Counseling Others

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Ruth and Naomi

In the last several years, I have grown very skeptical of my own ability to give out sound counsel.  For the most part I have refrained from doing so, and rather have attempted to introduce them to the wisdom and love of Jesus.  Its like a triangle– Jesus, them, and myself occupying each corner.  All I do when I counsel someone is to help them see the Lord.  Hopefully, once a dialogue has taken place I step back and let the supernatural happen.

Much of counseling is facilitating or creating an environment that you can gather information.  Your friend feels that you and your surroundings are “safe” and he/she opens up in that situation.  Almost all of the the time, a certain level of confidentiality must exist and be understood as being “in place”.  A key fact is getting your “permission to counsel.” This must happen in order for the counselee to really receive.

Job and his Three Friends

Usually when I meet with someone, I do not attempt to sound profound, or wise.  Far from it! Instead, I am wary of myself.  I think I’m like a flare shot up in the inky darkness, I  just want to give a few brief moments of illumination before the moment passes. But when God speaks he will enlighten fully and bring understanding. “In his light, we see light”, (Ps. 36:9).

Remember that Job’s friends were at their best when silently sitting with him in the ash and rubble. At that moment, they were very effective counselors.  The problem came when they began to verbally explain why Job’s personal disaster took place.  Very often I find that people have a need to be needed.  They give counsel so they can feel good about themselves.  There is a lot of Christian counseling out there that is sabotaged by this inherent flaw.

Part of speaking wisely to a friend must include the option that I might be totally off-the-wall.  Whatever I say must not be “ex cathedra“, or as truth unchallenged.  Just because I’m giving you counsel does not make me superior, wiser or more authoritative.  It really should take as much humility to counsel, as it takes to be counseled. I can think of an easy dozen encounters that I’m embarrassed by– and will never be able to retract. Yes, mistakes will be made, but we should trust the Holy Spirit to use those missteps. He is sovereign.

“Peer-to-peer” counseling is very much a blessing.  A great need exists in the church for this particular ministry.  But to be a source of wisdom to another should be both a sobering, and a clarifying experience.  We should beware of the pitfalls, and wary of our flesh and its desire for greatness, glory and fame.  To be a counselor can be quite dangerous and I should not seek this place unless its thrust on me. A good counselor is almost always reluctant.

“If you young fellows were wise, the devil couldn’t do anything to you, but since you aren’t wise, you need us who are old.”  Martin Luther

“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.”   Thomas Fuller

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The Hiding Place– Corrie ten Boom Learns to Forgive

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“Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.”

Ephesians 4:32, NLT

Great hearts are often shuttled through experiences with intense forgiving. The Father tutors us through out our earthly lives, with many visits to this classroom. It is here we get our learning. It will happen several times in our walk, and we carry different nuances, or slants. Each time we are required to forgive authentically. The course is set for us. We can’t choose to skip these lessons without injuring ourselves, and harming others.

We are learning to love– it is our calling and destiny. There are no “accidents” or misaligned ‘drop-outs’ here. We step into our classroom, and the Teacher and Comforter begins His instruction. Many things will strike you as diabolical. Deep inside us we have simply no idea of how “this” will turn out for good. And you’d be right. But the power of God steps in, and “all is well”.

Corrie ten Boom-- Writer, speaker, Christian

Corrie ten Boom– Writer, speaker, Christian

Corrie Ten Boom was a Dutch Christian. After her release from a Nazi concentration camp, she began traveling the world and speaking to any who would have her. The needs of postwar Europe were desperate. She traveled as an evangelist telling people who Jesus is and spoke about His redemption. She gave many people hope.

Through her travels she came in contact with a few of the guards that had been a part of the Nazi regime and had to practice forgiveness that only Jesus can bring. The first encounter with one of her previous jailers proved to be most difficult.

Here is an excerpt from her book, “The Hiding Place”.

“It was a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there – the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie’s pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. “How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein,” he said. “To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!” His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

She then took his hand and the most incredible thing happened.

From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world’s healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.”

Corrie’s Wisdom for Us

  1. There is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.
  2. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.
  3. It is not my ability, but my response to God’s ability, that counts.
  4. When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.
  5. Faith is like radar that sees through the fog-the reality of things at a distance that the human eye cannot see.
  6. Trying to do the Lord’s work in your own strength is the most confusing, exhausting, and tedious of all work. But when you are filled with the Holy Spirit, then the ministry of Jesus just flows out of you.

