Rocks of Remembrance

By on September 22, 2013
a hand filled with rocks

By Rita Schulte –

How Building Altars to our Anger Keeps us Stuck –

Mary had been married six years and had two children when she and her husband first came to see me for counseling. Her husband seemed like a nice enough fellow, but he was getting fed up with the angry outbursts she unleashed on him. Their marriage was unraveling.

As a counselor I knew the “presenting problem” that folks come to me with is usually not the real problem. For Mary, it didn’t take long to discover that her issue wasn’t her marriage. God was just using that to stir things up in her life. In short, Mary had used stones of hurt, resentment, and bitterness to build an altar to her anger.

Setting Up the Stones

In the Old Testament, stones were often used as symbols. God told the Israelites to erect altars of remembrance to acknowledge his mighty and miraculous acts and to remind future generations of his faithfulness. One such account is recorded in Joshua 4:

“Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordon was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the LORD. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”

Building memorials is a great idea–as long as we’re building them to remember the right things. The problem is, when we’ve been hurt, it’s easy to collect stones and erect monuments that make us remember our anger. That’s what Mary was doing. She’d been carrying rocks of disappointment, hurt, and rejection in her sack long before she met her husband.

Mary had a tumultuous relationship with her father, an alcoholic who paid little attention to her. When she was 16, he walked out, giving Mary the message that she was unlovable. She developed core relational beliefs that told her she wasn’t good enough, couldn’t trust others to be there for her, and would eventually be abandoned because of her flaws. These beliefs served as the brick and mortar that set her stones firmly in place, creating an altar to her anger that was really a landmine of explosives, just waiting for something to trigger it.

When Mary met Bill, she saw him as her ticket out of her unhappy family. She married him, but she brought her sack of rocks along with her. Things were fine for a while, but when Mary had a miscarriage, the bottom dropped out. Mary felt uncontrollable rage along with her profound sadness.

Bill really did want to be there for Mary, but because he didn’t know how to handle his own grief after the loss of their baby, he withdrew. Expecting to be abandoned or rejected, Mary assumed his actions meant he didn’t care and wouldn’t be there for her—just like her dad had done. Reaching back into the past, to the pain she’d held against her father, Mary took all the stones of bitterness, disappointment and rejection she’d held onto, and transferred them to Bill. Her anger drove a deeper wedge in their relationship.

Mary’s rage came from a bulwark of tightly packed stones of hurt and bitterness, erected to protect her from the pain of rejection. Unforgiveness had become the cornerstone for her altar, and her marriage was being sacrificed to it.

Dismantling the Altar

Anger is a secondary emotion that sits on top of the hurt, fear, rejection, and injustice we carry. When we don’t address the deeper issues of our hearts, those stones erect altars to our anger and trap us.

It took her a while, but Mary was finally able to admit her anger and own it as her responsibility. She worked hard to identify the transgressions she held against her parents, and how those injustices had formed a belief system that was filled with lies that affected her marriage. She expected to be let down by everyone who was close to her, even her husband, and so reacted to her assumptions rather than the actual situation. Mary’s rocks of bitterness, disappointment, and resentment had built an unsuitable altar of anger. Fueled by her terror of being abandoned again, Mary used her anger to try and control her husband.

Break point came for Mary when her father died, resurrecting all her unfinished business with him. To make matters worse, Bill was out of the country and couldn’t get home, triggering all Mary’s loss and abandonment issues once again. Mary’s anger exploded and Bill was the target. Bill wanted to talk it out, but Mary chose emotional withdrawal to cope. It was the last straw for Bill. He told Mary if she didn’t get help he was done. It was then that Mary realized her coping strategies were only making things worse between them. Mary decided to let

Christ begin the healing work of forgiveness in her. In time, she made the decision to cut the rope that anchored the bag around her neck and release the stones. As she learned about forgiveness, she realized that she could be set free.

Marital problems aren’t the only place we collect stones of hurt, rejection, and bitterness to build altars to our anger. Relationships with friends, family, coworkers, even our children, can trigger hurt, causing us to unconsciously begin collecting rocks, labeling them with the painful emotions we experience.

That’s what happened to Beth. She had been abused by her brother as a child, picking up stones of shame and resentment. Beth never dealt with her pain; she buried it. It took her brother’s untimely death to cause it to resurface and give her the courage to face her feelings. If we aren’t careful to deal with our emotions before anger takes root, we’ll find offenses stacking up and keeping us stuck. 

Counting the Cost

Mary’s and Beth’s stories aren’t uncommon. It’s normal to be angry when we face the pain of loss, rejection, betrayal, or abandonment. But if left unaddressed, those feelings can add additional stones of inadequacy, insecurity, worthlessness, and shame to the altars we’ve built.

Your wounds may have come from your past, like Mary’s, or they may be the result of current life circumstances and pain. What matters is what your response will be to the real and perceived injustices we experience. Will you allow them to immobilize you, binding you to altars of stone that weigh you down, or will you use even the most painful experiences to enlarge your lives and the lives of others through the power of forgiveness?

