Do I Need Counseling?

“Our country faces an unprecedented mental health crisis among people of all ages.”  

This statement from the White House last year not only describes the condition of our country but also reflects the suffering many Christians face. The stigma that once haunted believers who struggle with mental health is fading as pastors and church leaders more readily address such topics with their congregations. In addition, faith-based counseling offered by Christian counselors is becoming easier to find.  

But believers can still wonder if their situation warrants the need for formal counseling. Isn’t the care and support of friends, family, pastors, and our faith community enough? These God-given resources are vital, but they aren’t exhaustive. There are times when talking with someone who has more focused expertise may be helpful.

The God-given resources of friends, family, pastors, and your faith community are vital, but they aren’t exhaustive. There are times when talking with someone who has more focused expertise may be helpful.

If you’ve ever wondered if you might benefit from counseling, here are six questions to determine the answer. 

1. DO YOU FEEL STUCK? Are your best efforts to change ineffective? Do you feel trapped in a never-ending negative cycle of poor communication and hurtful interaction in your relationships? Is suffering unrelenting or does discouragement over unchanging circumstances feel overwhelming?

If you’ve sought help but still feel stuck, counseling may offer a much-needed fresh perspective. 

2. HAVE YOU SUFFERED A DISTRESSING OR TRAUMATIZING EVENT? Tragedies come in a variety of forms: miscarriage, accidents, injuries, the loss of a job, or the death of a friend or family member. The trauma of victimizations and violations can lead you to places that are emotionally unfamiliar and challenging. A counselor can help you work through both unexpected and expected hardships.  

3. IS EMOTIONAL STRESS MANIFESTING IN PHYSICAL SYMPTOMS? Headaches, fatigue, digestive issues, or a racing heart are just a few symptoms that result from emotional stress. When you notice symptoms, a visit to your doctor is a good idea. If your doctor thinks stress is the cause of your physical issues, counseling is an excellent way to address what’s contributing to your body’s response.

4. ARE YOU STRUGGLING TO COPE WITH THE PRESSURES OF LIFE? To deal with the tensions of life, people find ways to cope. Some are helpful and healthy, like engaging in exercise, being with friends, meditating on Scripture, praying, spending time outdoors, or creating a quiet space for yourself. Other forms of coping are less healthy and are distractions that compound problems. If you’re coping with stress by turning to addictive habits such as drugs or alcohol, indulging in comfort food, watching shows excessively, scrolling social media, or other escapes, talking to someone is a wise and needed step.  

5. ARE YOUR RELATIONSHIPS STRAINED? Relationships are challenging. Whether it’s with your coworkers, church family, spouse, children, or parents, no relationship is immune to hard times. Even the best of friendships can take a difficult turn and cause unexpected challenges. Marriage and family relationships can fall into cycles of conflict, leaving you feeling hopeless. If you can’t make progress toward relational resolution, seek counsel.

Finding a counselor who can connect the love of Christ and the wisdom of the Scriptures to the interpersonal struggles you face can be a great encouragement.  

6. HAVE YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS EXPRESSED CONCERNED? Others often see us more clearly than we see ourselves. When friends and family voice concerns, don’t ignore them. It can be hard to see how things are affecting you when the situation has become part of your everyday life. If people who care about you say they’ve noticed concerning things, humbly listen and reach out for help.  

If you answered yes to any of the questions above, know that the Lord doesn’t intend for you to struggle alone. Take advantage of the circle of care God has provided through friends, family, and your local church. But also consider counseling as another avenue of care the Lord may be providing to you.  

This post written by Eliza Huie was originally shared on The Gospel Coalition website.

“I didn’t plan on dying today.” Unexpected lessons from Psalm 46:10

When I was lying awake one night, I asked the Lord what He would have me to share as a devotion with the staff of the non-profit where I work, and immediately, these eight simple words came to mind:  BE STILL AND KNOW THAT I AM GOD. The probability of this verse being in the top ten most well-known Bible passages makes it very familiar to all of us, but I wasn’t about to tell the Lord He made a mistake!   

After reflecting on Psalm 46:10, it became apparent to me that this simple imperative is far from easy to pull off.  In fact, I think that understanding it and putting it into practice might be one of the more difficult tasks of the Christian life. I have spent the last several years of my life being challenged by it. One particular event in my life stands out as a potent illustration of what the words of this psalm mean. Allow me to break it down into short phrases, starting with the first two words as I share my story.

