Altar to Anger

Is rage destroying your life? Find healing through letting go.

Mary had been married for six years when she and her husband Bill first came to see me for counseling. Bill seemed like a nice enough fellow, but he was getting fed up with the angry outbursts Mary 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. The real issue was that 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 (such as in Joshua 4). Building memorials is a great idea—as long as we're building them to remember the right things. The problem is that when we've been hurt, it's easy to collect stones and erect monuments to the wrong thing: our anger. That's what Mary was doing. In fact, Mary had been carrying around her stones of disappointment, hurt, and rejection long before she met her husband.

Abandoned by her alcoholic father when she was only 16, Mary began to believe that she wasn't good enough, she couldn't trust others to be there for her, and she 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 like 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 rocks along with her. Things were fine for a while, but when Mary had a miscarriage, the bottom dropped out. Mary felt uncontrollable rage alongside her profound sadness.

Bill didn't know how to handle his own grief after the loss of their baby so he withdrew. Expecting to be abandoned or rejected, Mary assumed his actions meant he wouldn't be there for her—just like her dad. Reaching back into the past to the pain she'd experienced from her dad's abandonment, Mary's anger drove a deeper wedge in between her and Bill. 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.

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