To help my clients count the cost of their anger, I challenge them to identify and literally “take up” their own stones. I ask them to choose a large rock and physically carry it everywhere they go for a few days. The stone reminds them of the emotional weight they have chosen to carry. They almost always discover that by the end of the day their rocks feel like boulders weighing them down, affecting every area of their lives.

Canceling the Debt and Rebuilding the Altar

Ephesians 4:32 says: “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Paul is straightforward here: God’s solution to anger is to forgive others, demonstrating the same grace that Christ used to forgive us.

The sack of stones we carry to build our altars doesn’t break on its own. Cutting the bottom out of the bag, like Mary did, requires a decision—one that doesn’t seem easy, but one that guarantees that real freedom is possible. It’s a choice for forgiveness, which cuts like a knife through the sack, releasing all the rocks we have accumulated from all the years of hurt and loss.

That’s easy enough to say, but how do we begin to forgive? God’s definition of forgiveness is a total, complete cancellation of the debt. It begins with a decision of the will, and the acknowledgment that our anger is our responsibility, and only our responsibility, to deal with. Paul addresses this issue in Colossians 2:13–14:

When you were dead in your transgressions and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt that was against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.

Once they’ve identified the offenses they’re carrying as stones in their lives, I encourage people to use the Colossians verses to make a Certificate of Debt. Here’s how:

  • Take a piece of paper and write the name of the person who hurt you at the top. Make three columns under the name.
  • In column one, begin charging the debt by describing the offense that caused your anger.
  • In column two, write down how that offense felt emotionally. Most important, think about what you came to believe about yourself as a result of this transgression and list that belief.
  • The last column on your paper is going to represent what you had hoped or expected from the person who wounded you. This represents your loss.

In Mary’s case, she listed her father’s abandonment as her first offense. In column two, she began to put words to her pain. She said she felt devastated, rejected, unloved, and betrayed. She believed she was unlovable, not good enough, and a disappointment. In column three she told the story of her loss by recording the loss of trust she felt by her father’s abandonment. She felt she should have been able to trust her father to protect her, and not leave her. She started to see how the loss of trust became the catalyst that drove her anger.

Mary listed every offense the Lord brought to mind for each person she held a debt against. Then she released the debts by addressing each person, saying:

  • I choose to release you from the debt you owe me
  • You never have to make it up to me, or pay me back
  • I release you of the responsibility for making me feel loved and accepted
  • I choose to trust Christ alone to meet my needs
  • I release my rights to have you behave a certain way in order to meet my needs
  • I choose to stand by my decision to forgive

While Mary’s circumstances didn’t change overnight, her heart did. She’d finally torn down the altar to the anger that was keeping her stuck and crushing her marriage, and through the power of forgiveness she was set free to build a new altar–one that would testify to the miraculous power of God.

Forgivers

The Israelites used stones to mark their journey through great trials and testing. Similarly, Mary came to realize that when she let them go, her stones could serve as markers of her journey through brokenness. They tell the story of her hurt and pain. They also remind her of God’s faithfulness to resurrect her heart, and to remind her of the decision to forgive. . As Mary learned to surrender the right to hold onto her anger, and instead build an altar to forgiveness, her relationship with Bill improved. By choosing to cultivate an attitude of gratefulness and refute the lie that Bill was unsafe, Mary was free to receive from her husband. She no longer needed to judge him by the card file she held on her father. She also realized she didn’t need to hit the delete button on all the difficult places in her past, but could use them as opportunities to trust Christ.

What stones are you holding onto? An altar of anger will never make a suitable final marker of remembrance; nor will it honor God. Create your own Certificates of Debt, and start to let go of the stones that hold you down.

We may never feel like forgiving, but our feelings are nothing compared to the truth of our identity in Christ. Jesus forgave us. If he lives in us, that makes us forgivers.

May we walk in the truth of who God has created us to be, may we decide today to give the gift of forgiveness to others, and may we build suitable memories.

Rita Schulte

About Rita Schulte

Rita A. Schulte is a licensed professional counselor in the Northern Virginia/DC area. She is the host of Heartline Radio and a 1-minute feature “Consider This.” Her shows air on Alive In Christ Radio (AliveinChrist.com) Rita writes for numerous publications and blogs. Her articles have appeared in Counseling Today Magazine, Thriving Family, Kyria and LifeHack.org. She is the author of Shattered: Finding Hope and Healing through the Losses of Life, (Leafwood) and Imposter: Gain Confidence, Eradicate Shame and become who God made you to be (Siloam), follow her at www.ritaschulte.com, on FB http://www.facebook.com/RitaASchulte and twitter @heartlinepod.

One Comment

  1. Mary Sayler

    January 21, 2014 at 5:23 pm

    Thank you, Rita, for this healing word. Years ago, a pastor asked me to write down and release areas of hurt, much as you described. Then he got out a large stainless steel bowl, told me to tear up the paper, drop the pieces in the bowl, and set the papers on fire! The healing had already begun, of course, but this ceremony helped me to recognize that healing.

    May God continue to bless your ministry in Jesus’ Name.

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Rocks of Remembrance