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.

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.

Good Reads: Courage and Calling by Gordon T. Smith

Courage and CallingIn Courage and Calling, Gordon Smith communicates a comprehensive theology of vocation and a practical rationale for its pursuit. His thesis is set in the context of a modern understanding of work and offers a distinctly realistic and hopeful theological response. Smith crafts a broad definition of calling that encompasses three main components. Primarily, he explains, mankind is called to Christ, secondarily, individuals are called to the everyday demands of life, and thirdly, calling can be understood as a sacred way of serving God in the world. It is this third understanding of the concept that constitutes the majority of Courage and Calling’s focus.

Yet, Courage and Calling is about more than articulating a general definition of calling. For Smith, vocation is a central aspect of what it means to be a Christian and as such, the “what” and “how” are of equal importance. To Smith, pursuing one’s vocation with integrity, excellence, truth, diligence, and generosity are just as important as evaluating one’s desires, gifts, personality, and conception of the needs of the world in order to discern one’s specific vocation. Attention is also given to specific issues such as working within an organization, learning when it is appropriate to resign from a position, the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity, and in pursuing one’s vocation, the essential nature of doing so with courage.

Courage and Calling gives the reader perspective on the idea of vocation along with insight into determining one’s specific vocation and how to pursue and fulfill it in a Christ-like fashion. This text could be utilized in career counseling as a resource on specific subjects relevant to the client or to be read as bibliotherapy in its entirety. Either way, it proves a valuable resource for articulating a strong theology of vocation as it relates to discernment, fulfillment, and completion of vocation. A sequel text that allocated more attention to the details of discerning one’s gifting, desires, personality, and conceptualization of the world’s problems would be advantageous.

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

 

The Art and Science of Counseling

art-and-science1

It’s been said that counseling is both art and science. Indeed, walking with people through pain and suffering combines the finesse and intuition of a seasoned craftsman with the ardor and precision of a rigorous practitioner. I find that this aphorism resonates with many counselors, and my hunch is that it does so because of the way it speaks to how God is at work in our lives. He reveals Himself to us as the Potter, the Master Sculptor, the One who cultivates beauty from ashes. Yet at other times, our senses are heightened to the brilliance of his meticulous sovereignty at work. We stand amazed at his genius. His work is both art and science.

The fruitful counselor grasps this balance as she partners with God in his restorative work in clients’ lives. There is a particular quality to skillful counseling that can neither be described nor taught. It is art in its truest form- intuitive, creative, perceiving what is and what could be. Yet there is also the rigor of good science- the commitment to following what God has revealed to be empirically true about the way the human mind, soul, heart, and body interact, change, and flourish.

My prayer is that my work would reflect this delicate balance and its fruit would honor the One who artfully and brilliantly knit us together and loves us despite the ways we have fallen apart.