoyant hope that the apostles professed. 

Then, one night, during my nightly panic spell... I decided to stop begging for mercy. It might have been the still small voice's suggestion, but I decided to stop asking altogether and took a different tact of praising God for what He'd already done. Then I hung my hope and trust on the fact that He had brought me through the previous day's panic attack and physical sickness.

Though this portion of David's psalm 143 was not on my radar at the time, it caught my attention recently because of how closely it resembles my experience:

I am losing all hope;
I am paralyzed with fear.
I remember the days of old.
I ponder all your great works
and think about what you have done.
I lift my hands to you in prayer.
I thirst for you as parched land 
thirsts for rain.

That first midnight when I decided to praise instead of plead, it wasn't a magical cure or an instant healing. In fact, I still had attacks, both of brain and bowel, for the full duration of my expat experience. But I think I started a gradual process of learning God's presence in those desperate moments. And with time, they grew briefer and less traumatic as I harnessed my thoughts, like Paul in Philippians, to what things were lovely and praiseworthy. 

These days, I still occasionally find my gut-brain going into panic mode from time to time. But I very rarely spiral into the hopelessness and paralysis that had once been my nightly routine. And if I feel it coming, I take deep breaths. I ponder His great works. I think about what He has done for me in the days of old... and perhaps the day before. I lift my hands because I realize that beneath my frantic need for safety and control, there's a thirst for God in my parched soul. 

Next Post: Can you think of a time when God intervened in your life?

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