Be Still

About 15 years ago now, when I was living in Wilmington, NC, my kids and I would go to Wrightsville Beach with several families from our homeschool group every Thursday during the summer. On one unforgettable trip, another mom and I decided to swim across the channel with our kids from Shell Island to Figure Eight Island. It was an easy swim, and we made it across in a few minutes.  After walking down the beach a ways, we then decided to head back to Shell Island where the rest of our group was waiting.  We swam out to the middle of the channel, and then to our horror realized that we were no longer covering any distance.  At this point my friend looks at me with fear in her eyes and says, “We are not going to make it.” Immediately, my life flashed before my eyes, and I had the most terrifying thought: “I didn’t plan on dying today.” Add to this great horror and even greater one—I suddenly realized that I was going to watch my children drown one by one right in front of my eyes. I immediately started to panic, and my body began to sink beneath the waves. There was absolutely nothing I could do to get myself or my children out of this predicament. However, my friend calmly called out to us, “Everybody lie on your backs!”  We did, and the current which we had been fighting, pushed us back to Figure Eight Island. If I had continued to strive to get across the channel, I surely would have drowned.  But by simply trustin in the reality that the current was able to get me to safety and that all I needed to do was to rest, my life and the lives of my children were spared.

Taking the posture of lying on our backs was essential that day. Being still saved our lives. Rather than commanding us to do nothing, Psalm 46 is describing a posture of the heart—one that recognizes that the most pressing issues of my life have already been lovingly planned and will be accomplished—not by my striving—but by my resting in His perfect plan. 

Thankfully, moments after we made it back to Figure Eight Island, some teenagers on jet skis saw our predicament and jetted us safely back across the channel.  They said to us, “Don’t you know how dangerous it is to swim across the channel?”

That brings me to the second phrase.

And Know

Before we ventured out into the channel, one of the moms in our group had warned us, “I don’t think that is a very good idea.  The channel is not a safe place to swim.”  But we sized it up and concluded that she was being a worrywart. Only, she knew! She was convinced not only in the reality about currents, but also in her own experience. We were foolish to have not listened. We had put our confidence in our own assessment and ability to get across the channel—and that got us into a lot of trouble.  Here, God is telling us, commanding us to know.  He wants us to have absolute assurance – not a false hope. He provides us not only with truth in His word through principles and stories of His faithfulness, but also with the experiences of others around us so that we can have rock solid assurance.  

Assurance about what?  That leads me to the third phrase.

That I

God has reduced our confidence to be placed in one singular being—Himself.  Our assurance cannot be centered in ourselves, in our circumstances, or shaped by our emotions.   It can’t be dependent on another person. I can’t find my assurance in what I do, where I live or work, or what or who I know. My confidence can’t come from what others think of me. Only God can be the source of our confidence.  Everything else will disappoint, fall apart, or come to an end. I can be certain that He has a good purpose for me.

This reminds me of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  When faced with sure death, they answered King Nebuchadnezzar, “Your threat means nothing to us. If you throw us in the fire, the God we serve can rescue us from your roaring furnace and anything else you might cook up, O king. But even if he doesn’t, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference, O king. We still wouldn’t serve your gods or worship the gold statue you set up.”  (Daniel 3:16-28, The Message).  How could they say this with such confidence?  Because they knew without a doubt that placing their lives in God’s hands was the safest place to land.  

The last phrase is the anchor that holds the whole thought together.

Am God 

I can’t learn to be still, I can’t accurately understand truth, I can’t be assured of any good outcome unless I am looking to God—the only true source of all joy, fulfillment, power, satisfaction, and purpose.

So, because God is God and I am not, I can practice self-forgetfulness and focus on Him.  I can live my life solely to glorify Him, freeing me from the enslaving preoccupation of my own agenda. I can be confident that no matter what He sends my way, I can rest in His good plans for me and have peace.  

You would think that at the ripe old age of 56 I would have this down by now, but I have found that learning to be still is a lifelong journey. I need to be reminded daily where my true confidence lies and to constantly be challenged to practice self-forgetfulness, looking to God for ultimate purpose and joy.  And even when I fail, I cannot out fail His grace.  Many of us wrongly view the Christian life as a steady climb to a higher plane, but reality points to something more like undulations of growth and failures, always moving us closer and closer to a clearer understanding of who I am in light of who God is.  He will accomplish the work He started in me.  