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Thoughts from Other Believers

Forgiveness is me giving up my right to hurt you for hurting me.    Author Unknown

To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.   C.S. Lewis

There is such a big difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. It takes two to reconcile, so it is not always possible to be reconciled. But it takes only one to forgive. So if people do you wrong, forgive them, whether or not they ask for forgiveness. You cannot cancel their sin. Only God can do that, and He will only do it if they repent. But what you can do is set aside your own anger, bitterness, and resentment towards them.   Philip Graham Ryken

Forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:

  1. “I will not dwell on this incident.”
  2. “I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”
  3. “I will not talk to others about this incident.”
  4. “I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”  Ken Sande

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For her efforts to hide Jews from arrest and deportation during the German occupation of the Netherlands, Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) received recognition from the Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” on December 12, 1967.

“The Hiding Place” and her many other books can be purchased at Amazon.com. It really must be read and there is a movie out with the same name.

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The Only Army that Shoots its Wounded

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By Dwight L. Carlson

From an article in Christianity Today, February 9, 1998

The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army,” said the speaker, a psychologist who had just returned from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries. He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with as:

1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.

2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.

3. If both of the first two steps fail, we still don’t seek professional help.

I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church—among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatics, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties.

Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.

THE EMOTIONAL-HEALTH GOSPEL

Several years ago my daughter was battling leukemia. While lying in bed in the hospital, she received a letter, which read in part:

Dear Susan, You do not know me personally, but I have seen you in church many times….I have interceded on your behalf and I know the Lord is going to heal you if you just let Him. Do not let Satan steal your life—do not let religious tradition rob you of what Jesus did on the cross—by His stripes we were healed.

The theology behind this letter reminded me of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Health and Prosperity: Your Divine Right.” The letter writer had bought into a “healing in the atonement” theology that most mainstream evangelicals reject.

According to this traditional faith-healing perspective, Christ’s atonement provides healing for the body and mind just as it offers forgiveness of sins for the soul. The writer meant well, but the letter created tremendous turmoil for my daughter. While evangelicals have largely rejected “health and wealth” preaching—that faithful Christians will always prosper physically and financially—many hold to an insidious variation of that prosperity gospel. I call it the “emotional-health gospel.”

The emotional-health gospel assumes that if you have repented of your sins, prayed correctly, and spent adequate time in God’s Word, you will have a sound mind and be free of emotional problems.

Usually the theology behind the emotional-health gospel does not go so far as to locate emotional healing in the Atonement (though some do) but rather to redefine mental illnesses as “spiritual” or as character problems, which the church or the process of sanctification can handle on its own. The problem is, this is a false gospel, one that needlessly adds to the suffering of those already in turmoil.

This prejudice against those with emotional problems can be seen in churches across the nation on any Sunday morning. We pray publicly for the parishioner with cancer or a heart attack or pneumonia. But rarely will we pray publicly for Mary with severe depression, Charles with incapacitating panic attacks, or the minister’s son with schizophrenia. Our silence subtly conveys that these are not acceptable illnesses for Christians to have.

The emotional-health gospel is also communicated by some of our most listened-to leaders. I heard one national speaker make the point that “At the cross you can be made whole. Isaiah said that ‘through his stripes we are healed’ … not of physical suffering, which one day we will experience; we are healed of emotional and spiritual suffering at the cross of Jesus Christ.” In other words, a victorious Christian will be emotionally healthy. This so-called full gospel, which proclaims that healing of the body and mind is provided for all in the Atonement, casts a cruel judgment on the mentally ill.

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Don’t Shoot the Wounded

Two authors widely read in evangelical circles, John MacArthur and Dave Hunt, also propagate views that, while sincerely held, I fear lead us to shoot our wounded. In his book “Beyond Seduction”, Hunt writes, “The average Christian is not even aware that to consult a psychotherapist is much the same as turning oneself over to the priest of any other rival religion,” and, “There is no such thing as a mental illness; it is either a physical problem in the brain (such as a chemical imbalance or nutritional deficiency) or it is a moral or spiritual problem.”

