Advent

Many counseling practices experience a significant increase in calls around this time of year. Despite choruses of comfort and joy, the holidays often bring feelings of loneliness, stress, sadness, and relational discord. The way we are supposed to feel as depicted in commercials and movies causes us to experience dissonance when we realize how we are actually feeling in comparison. Something is amiss.

Advent Candles

We would do well to view that realization as a gift. In essence, God is shining a light on the brokenness so we can yearn for something better. And isn’t that the central idea behind Advent? We hope for that which is better. Within ourselves, we seek peace, joy, grace, love, faithfulness to win out against our frenzied, sad, self-righteousness, begrudging, and fickle hearts. Within our world, we long for Jesus’ grace to captivate our souls and for His Kingdom to restore all things. Advent is about hoping and longing for that which is better.

If you have noticed that something is amiss in you this holiday season and you long for a way of being that is better, call a counselor. Make an appointment. Don’t live another year stuck in the same patterns of thinking, behaving, and relating. God desires for you to hear His good news of grace and restoration again and again. He longs that you experience freedom from captivity and release from darkness (Isaiah 61). If you have not yet done so, carve out time to intentionally celebrate Advent and yearn for Christ’s coming- both in your life and in those among you. The Advent Project by Biola University offers one beautiful way of pilgriming through Advent that features Scripture, written reflections, music, and visual art to help engage our senses as we “earnestly contemplate the wonder and mystery of Christ’s coming to earth.”

The introduction to the afore-mentioned Advent Project reads, “The frenetic activities of the holidays tend to work us up, while the spiritual practices of Advent quietly focus our souls.” Take time this Advent to intentionally and deliberately focus your soul and consider the ways God might desire to lead you out of captivity and darkness as you prepare for a new year ahead.

Do as I Say, Not as I Do

Some people think counselors must have it all together: Perfectly healthy relationships and always the right words to say at just the right time. Friends, do not be deceived.

Last week I grabbed coffee with a new acquaintance. As I sat across from her, I understood the reason for her tears.

Loneliness.

Aimlessness.

Both slamming into her at the same time. Both leaving her wishing for God to be near, for him to speak, for him to provide.

I listened, I validated, I expressed empathy. Then, instead of delving deeper, I did exactly what I hate! I did the thing I was so emphatically warned against in my training.

I rushed in to fix it.

I longed to offer something of worth, but I felt inadequate. My insecurity won out. Instead of being the aroma of Christ, I tried to be the Savior himself. Instead of sitting with a fellow sister in her pain, I scurried to patch things up and save the day.

Larry Crabb calls this phenomenon SelfTalk, primarily because at the end of the day, it’s more about me than you. SelfTalk is more about quelching my discomfort than deepening another’s desire for God.

In his book, Soul Talk, Crabb articulates a desire for something better. He asks, “How can conversations between followers of Jesus become a stage on which the supernatural power of God is unmistakably displayed, where souls come alive, where life is enjoyed, where love is released and souls connect?” (Crabb, 2003, p. 26).

That something better, you may have guessed, he coins Soul Talk, which involves thinking beneath what is in front of us and looking for the battle going on within the soul of another. It is only possible by the presence of the Holy Spirit and a steadfast resistance to the pulsating urge to run, help, or refer. Soul Talk requires a deeply authentic encounter with another that overflows from communion with the Trinity and waits for the Spirit to lead.

“Most people go through their entire life never speaking words to another human being that come out of what is deepest within them, and most people never hear words that reach all the way into that deep place we call the soul.” says Crabb.

If you are dissatisfied with chatting, arguing, maneuvering, and missing those most important to you in conversation most of the time, don’t follow my example! When you are afforded the opportunity to connect with another in a meaningful way, resist the urge to run, resist the urge to help, and resist the urge to refer the tough situation to someone else. Dig your heels in, be honest about what’s happening within you in that moment, and follow the Spirit’s lead.

 

Crabb, Larry (2003). Soul Talk: The language God longs for us to speak. Brentwood, TN: Integrity Publishers.