I have been trying to remember to start my day repeating these eight simple words.  I invite you to join me, and perhaps together we can be sanctified by their message and encourage one another to find peace by practicing it.  

For further reflection and encouragement, listen to this song by Hope Dearest:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lsIpGiz3SfQ

(This guest post is shared by my dear friend who faithfully shares the love of Jesus with muslim refugees through a local non-profit. She is passionate about the goodness of God and the importance of knowing His Word. She wishes to write anonymously in order to give all the attention to the Lord.)

4 Traits of an Emotionally Healthy Ministry Worker

“I need to step away from serving.”

These are words you expect to hear from time to time. People serve for seasons, and some seasons are longer than others. But this was coming from a capable and energetic ministry worker, a spiritually solid servant of Christ. Yet what followed was an explanation of emotional decline, frustrating interactions, and strained interpersonal relationships—an explanation that affirmed the decision, though hard, was wise.

If you’re serving in ministry, you have likely been encouraged to prioritize your spiritual health. You may have been exhorted to pay attention to spiritual disciplines that will shape you into the best possible leader, teacher, or minister. All of this is good. The Bible implores us to pay careful attention to ourselves (1 Tim. 4:12–16).

But spiritual vitality is not the only area of health ministry workers need to pursue. Your emotional health is also essential. Below are four traits of emotionally healthy people for you to pursue. If you’re in ministry, each one is worthy of your careful consideration.

1. Adopt an appropriate view of your capacity.

Emotional health begins with embracing your sovereignly ordained limitations. You must avoid the lies that say having limited physical, mental, or emotional bandwidth means failure. Instead, know the value of asking for help and do so regularly. God created you to need him and others. So, lean on the Lord’s strength and allow others to support and assist you (Isa. 40:28–292 Cor. 12:9–10Gal. 6:2). Rather than pushing through or ignoring personal limits, accept them. Take the necessary time to give your body what it needs: rest, nutrition, hydration, recreation, or stillness. See your limited capacity as part of being human rather than a personal flaw.

Spiritual vitality is not the only area of health ministry workers need to pursue. Your emotional health is also essential.

Are you open to the support and assistance of others when you’ve reached your capacity? Do you decline new or additional requests to serve when you know you haven’t had sufficient time to rest or reset? A wrong understanding of our limitations can lead to service motivated by obligation, resentment, guilt, or even shame. But a healthy view of your capacity can help you see that saying no is at times wiser than saying yes.

2. Avoid obsessing over failures.

Are you able to be disappointed by mistakes but not devastated by them? Do you find yourself rethinking past situations that went wrong? Emotionally healthy ministers understand the importance of forgiveness and fight the temptation to negatively ruminate on what others have done to them. They fight against a defeatist mentality about their own mistakes as well, trusting that God uses all things for his glory and our good.

Dwelling on your mistakes (or the mistakes of others) saps your emotional and spiritual health. When you find yourself replaying mistakes, beating yourselves up, or thinking you’re worthless, instead make the replays your cue to turn to the Lord. Turn the temptation to fixate into a call to prayer. Instead of allowing failures to become all-consuming, seek the Lord’s guidance when things go wrong (Ps. 25:8). He can redeem all your mistakes but sometimes he uses them in constructive ways to lead you to deeper dependence on him. In your failings, the Lord often teaches you more about yourself and his character than in your times of great success.

3. Pursue healthy relationships.

In ministry, much of your work is spent in relational interactions, serving and pouring out your life for others. That’s a good thing. Emotionally healthy people regularly invest in life-giving relationships.

But having healthy relationships is not about the number of friendships you have. Instead, it’s about the depth and quality of your relationships. Do you have relationships where you’re not in the role of caregiver? Is there a balance in your life between pouring into people and being poured into by others? Do you spend regular time with people whose company is refreshing to your soul?

In your failings, the Lord often teaches you more about yourself and his character than in your times of great success.

Your relationships need to be a balance of giving and receiving. In your friendships and ministry relationships,  you need a good understanding of what things you’re responsible for and what you’re not. When a person takes on more responsibility than is appropriate, unhealthy relational interactions can manifest.

This was the case for the ministry worker who shared her need to step away from serving. Her life had become consumed with serving others to the point she’d neglected her own needs and it had caught up with her. Ministry workers can too easily fall prey to this because their positions often require greater levels of responsibility for others. This heightened sense of duty may lead you to feel overly responsible for establishing and maintaining relationships both inside and outside the context of your ministry.

4. Find your worth in Christ.

Emotionally healthy people do not depend on others’ approval. Rather, they rest in the knowledge of who they are in Christ. The world sends us endless messages, tempting us to create status for ourselves. But as believers, we can rest in the unshakable identity we have received from God (John 1:12) and weigh others’ opinions with discernment, filtering them through the truth of Scripture.

Are you able to rest in who you are in Christ, or do the opinions of others affect your feelings of worth and contentment? Is your belief in who God says you are evident in your perception of your worth? Christians don’t need to be caught up in a hot pursuit of identity formation. We have no need to accomplish what has already been given us. We can be confident that we are who God says we are (2 Cor. 5:171 Pet. 2:9). Prioritizing regular times of communion with God through prayer and meditation in the Word stabilizes our emotional health and protects us against the temptation to believe the world’s false messages about identity.

Serving or working for a ministry, church, or Christian organization doesn’t guarantee emotional health. A person may be devoted to all the right spiritual disciplines and still be deteriorating emotionally. In your effort to sacrifice for the kingdom, you may miss the important need to attend to your emotional life.

One final note: emotional health is not an individual effort. As in all areas of life, we are created for community. Consider talking about these four traits with people who know you well or those with whom you serve. Prayerfully encourage one another or to reflect on any changes or adjustments you may need to make (1 Thess. 5:11Heb. 10:24).

This post written by Eliza Huie was also published by The Gospel Coalition.

The Whole Life book.

Join the journey!

Order THE WHOLE LIFE today at New Growth Press.

There may not be a more needed book than this one. We live in a culture that is always on and constantly going. We are surviving but exhausted, pushing through but wearing out. Join me on a journey of exploring what it looks like to live a whole and balanced life. Watch this short video to learn more about The Whole Life book.

What is biblical self-care?

What makes self-care biblical?

To understand self-care biblically we need to look at it rightly. The best way to approach self-care is through the lens of stewardship. The Bible teaches us to steward all the gifts that God gives us (Luke 12:48; 2 Corinthians 9:6–15; 1 Peter 4:10). When God blesses us with resources, it is our responsibility to steward them wisely. Self-care is simply stewardship of our body, our time, our decisions, our responsibilities, and our relationships.

In The Whole Life: 52 Weeks of Biblical Self-Care, biblical self-care is defined as follows: “The practice of drawing on divinely given resources to steward our whole lives for personal enrichment, the good of others, and the glory of God.” Read that again.

This definition always has God’s glory as the target. In addition, others are blessed but not at the expense of totally depleting yourself. Too often, Christians pay little attention to their own needs or care. They believe this is a selfless way of living, but it often ends up driving them to a useless state of burnout.

Biblical self-care means we steward the body God gave us and respect our limitations. We steward our life by engaging in things that bring spiritual, emotional, and physical health.

Biblical self-care means we steward our time and seek to wisely say “yes” or “no” based on what is best for ourselves, our families, and others God has placed our lives.

Biblical self-care means we steward the gifts and abilities God has given us to bless others without exhausting ourselves in the process.

Engaging in self-care does not contradict self-sacrifice, nor does it necessarily lead to a self-centered life.

So what might biblical self-care look like in your life?

It is engaging with God in the ordinary sacred places. Perhaps it is you in your favorite chair with just a Bible and a cup of coffee or tea. Or it might meeting with God as you take a walk around the neighborhood or in a park. It can be as quiet as moments in prayer in the middle of the night, or as noisy as a foyer full of chatter as you enter the familiar four walls of your church.

A person who engages in biblical self-care recognizes the best place to go for refreshment is to the One who restores the soul. It is trusting God enough to allow things to wait while you take a nap, eat a meal, exercise, play a game, read a book, or watch show. It is enjoying God through the smile of a dear friend, in the giggles of a little child, or in the unhurried conversation with your neighbor. It is noticing when you are stressed and changing course. It is scheduling check-ups, taking vitamins, asking for help, or taking a vacation. It is doing all these things for your enrichment, for the good of others, and for the glory of God.

The picture in this post is a place I go to often. It is a spot along a walk where I commonly stop to take in the beauty and breathe in the grace of God. For me, this is self-care.

How will you engage in the much-needed practice of biblical self-care?