MacArthur, in “Our Sufficiency in Christ”, presents the thesis that “As Christians, we find complete sufficiency in Christ and his provisions for our needs.” While I agree with his abstract principle, I disagree with how he narrows what are the proper “provisions.” A large portion of the book strongly criticizes psychotherapy as one of the “deadly influences that undermine your spiritual life.” He denounces “so-called Christian psychologists and psychiatrists who testified that the Bible alone does not contain sufficient help to meet people’s deepest personal and emotional needs,” and he asserts, “There is no such thing as a ‘psychological problem’ unrelated to spiritual or physical causes.

God supplies divine resources sufficient to meet all those needs completely.” Physically caused emotional problems, he adds, are rare, and referring to those who seek psychological help, he concludes: “Scripture hasn’t failed them—they’ve failed Scripture.”

A PLACE FOR PROFESSIONALS

When adherents of the emotional-health gospel say that every human problem is spiritual at root, they are undeniably right. Just as Adam’s fall in the garden was spiritual in nature, so in a very true sense the answer to every human problem—whether a broken leg or a burdened heart—is to be found in the redeeming work of Christ on the cross. The disease and corruption process set into motion by the Fall affected not only our physical bodies but our emotions as well, and we are just beginning to comprehend the many ways our bodies and minds have been affected by original sin and our fallen nature. Yet the issue is not whether our emotional problems are spiritual or not—all are, at some level—but how best to treat people experiencing these problems.

Many followers of the emotional-health gospel make the point that the church is, or at least should be, the expert in spiritual counseling, and I agree. Appropriate spiritual counseling will resolve issues such as salvation, forgiveness, personal morality, God’s will, the scriptural perspective on divorce, and more. It can also help some emotional difficulties. But many emotional or mental illnesses require more than a church support network can offer.

I know it sounds unscriptural to say that some individuals need more than the church can offer—but if my car needs the transmission replaced, do I expect the church to do it? Or if I break my leg, do I consult my pastor about it? For some reason, when it comes to emotional needs, we think the church should be able to meet them all. It can’t, and it isn’t supposed to.

This is why the emotional-health gospel can do so much harm. People who need help are prevented from seeking it and often made to feel shame for having the problem. Thankfully, more and more people in the Christian community are beginning to realize that some people need this extra help. If professionals and church leaders can recognize the value of each other’s roles, we will make progress in helping the wounded. Forty percent of all individuals who need emotional help seek it first from the church, and some of these will need to be referred to mental-health professionals.

Church leaders should get to know Christian therapists in their communities so they can knowledgeably refer people with persistent emotional problems.

 

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Rainy Day People

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“Rainy day people always seem to know when it’s time to call,
Rainy day people don’t talk, they just listen till they’ve heard it all.
Rainy day lovers don’t lie when they tell ‘ya they’ve been down like you.
Rainy day people don’t mind if you’re cryin’ a tear or two.”

Gordon Lightfoot, 1975

“The heartfelt counsel of a friend is as sweet as perfume and incense.”

Proverbs 27:9, NLT

“Wise words are more valuable than much gold and many rubies.”

Proverbs 20:15

I’ve discovered that good counsel invariably comes from a good person. 

But its more then that, not everyone can do it.  At one time I thought any mature Christian believer had a right to give guidance, but that really wasn’t the case.  I also believe that every believer will receive a minimum of a ‘spiritual semester’ in counseling. The Holy Spirit will come to teach you. We have to learn there is wisdom, and there is counseling. And at times, “wise counseling.” Choose your rainy day people carefully. Mark them out beforehand; before things get out of hand.

“From a wise mind comes wise speech;
    the words of the wise are persuasive.”

Proverbs 16:23

Proverbs tells us that giving good advice is as rare as gold or silver.  I have met so many people who have an opinion about my problems, but few want to listen.  And listening skills are what my counselors need.  Job’s friends were the best counselors when they sat quietly in the ashes with him. They were sterling silver until… well, you know what happened next.

I need to unload my issues.  Personally, I need someone who has been profoundly depressed and finally stumbled out into the light.  It’s not that I don’t love certain believers, but they haven’t been “checked out” on this particular problem.  It’s like flying a plane, or operating heavy equipment.  If they haven’t suffered, then leave me alone–but, please do pray for me.