Graced Fruitfulness

With the end of summer comes the return of schedules, weekly commitments, and down-right busyness. In all these things lies the temptation for hurry as we flit from activity to activity. Sure, we lament the hurry, we bemoan how crushed we feel under its weight. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we often choose hurry more than hurry chooses us. We wrap ourselves in it like a protective cloak, hoping to shield ourselves from something unfamiliar that God might be requiring of us or from times of stillness, solitude, and prayer that might force us to reckon with a sense of nagging discomfort within. It doesn’t take long to realize that we would feel naked without the familiar cloak of hurry.

Busyness, even busyness in the church, can act just like a drug, numbing our senses to the emptiness inside or distracting us from the pain that has taken root in the deep, far reaches of our hearts. Indeed, busyness may make us feel good and valuable, but it is just as unsatisfying and hollow as a chemical substance used for the same purposes. We weren’t made for busyness.

Busyness, even busyness in the church, can act just like a drug, numbing our senses to the emptiness inside or distracting us from the pain that has taken root in the deep, far reaches of our hearts.”

So what’s the alternative?

Alan Fadling introduces the concept of “graced fruitfulness” in his book An Unhurried Life. He explains that genuine productivity does not involve getting as much done as possible, but “doing the good work God actually has for us in a given day” (Fadling, 2013, p. 54). He illustrates this point with a parable of two servants in the household of a king. One servant rose early before dawn and worked tirelessly to accomplish all the tasks he imagined the king would want done that day. The other servant rose early as well, but began his day by visiting the king and asking what work he desired to be completed. The busy servant may have been more productive, but the inquisitive servant was more fruitful, for it was the inquisitive servant who was actually doing the will of his master. In God’s eyes, it is only this inquisitive type of productivity that can be called fruitfulness because it is born out of an active abiding in Christ.

In God’s Kingdom, we are more than servants or even inquisitive servants. In fact, we are sons and daughters, made not only for service, but for fellowship. So as you feel the temptation to hurry this fall, stop to ponder who gave you the to-do list you are clutching to your chest as you load the kids in the car for the fifth time today. Was it you? Your family? The social expectations of those who might be watching? Or was it our King who has explained that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30)?

I pray that this fall would be different- not just for you, but for me as well. This go-round, let our productivity be bathed in abiding fellowship with our Lord and thus transformed into graced fruitfulness for the Kingdom.

A Vision for Christian Counseling

ChristianCounseling640x360If you are looking for counseling, you might be wondering what is exactly meant by the term “Christian counseling.” There are some obvious implications, namely that the counselor herself is a Christian and secondarily that the counseling will involve some Christian themes and Christian ethics, but otherwise the phrase can be somewhat ambiguous. What type of counseling is implied by the phrase? What origins does this form of counseling claim? What are the goals of Christian counseling? What actually happens in the room with a “Christian counselor?” How is that different from what may happen in the counseling room with a professional counselor who doesn’t ascribe to the same belief system, or to someone who describes himself as a “biblical counselor?”

I’d like to devote this post to answering the first two questions, which are the more theoretical components to the larger question “What is Christian counseling?”

In its simplest form, Christian counseling applies the truths of Christian theology and the truths of psychology to people’s problems. Because our suffering and struggling often holds spiritual, emotional, behavioral, and biological origins, the solutions to our issues are derived from all of these disciplines. We would do clients a disservice to see problems in a singular way as purely spiritual or purely biological. Compartmentalizing aspects of our humanity as either sacred or secular is an unrealistic way of understanding the human condition. Instead, we are multi-faceted creatures and thus, a multi-faceted approach is required. This does not imply that God is left out of some areas while He is incorporated in others. Rather, if all things are from him, through him, and to him” (Romans 11:36), He is just as present in the application of psychological tools for healing as He is in the articulation of biblical truth. In Christian counseling, there is a belief that all truth is God’s truth, including the truths contained in Scripture and the truths present in the world God so sovereignly created. I am borrowing from David Entwistle’s Integrative Approaches to Psychology and Christianity here when he comments

“If we understand that all of what God created was good, then we must avoid creating an artificial separation between that which is sacred and every facet of life” (p. 9-10).