I read this somewhere, “Unless you have been lost in this particular section of hell– just shut up!”  I don’t want to be rude, or ungrateful, but I really need someone who has visited hell on occasion. And especially down this specific corridor. People who have been damaged by life know what I mean.

Often counselors are offering a very small part of the needed wisdom. They must accept this. I place a premium on the counsel of a few dear friends, even though I have hundreds of Christian relationships.  I don’t diminish those relationships, but I do know that certain people are not tested on certain problems.  This may be simplistic, or a little harsh.  But when I had my brain tumor, I did not want my car mechanic to fix me, I wanted a neurosurgeon. And both are wonderful people. I’m fortunate to have them.

If you’re reading this, and you have a mental illness issue that’s starting to escalate, you need to reach out.  Realize, that 1 in 70 people, [more or less] are qualified to deal with mental illness.  Ask the Holy Spirit for his help in this.  He is the Comforter and the Wonderful Counselor.  He will direct you, and help you.  That is what He does.

 

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“If you have knowledge, let others light their candles at it.” –Thomas Fuller

“A saying I heard years ago: ‘It doesn’t matter what you do. Just do something, even if it’s wrong!’ That’s the most stupid counsel I’ve ever heard. Never do what’s wrong! Do nothing until it’s right. Then do it with all your might. That’s wise counsel.”  –Chuck Swindoll

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When Despair Empties You

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“It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of Heaven.”  

Acts 14:22

As a broken believer this happens. I breakdown, my faith is questioned, and I feel all alone. Issues like a simple hot shower and eating something seem impossible. I’m embarrassed to say I once went 34 days with a shower. I laid in bed unable to function. That is the insidious truth about chronic depression, I know it well. God seems far, far away from me. Life doesn’t matter anymore.

There is much I can do before  it gets to this point. And although life seems insurmountable. Clinical depression kills people. It slowly devours “a sound mind.” It cripples before it takes away your life. There is nothing quite like it; people tell you it will pass, and that you’ll see the sun again. But at the time that seems to be the worst advice ever given.

For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

2 Timothy 1:7

Meds help a lot. I take Zoloft and that is a godsend. I never miss a dose. I know I’m not bulletproof. I’ve taken it for several years now. (It’s like insulin for a diabetic).

Afflicted souls are special to God. And that truly comforts me. Sometimes it seems like there is an invisible tether that holds from completely dropping off the edge. When I do pray, it is desperate and brief. More like a quiet scream for help. There are no frills and no eloquence, but I know I’m being heard by Him who guards my soul.

People for the most part, are of little help. I admit that my attitude can be less than stellar. “Unless you have been lost in this section of hell yourself, it’s best if you just shut up.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m tempted to.)

But there are a few that can speak. Almost always these are the ones who have been through some affliction themselves. They have been hurt and they ‘walk with a limp.’ I’m convinced that they can speak in direct proportion to the pain they themselves have suffered. I once woke up to another pastor praying prostrate on my bedroom floor. He didn’t have to do or say anything else. He left without saying some ‘pious’ word to me, what he did was wonderfully done.

“I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain.”   

John Henry Newman

Take care of yourself. If this isn’t your first major depression, prepare in advance spiritually for the next. Identify those ‘dear-hearts’ who can help you in advance. Keep taking your meds, even if you think your o.k. And speak often with the Lord, and learn to listen to His voice. That “sound mind” is a promise for those who truly need it.

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Ministry & the Mentally Ill

“Turning Your Back,” Russian Folk Art

Religious people love to hide behind religion. They love the rules of religion more than they love Jesus. With practice, the Condemners let rules become more important than the spiritual life. “

— Michael Yaconelli

Mentally ill people are rarely seen in our Churches.  We are pushed into hiding our true identity;  we can come out into the open, but only if we agree to play according to the rules–their rules.  We are expected to censor ourselves, and say proper things at the right time.  Pharisees [who are alive and well] insist on a level of purity that all must maintain. [Hey, I am not picking on anyone, it’s just a generality.]

If I say that I am depressed, paranoid, manic or desperate, I will upset the apple cart and muddle up everything.  “Truth?  You can’t handle the truth?”, [from the movie, “A Few Good Men”.] 

But– if we use our shortcomings as credentials– we have the ability to speak about grace, love and of self-acceptance, with real authority.

Christians with mental illnesses, have been given a gift that we are to share with the Church.  The Holy Spirit has sprinkled us into each fellowship of believers.  He places us who are presently afflicted and suffering into strategic places.

We are “sprinkled” throughout the Body. Our “gifts” are to speak to the Body, spiritually about a lot of things, but especially grace. We are bearers of grace. We’re the audio/visual department of the church.

If our fellowships become religious, it might be because we in our weaknesses, have allowed ourselves to be silenced into submission by the “interpreters” of scripture.  If we don’t like the rules, we are told to go elsewhere.  We are not welcome, they say with a thin smile.

But don’t you see, that is our moment to shine!  Our “unsightly” presence shouts out to the “wonderful” people, proclaiming grace in weakness.  Those who receive us, in a way, receive Him.  Those who turn from us, muffling us, are doing that to Jesus. Frightening, isn’t it?

I would strongly suggest that we take our illnesses into the open. 

That we become transparent before others.  As we do this, we can ‘oh-so-gently’ guide our fellowships into true grace and love.  They look at me and they see Jesus.  And that is our ministry as mentally ill people to the Church.  Our weaknesses are really our strengths.

9″ But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power  is perfected in weakness.”  Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me.” 

10 “So because of Christ,  I am pleased in weaknesses, in insults, in catastrophes, in persecutions, and in pressures. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 

                               2 Corinthians 12:9-10, NLT

 

aabryscript

[This is a re-blog of one of our core teachings, originally posted 11/20/2009. I felt it was time to bring out of our musty old closet and set it before you again. I hope that it resounds deep within, and that it encourages those who must mix their discipleship with disability.]

 

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Tigger Goes to a Therapist

A Therapists Consultation: TIGGER

(Winnie the Pooh’s Irrepressible Friend.)

Diagnosis:

Attention deficit hyperactive disorder (ADHD): Tigger’s continual bouncing, hyperactivity and irresponsible attitude cause problems for him and those with whom he lives, as well as those he interacts with in the wider community.

Physical presentation:

Rarely sits still. He’s always running, climbing, or fidgeting.

Diet:

Having tried – and firmly rejected – honey, haycorns and thistles, Tigger settles on extract of malt as his food of choice. While this particular substance is unlikely to exacerbate his condition, a more balanced diet would almost certainly benefit him and perhaps contribute to an improvement in his behaviour.

Family background:

No information is available on Tigger’s life before his arrival at Pooh’s house. Nothing is known of his previous address or his family of origin, although it has been said that he is the only Tigger.

Patient notes:

Tigger’s arrival at Pooh’s house in the middle of the night is evidence of his inability to control his impulses. A less disordered individual would have known that it is more appropriate to visit people during the day, especially when dropping in on someone one scarcely knows or has never met.

Impulsive behaviour, interrupting and intruding are at the heart of Tigger’s problems. Soon after their first meeting, for example, Tigger suddenly interrupted Pooh, climbed on to the table, wrapped himself in his host’s tablecloth and brought everything crashing to the floor.

When questioned by Pooh about his behavior, rather than accepting responsibility for his actions, Tigger accused the tablecloth of trying to bite him. Tigger makes bold statements, such as declaring that he is only bouncy before breakfast. He proclaims impulsively that whatever food he is offered is what Tiggers like best, then gulps down large mouthfuls of the food in question, only to find he dislikes it very much.

More evidence of Tigger’s recklessness and poor impulse control is displayed by his belief that he can do anything. He has no sense of fear or responsibility. This was apparent when he climbed up a high tree with Roo on his back before he had ascertained whether he was able to climb a tree in the first place. Inevitably, they then got stuck when he realised he had no idea of how to get down.

On one occasion, Tigger grabbed Roo’s medicine from Kanga, which he proceeded to swallow, almost devouring the spoon as well. Obviously the medicine might have proved dangerous to him. Tigger never learns from his mishaps, bouncing back almost immediately after a frightening and potentially hazardous incident. As a result, Tigger’s behaviour causes concern to those around him.

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Living with someone suffering from ADHD can be trying. Perhaps this is why Rabbit suggested the rather extreme measure of taking Tigger into the forest and losing him in the mist. Rabbit and his friends believed the shock of being lost might cause Tigger to calm down a little on his return, a strategy that backfired, however.

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