So the key word for anyone who self-designates as a Christian counselor is “integration.” In Christian counseling, there is a conscious effort to integrate the insights of rigorous psychological science with the timeless truths of the Bible and basic tenets of Christian theology, both in how we understand people and how we understand problems and their solutions. According to Stanton L. Jones (2010) in Psychology and Christianity: Five Views,

“Integration means approaching the discipline and profession of psychology with a commitment to having one’s Christian convictions shape every aspect of one’s work. Because Scripture and the accumulated wisdom of the church in theology leave many areas of uncertainty in understanding and helping humanity, we approach psychology expecting that we can learn and grow through our engagement with it. Because all psychology is infused and shaped by metaphysical and moral presuppositions, we also expect that we may need to modify and reshape what we learn from psychology in light of our Christian beliefs” (p. 125-126).

In this way, Christian counseling derives its origins from God’s word as well as evidence-based practices that have been proven effective for those struggling with all manner of problematic behaviors, faulty thinking, out-of-control emotions, etc.

Now for the last question: Toward what ends? The goal of Christian counseling is to partner with God in His work of bringing restoration and healing to all areas of a client’s life as we move toward the new heaven and new earth waiting for us (Revelation 21). It is holistic and follows God’s vision of restoring every facet of creation: mind, body, soul. This is God’s Kingdom coming to bear on earth. Christian counseling is not merely interested in making a client feel better, although this is helpful and often happens. On the other hand, the profession is not focused only on helping a client grow in their Christian faith, although this is beautiful and often occurs alongside other forms of growth. Instead, the goal is to see authentic healing in the deepest areas of our being; to see broken responses, ways of thinking and relating, patterns, etc. restored to what God originally intended them to be. This is the vision of Christian counseling.

Thin Places

cannonballNewsflash: Summer is almost over. Somehow, these months of relaxation and sunshine have flown by and summer is drawing to a close.

It is officially August. Is it just me or is this the month that has always felt like the leftovers in the fridge that you really should eat but for which you have no desire? They’ve just been sticking around a little too long and while you can’t justify throwing them away just yet, you also are lacking the wherewithal to turn them in to something edible, let alone delicious. Perhaps it’s something about it being the eighth month, just one past the perfect number seven and the gobs of fun jammed into every July. I don’t know what it is, but that’s August for ya- at least in my book. Who’s with me? [No offense if your birthday or anniversary falls in August- my condolences].

Instead of succumbing to the lackadaisical temptations of this month, perhaps this year we can take advantage of these last precious weeks at a more relaxed pace to linger with God.

One of my favorite authors, Shauna Niequist, writes about the old Celtic idea of “thin places,” a way to describe the spaces and places in your life where the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural one becomes a little more sheer, almost translucent.

One of my favorite Celtic ideas is the concept of thin places. A thin place, according to the Celtic mystics, is a place where the boundary between the natural world and the supernatural one is more permeable–thinner, if you will… places where the boundary between the divine world and the human world becomes almost nonexistent, and the two, divine and human, can for a moment, dance together uninterrupted. – Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet

These places can be literal, like the beloved little nook of an outlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway that became a favorite place for me and my husband back in our mountain days. It could be a season, like Advent, a particularly captivating piece of music, or even the briefest moment as you look at your child during a fleeting moment of sweetness. Really, it’s any place where the boundary between the eternal world we’ve tasted and the human world we know dissipates before us and we sense Jesus’ almost/not-yet kingdom.

So what if you spent these dog days of summer looking and praying for a “thin place” or two, a place where you can reach across the line from human to sacred and touch the goodness that God has for you? Thin places don’t always derive from joy or beauty alone, but can be initiated just as well by brokenness and heartbreak. Scripture makes clear that God meets his people in a variety of places and spaces, many of which are more surprising than not (ahem… can you say ‘burning bush’?!). Wherever you are this August, don’t discount God’s ability to create a thin place for you where you can experience him and his kingdom anew. Tear your eyes away from the TV and keep them peeled for a thin place or two. When you find it, take a deep breath, be present, and let it refresh you- mentally, spiritually, emotionally, because…

If we don’t, we miss some of the best moments that life with God has to offer us. – Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet