On the Other Side of Isolation

Preparing the church for the psychological impact of COVID-19 regulations.

By Eliza Huie, MAC, LCPC, Originally published by Outreach Magazine

“Is it almost over?” These were the words I heard every week from my little boy who refused to go into children’s ministry. Why he wanted to stay with mom and dad rather than eat snacks, hear stories, and color robed Bible characters, was beyond me. But each week he joined us in “big church” and about halfway through the service the inevitable question was whispered, “Is it almost over?”

Many can relate to this burning question right now. Though the COVID-19 isolation has brought some unique enjoyments; a freer schedule, working from your couch, or worshipping in your PJ’s. For most it has brought challenge, and we all are beginning to ask if it almost over.

It is actually a question we must take seriously. When the lifting of stay-at-home regulations will happen is not yet know and it will likely vary from state to state. However, there are many things that the church must to consider. Logistics on how to reopen are going to be almost as tricky as it was to move everything online. There will need to be a plan, maybe multiple plans. And while plans for transitioning back to church will require new strategies for gathering, part of your church’s plan needs to a mindful awareness of the psychological impact this season has had on your people.

Learning from history SARS and other illness related quarantines, it is clear areas of mental, emotional, and relational health will suffer under the period of social distancing.[1] Many churches have begun addressing emotional health already. Conversations about faith and the realities of anxiety, fears, stress are happening online. Even less commonly addressed topics like depression, loneliness, and suicide are getting some airtime in churches. But there are some issues people are struggling with that will likely not be considered but are deeply impacting congregants.

Below are three areas of struggle that may be unexpected but are sure to show up in your congregation as you re-engage. I share them to prepare churches, and to offer suggestions on how the church can take an understanding approach to those who may be struggling with these and other phycological issues as when we join back together.

The purpose of this article is to be informative and practical. The hope is that it will help the church to take sensitive measures in light of the potential aftershocks of COVID-19 isolation. Some of the terms will be clinical but I hope to provide street-level understanding of these issues coupled with biblical direction for care.

Agoraphobia and OCD tendencies.

What does the church need to know?

Agoraphobia is the fear of leaving your house and OCD is a hyper-focus anxiety or fear about something that drives a needed action (i.e., repetitive checking or ritualistic cleaning). Both of these are psychiatric diagnoses, but you don’t have to have a diagnosis for symptomatic inclinations to interrupt your life.

While we may complain about being stuck at home, surveys are revealing that people in the US don’t feel ready to return to normal activities even if regulations lift.[2] People will be fearful of leaving their home. One poll suggests that just over 70% of Americans would prefer to “wait and see” once regulations begin to lift. [3] Churches need to factor this apprehension into what they can expect from their congregants. Not everyone will be excited to leave their house. In fact, it seems many are going to be very cautious about restarting activities they once regularly participated in.

People are getting comfortable with new habits that ensure personal safety. What was once viewed as an exaggerated response, wearing masks and rubber gloves when out, are now part of the normal routine. Not only are people comfortable with them they are starting to feel like they need them to be safe. Masks give them a little more peace of mind when they wear them and when other people wear them. [4]

Social distancing is also a practice people have embraced and will likely not be in any hurry to let go. It only takes a stroll along the walking path by my house to see people are concerned when out and about. I notice this almost every time I take a walk. When I approach a masked walker, I receive a gracious nod as they move to the furthest edge of the path so we can pass one another at the furthest distance the path will allow. Perhaps you have seen it in the supermarket when someone pauses or takes a step back to allow you a much larger gap as you pass them in the isle.

We cannot expect these new practices to go away just because regulations have been lifted. The concerns that drive them will still be there when the church reopens its doors.

What can the church do?

  • Keep online services, activities, and connection going even after you can meet in person. You will likely need to operate both live and online platforms in order to connect with congregants who may be fearful to leave their homes.
  • Communicate your cleaning strategies. Let your congregation know how you have sanitized and how you plan to continue to sanitize your building. Encourage and model safety measures. Let your congregation know what they can expect. Will you be encouraging masks? Gloves? What will you implement for space between people in the sanctuary or classrooms? What will greeting look like? Prepare your staff to lead the way in these measures.
  • Encourage gradual ways people can re-engage. Offer smaller gatherings or encourage people to begin to meet with others for prayer, bible study, or to watch the service together at one another’s homes. When weather permits some gatherings can happen outside the church building with comfortable spacing.
  • Speak into the fear of getting sick or being vulnerable. Acknowledging the fears people have will give them a level of confidence that you are taking things seriously.

Burnout and Trauma.

What does the church need to know?

Expect to see burnout and trauma from the many healthcare workers in your congregation who have served tirelessly during this crisis. They will bring their personal trauma as they begin to process all they endured. They watched firsthand as the young mother of three died only days after entering into the hospital with severe symptoms. They were there when parents were told their child had died. They held the phones of frightened patients as they sobbed and sought comfort from their loved ones on the screen. They were the only one in the room when the elderly passed away as the family was prohibited to enter the hospital rooms due to the virus. They carried the daily weight of concern for their own health and those they love because of their regular exposure. There will be trauma. [5]

Those in ministry are also at risk for burnout. Including your pastor. Gunner Gunderson, pastor at Bridgeway Bible Church shared a pertinent caution about times of crisis. He warns “It (crisis) will eat you up and wear you out, while your adrenaline and your noble desire to serve keep you blind to the burnout that is chasing you down.” [6]

Pastors, ministry leaders, youth workers, care teams, tech teams, etc. are working overtime to keep ministry going and the congregation connected. The effort to create and initiate ways to continue ministry in the midst of isolation has increased the workload for most in ministry. Endless hours online in video calls or in front of a screen recording sermons, lessons, workshops, and conferences will take a toll. Add to that all the care and counsel that continued via zoom or phone calls. Coronavirus didn’t stop personal and relational crises from happening. Care and counseling had to be juggled right alongside preparation for Sunday. Be prepared for your leaders to experience compassion fatigue. [7]

What can the church do?

  • Pray for healthcare workers, your pastors, and your ministry leaders.
  • Encourage or start online support groups or prayer groups for those in healthcare to join right now. Having a place where they can be encouraged and prayed for is a fantastic way to help carry their burdens.
  • Identify those in your congregation who work in healthcare and personally reach out to them with a card, email, or phone call. Let them know you are praying for them. Remind them the church is there for them.
  • Encourage or require your pastors, ministry leaders, etc. to take a sabbath. Talk about rest in your staff meetings or from your pulpit. Beyond the one day a week sabbath rest, encourage all staff to set aside one weekend a month and one week a year as a sabbath rest.
  • Promote a mindset of selfcare. If you are the pastor or ministry lead, you’ll need to model it. Ask staff to share ways they are practicing selfcare on a regular basis, share it with your team.
  • Check in on leaders and determine what help and support they need to fulfill their ministry tasks. Prioritize the hiring of assistance and administrative help whenever possible. Operating an online platform along with the already existing ministry has likely doubled work in some areas, now is a good time to add assistants to your team.

Addiction

What does the church need to know?

Addiction flourishes in secret. The self-justifying lies deteriorate resolve and old habits gain great ground. There is no better environment for the revitalization of addictive habits or the beginning of new ones than in a time of isolation paired with increased stress. Those in your congregation who had fought long and hard for the ground of sobriety have faced incredible setbacks.

People who have faced addiction know how valuable support systems are. They are keenly aware of their need to have someone look them in the eye and hold them accountable. COVID-19 made that nearly impossible. Support groups went online or stopped all together. This reality along with the isolation created a perfect storm of relapse.

Porn addiction has significantly increased during COVID-19. It would be safe to call it a “porndemic” as some pornography distributers offered free streaming during quarantine.[8] As I write this my heart breaks for the many who have gotten caught up in this evil during this time. Believers will deal with significant shame and ongoing battles due to the secret patterns of sin that sparked a destructive fire of porn use during isolation.

What can the church do?

Start groups now for those struggling with sexual sin and continue them when the church reopens. Below are some resources for both men and women that can be used as curriculum for these groups.

  • Sexual Sanity for Men or Women– These books work great for groups. Each chapter has opportunity to engage the content at a personal level.
    • Samson Society– How to start a group. They also provide daily devotionals on the subject of sexual purity.
  • If your church had recovery programs in place, prioritize them as you reopen or begin one. For more severe addictions intensive recovery may be needed. Below are some considerations for faith-based resources.

This article is far from exhaustive. There are certainly other areas that need to be on the church’s radar. Relationship struggles for example. China saw a spike in divorce filings as they emerged from isolation.[9] Domestic abuse is also an area that has increased due to isolation and churches will need to be equipped to recognize it.[10] Grief is sure to be something everyone will be bringing in various degrees of experience. There is not one of us who has not known or felt loss in some capacity during this season. And don’t forget the marginalized. Those who suffer with chronic pain and illness and those who were previously shut in, can easily drift out of our sight as we focus on in-person gatherings. During this crisis, we entered into their world for a brief time. We learned what it was like to be unable to leave home. We experienced the loneliness that comes from isolation. Let’s not forget about them as we begin to phase back into meeting onsite.

To mention all of the issues and give words of direction on each would strain the length of this already lengthy article. My hope is that looking at just a few key issues stirs the church to think about how to prepare even now for how to walk with people as we look forward to days of reunion. Churches across the country have stepped up to the call to love their neighbor during this crisis.[11] As we being to explore what it will look like on the other side of isolation; we carry the same call.

While many are asking “is it almost over,” in many ways, things have yet to begin. So, as you prepare for your first post-isolation gathering and you strategize parking, seating, classrooms, restrooms, etc., keep in mind the weight of emotional and mental strain this time has had on your congregants. May the words of Philippians 2:4 and Romans 15:1-3a guide the church as we continue to consider the needs and struggles of others and bring hope in relevant ways in the days ahead.

“Everyone should look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 2:4 (CSB)

“Now we who are strong have an obligation to bear the weakness of those without strength and not to please ourselves. Each one of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For even Christ did not please himself.” Romans 15:1-3a (CSB)

A person posing for a picture

Description automatically generatedEliza Huie is the Director of Counseling at McLean Bible Church in the DC Metro area. She is a licensed mental health professional and biblical counselor. Visit www.elizahuie.com for more articles by Eliza.


[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/202003/how-manage-the-psychological-effects-quarantine

[2] https://news.gallup.com/poll/308264/americans-remain-risk-averse-getting-back-normal.aspx

[3] https://news.gallup.com/poll/308264/americans-remain-risk-averse-getting-back-normal.aspx

[4] http://www.news12.com/story/41967875/masks-offer-people-peace-of-mind-despite-what-health-experts-say

[5] http://bradhambrick.com/13-types-of-impact-frequently-experienced-after-a-trauma/

https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/17/long-term-mental-health-ptsd-effects-of-covid-19-pandemic-explained.html

[6] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/church-leader-pace-yourself-quarantine/

[7] https://biblicalcounselingcenter.org/help-compassion-fatigue/

[8] https://news.trust.org/item/20200326185000-28xei

[9] https://thehill.com/homenews/news/490564-divorces-skyrocket-in-china-amid-lockdown

[10] https://elizahuie.com/2020/04/11/when-stay-at-home-orders-increase-threat/

[11] https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2020/apr/4/how-churches-can-serve-during-covid-19-crisis-by-w/

https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2020/march/lots-of-ways-churches-are-stepping-up-for-their-communities.html

What Pastors Should Know About the Women They Shepherd

I had a chance to sit down with Michael Crawford, the state director of missions for the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware. He asked me what pastors should know about the women they shepherd. Here is a snippet of what I shared.

I really want to encourage pastors to know that women actually want to learn. We want to know theology well. We want to study it. We want to be invested in our own path of growing in our own faith and making that not just a matter of doing a woman’s Bible study, there are great women’s Bible studies out there, but include us in just the general teaching and training that you would for men because there really is no gender difference when it comes to learning solid, deep theology. 

Click HERE to listen to the full the podcast.

When You Don’t Know What To Do

There have been times in my life where I have felt overwhelmed by what I was facing. The circumstance or situation felt too big or too difficult and I really had no idea what to do. My guess is that I am not the only one who has felt that way.

We face things in this life that lead us to that hopeless place where we cannot see a way through. Life can be that hard.

Let me tell you what has transformed my heart and given me hope in the midst of those “I don’t know what to do!” times of life. Take a listen to this ten minute podcast as I share what has helped me. I hope and pray it will encourage you when you find yourself in that place.

Let’s Parent on Purpose with Jay Holland

Recently I had the privilege to be invited to speak with Pastor Jay Holland of Covenant Fellowship Church about parenting teens. Jay seeks to provide parents with resources and direction on topics relevant to raising kids in today’s culture.

In our time on the podcast we were able to discuss the contents of my book Raising Teens in a Hyper-Sexualized World. We explored the reality that at this stage of parenting, our kids need us more than ever. Our roles do change but we are needed in their lives.

Raising teens can be a wearisome season for parents. That is why we wanted to take some time to bring encouragement and help on the very challenging subject that all teens face. How to best parent in a world bombarded with sex is no easy task but it is not impossible. Trusting the Lord to help you be as prepared as possible will give you the courage to face some of the most challenging conversations.

It was our hope that this podcast be useful as you continue to faithfully parent your children. Take a listen!

3 Deceptions of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is one of the hardest forms of abuse to expose. People who have been victimized have said they wished their abuser would have actually hit them because then they would have evidence of the painful injuries they’ve endured. Emotional abuse is hard to see, and one who emotionally abuses is equally shadowy.

It is hard for friends, family, counselors, or pastors to spot emotional abuse. Often, the one being abused does not fully see it either. Often, it is not until distance from the abuser has been made that clarity begins to come. However, even then, others may not see the abuse and the victim can end up taking the blame for the relational challenges faced. This reality is a terrible tragedy and doubles the pain of the abused. It can keep them trapped in the cycle of abuse and sadly they too can become convinced they are to blame.

To be better helpers, we must be aware of the deceitful yet all-to-common characteristics of a person who is abusing someone emotionally. So what are some of the characteristic one should be aware of regarding emotional abusers.

LIKEABLE

You will like the abuser. They are winsome and engaging. They can carry a conversation well and are often willing to serve and listen to other people. They seem to share their life with others and want to be a part of the faith community and church life.

You have engaged an abuser and walked away from the conversation thinking what a great person they are. You have been fooled. This is not to say that every likable person is an abuser but very often, a person who emotionally abuses others will be likable to those they are not abusing.

REMORSEFUL

When an abuser is exposed they are remorseful. They cannot always keep their likable persona on full display. When something happens that reveals a surprisingly attacking response, an outburst of viscous anger, or a hurtful interaction, the abuser will be initially remorseful. Exposure is a major threat to the abusers control and remorse is a means to gain back that control.

Christians are especially vulnerable to this response and will often give greater support to the abuser than the abused when this is seen. Accepting the abusers sorrow can actually ensure abuse will happen again. Instead we must hold the remorse with caution and allow time (a lot of time) to sow the true fruit of repentance.

BELIEVEABLE

This is where things get really tricky. An emotionally abusive person is believable. They have mastered the art of deception. The deception starts with themselves, and they have been deceiving themselves and others for a long time. They are convinced they are not the problem and they do an excellent job convincing others of this as well. Their deception has already done its work on the abused causing confused judgement of what are right and wrong behaviors. The abused quickly lose their voice and so rarely defend their stance against the abuser.

If you work with couples there is a chance you too have believed an abuser. It is not because you lack discernment, but because they are incredibly believable. However, this characteristic keeps abusers with full power over those they abuse and those who could help the abused. It is a dangerous trait.

What can you do?

Learn

Emotional abuse is one of the hardest forms of abuse to detect. It changes a person in ways that keep the cycle of abuse spinning smoothly. One of the most important things you can do is get educated. Learn about the signs and effects of emotional abuse. Resources such as Peaceworks University and the upcoming Church Cares curriculum are helpful. Read books about emotional abuse. Diane Langberg and Leslie Vernick have done extensive work on this topic. However, one way we can bring better understanding is to simply talk to those who have come out of emotional abusive relationships.

Listen

One of the most important things you can do is to listen. When you see the couple together listen for how they interact. If one dominates the conversations continually, take note. If one usually gets the blame for things that have gone wrong, be aware. If one has greater ability to articulate both their feelings and the feelings of their spouse, clue in.

The other thing you want to do is listen to the weaker partner. If the above characteristics are happening, separate the two in your counseling. Give plenty of space to the less articulate partner. Create a safe place to allow them to share how they have felt in situations that have come up. Explore the potential of emotional abuse, even if you are not completely sure. The abused will rarely know they are being abused until someone from the outside helps them to see it. Once someone points it out they begin to see and may say something. If they say something, believe them. Consider doing an assessment to explore emotional abuse. You can find one here.

Without understanding these things you can unknowingly help the abuser. You can be deceived yourself and cause life-long harm. The church needs to be a place that those who have been emotionally abused are believed. Sadly, because of the aforementioned characteristics, the church can end up being a tool the abuser uses to keep control of the relationship and fortify the idea of the abused as being the main source of the problems in the relationship. This has sadly kept many abused people in toxic situations causing damage to the deepest places of their lives, including their faith.

Let us be committed to being advocates for the vulnerable and give a voice to those who have been painfully shaped by emotional abuse.

What is a Biblical Counselor?

What is biblical counseling? That question has been asked, defined, debated, and reconsidered many times. The mere fact that the question continues to be asked speaks to the reality that words are not easily contained within the constructs we give them. They are often more fluid that we prefer, with adjectives being the most frequent to shape-shift. Biblical counseling has not been something that easily fits into one definition as evidenced in the alphabet soup of acronyms that identify the various equipping ministries and models.

In seeking to answering the question, “What is biblical counseling?”, looking at modality or method of care is not sufficient. Why? Because the application of the model or method allows for a significant amount of subjectivity. For example, if we say biblical counseling must be rooted in Scripture, promoting sanctification, or grounded in love, fleshing out what that looks like will be unique to the circumstance and people in the room. I do believe these descriptions are useful and helpful. However, there is a far better way to answer “What is biblical counseling?”

Seeking to sketch out what biblical counseling is must start with the counselors themselves rather than the modality. Biblical counseling will not happen unless there is a biblical counselor. Am I saying that if the person doing the counseling is a Christian they are automatically a biblical counselor? No. If that were the case, then I would have to call my lawyer friend a biblical lawyer because she is a Christian who practices law. We don’t call the nurse who is a Christian a biblical nurse, a professor who is a Christian a biblical professor, or a waiter who is a Christian a biblical waiter.

Defining biblical counseling should be directly tied to the counselor. Biblical counseling will mean the counselor is a Christian, but it will mean more than that. The letters after their name or the acronym of modality they follow do tell us something. They give hints of the emphasis that will flavor the counseling process. They point to who has influenced or mentored the counselor. They give credibility to equipping that has taken place. However the litmus test to defining biblical counseling ought to go beyond these things. Defining biblical counseling must describe the counselor.

Is the counselor anchored to the Word? Are they attune to the Holy Spirit and yielded to the Father? Do they live with biblical perspective? Has their own life been one of humble alignment to the Scripture? Is their commitment in counseling an avenue to love God and others? Have they been open to correction or receptive to their views being challenged? Can they discerningly engage resources, tools, methods of care in a way that aligns with Scripture?

These questions are key if we are seeking to answer what is biblical counseling. Biblical counseling is something done by a biblical counsleor.

So in essence the question we should be asking is “What is a biblical counselor?” When we start there we are in a better place to confirm whether something is biblical counseling or not. The methods may vary but confirmations must be found in the the life of the one bringing care. Asking the question, “What is a biblical counselor?” leads us to explore what essential qualities a counselor must possess in order to determine whether or not what is happening is “biblical counseling”.

This focus emphasizes the counselor rather than the method or approach. With specific qualities affirmed in their life, the biblical counselor will be able to look at every practice, method, resource, training, skill, tool, description, and prescription discerningly, and determine how to engage, adapt, or, if needed, refute it. They will love and care for people as they have been loved and cared for by Jesus. They will walk with others, beggar to beggar, yet with confidence in where to find bread. What is a biblical counselor? This is the questions to be asked. Answering happens by looking at the person’s life.

I rub shoulders with many amazing biblical counselors and there are times when I walk away from a conversation with them and say to myself, “That is someone who I would go see when I need counseling.” What makes me say that is not their degree, certificate, or license, but their life. They model, often without even knowing it, a life captivated by Jesus, a heart compassionate toward others, and a wisdom drawn from a dependence on the Scripture. “What is a biblical counselor?”, may we strive for living a life that answers this question well.

Lessons from a Challenge

Last month I shared some pictures on my Instagram story that got people asking me questions. The pictures were from an experiment I did for 90 days.

If you know me, you know I like challenges. I have done food challenges, where I abstain from certain foods for 30 days. I’ve tried fitness challenges that had me hiking miles and miles of trails and terrains. Month-long reading challenges and screen fasts I did made for interesting evenings and new habits. Challenges are ways I learn about myself, and this last one was no exception. It was a clothing challenge.

Let me share what I learned form this challenge and perhaps, in the future, take you along on my future challenges. (I am currently in the middle of a challenge that has me learning a new language. Check out the Duolingo app.)

But first, here’s how this particular challenge came my way.

One evening my oldest son encouraged me to watch a documentary he said he had watched three times. The thing about having older kids is they do know you well, so when he said I would like it- I watched.

The show, The Minimalists, is a documentary about two guys who sought to live more meaningful lives with less. It is full of interesting ideas about multi-utilization, tiny living, and prioritizing. One concept shared had to do with clothing. I don’t need to quote stats to convince anyone that people own a ton of clothes. Instead,take a glance at the next clothing donation drop-off and notice how it cascades with our clothing rejects. Americans clearly have plenty to wear.

The clothing challenge came from something highlighted in the film. It is called Project 333. The goal is to wear only 33 items of clothing for 3 months. A major closet clean out!

I didn’t do the project exactly as described, but I did reduce my clothing to just over 40 items and stuck with it for 90 days. For me that was a challenge! There may have even been a few moments of grief, especially when I started eliminating the shoes! But I did it. And after 90 days, here is what I learned.

  • It is much easier with less.
  • Nobody notices.
  • I saved time and money.
  • Quality matters.
  • I have more than I need.
  • I focused on appearance more than I realize.

I could go into detail on each of these points but I actually think it is better, and in the spirit of minimalism, to simply share what I learned and let you to fill in the blanks.

Did I miss some things? Absolutely! Options are not always bad. If I were to ever live as a minimalist, I would likely fail due to my love of shoes alone. There was much I realized I could live without, and living without it was actually more valuable than having it.

This experience affirmed why I do challenges in the first place. I grow when I break out of the familiar routines of life. Every challenge is a learning experience. When I step into what is hard, uncomfortable, or unfamiliar I become more open to ways I need to change. That is a lesson always worth learning.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever. -Mahatma Gandhi

When Counselors Disagree

Have you ever disagreed with someone’s counsel or counseling approach? Have you ever disagreed with someone else’s approach to care? Counseling is about caring for others in the discord of life. As counselors, we transact with dissonance. When someone disagrees with your counsel, or you disagree with theirs, you find yourself in that dissonance.

What to do with concerning counsel

Perhaps you have had situations where people share “biblical counseling” they have received that raises an eyebrow of concern. What should you do?

When this happens, try and keep in mind that what you are receiving is the person’s recollection and interpretation of what they heard their counselor say. Also keep in mind that most likely, the Christian counselor is seeking to care. Despite what might sound like concerning counsel, presume they meant well, are trying to honor God, and want the best for those with whom they are counseling.

Your own counsel could raise concern when shared in sound bites or through the interpretive grid of another. What do you do when someone disagrees with your direction of care? With your methodology? With your application of ministry? How you respond is your counsel in practice.

Truth and Love

Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Christ. Ephesians 4:15

“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” This quote by Warren Wiersbe captures the essence of why we must approach difficult conversations with both truth and love. It is important to take time to look closely at what it means to hold both truth and love in balance. We don’t want to be bristly or harsh but we also don’t want to be solely sentimental or people-pleasing. Jesus balanced these perfectly. In his interactions with people he was a champion of truth and, at the same time, he was a loving friend of sinners.

In his book, Speaking Truth in Love, David Powlison shares a story where this occurred in his own life. Below are words someone shared with David at a significant time in his life.

“’I love and respect you as a person, and I want what is good for you. But you are destroying yourself with what you believe and how you are living.’ Those were precisely the words that changed my life (says Powlison). The cruise missile of wise love blew apart the bunker of self-will in which I lived. My friend’s words were not a product of technique. They were artless. But they had four things going for them. They were true, loving, personal, and appropriate.”

There is significant wisdom for us in this excerpt, but I want to highlight three words easily missed. “My friend’s words.” These three words are so important to how we interact with colleagues or anyone with whom we disagree. It is the phrase that brings the needed balance. “My friend”- speaks of investment, of knowing, of commitment, of love. “Words” mean that there is active and engaging truth shared.

There were not just words, there was friendship– loving friendship. There was not just friendship, there were words– true words. This is a picture of truth and love.

When counselors disagree are we equally committed to being a loving friend as much as garrisoning truth?

United on essentials while valuing differences

When working with married couples in conflict I often share a bit of wisdom that was once shared with me. “If  two people in a marriage are exactly alike, then one is no longer needed.” This phrase has served me in my own marriage when my husband and I disagree. We both have strong opinions about a lot of things. Despite the declaration in our dating years that “we have so much in common,” we often see things quite differently. Many of these differences are in the application of issues on which we actually agree. We are united in essentials, yet varied in practicals.

What if my goal is to get my husband to be just like me, or vise versa? If either of us succeed then it would mean that one of us is no longer needed. But I need him. And he needs me. Without him, our children would have painted our hardwood floors to satisfy their budding artistic expression, without me our home would likely be managed by spreadsheets and run like well oiled machine. Each of us may feel differently about which of those ideas would actually be a good thing, but we need each other.

We need our unity on the foundation of love we want our home built upon, and we need our differences in how life plays out practically. Our marriage needs my grey and his black and white. I am the bend in his straight path and he is the guard rail that keeps me from falling off the cliff. We are different and necessary. When counselors disagree yet remember the unity of essentials we share, it is then that we are open to the value and helpfulness of our differences.

Can you see value in the different approach of counsel you are hearing? Can you help others see this value? Where does it bring balance? Where might it bring creativity to care? What might you learn from their different approach? Are you open to have loving conversation with a colleague that differs with your model or method of care?

As biblical counselors (or anyone giving counsel, advice, or care), we must be committed to speaking the truth in love and not compromise on either. We hold on to the fact that the Gospel is the most unifying element for all of us. We cling to the Scripture to lead us as we care. In that unity we seek out the value in our differences believing that the Lord actually uses are differences as well as our similarities.

How to prepare to counsel someone.

Walking with someone in their struggle is not easy. If you are in the role of counselor, mentor, or friend and are asked to speak into someone’s life what can you do to prepare for those conversations?

Recently I was invited to speak at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation’s national conference on this very topic.  I spent time looking at what the most important things you can focus on as a biblical counselor.  In this talk I covered the following:

  • Why Prepare?
    • We are ministering the word and it deserves appropriate handling.
    • We are ministering to people and they deserve appropriate handling.
  • Why we don’t prepare?
    • We don’t fully realize our need.
    • We don’t fully realize our call.
    • We are busy, distracted people.
    • We have been successful without it.
  • What does preparation look like?
    • Focused time in the Word.
    • Looking at who God is.
    • Looking at who you are.
    • Prayer.

So much of our time in preparation might look very different than we think. In my talk I bring to light vital things that keep us ready to care for people. These are things that bring hope to us as caregivers as well as to those we care for. The teaching audio is available along with many other helpful messages at CCEF.org

Meditation- An Exercise for Christians

Mention the word meditation and you will get differing understandings of what you are talking about. To say it in a conversation with a millennial may get you on the topic of eastern religious practices. To talk of it in a conversation with a yogi or health coach you might find discussions of inner peace and unity.  To mention it in Christian circles could get a variety of responses from a questioning raised eyebrow to a affirming nod or “amen”.

As mentioned in my previous post about mindfulness, our culture has a heightened value on wellness that gives comprehensive and integrated attention to more than just physical well being. The understanding that our bodies are only a portion of our total health actually fits well with Scripture. Consider 3 John 1:2 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 for example. We also know that a well-bodied person may be spiritually sick just as much as a person whose physical body is failing can be spiritually, mentally, and emotionally well.

Meditation is a part of holistic health and should be something every believer gives attention to. But just like mindfulness we must be clear as to what we are talking about.

Meditation is thinking. When a person meditates they are focusing their thoughts on a particular subject. Meditation is not the suppression of rational thought, it is the practice of focused thought. It is the drawing of the mind to a specific target. As believers that target is truth, ultimately the truth found in Scripture. The value of mediation is clear throughout Scripture. Psalm 119 gives many examples of the importance of this. Here are a few passages that are worth reading.

Psalm 119:15-16 points out that meditation on God’s precepts bring a person to consider God’s way and delight in them.

Psalm 119:23-24 tells how meditation on the decrees of God in the midst of conflict brings counsel and delight.

Psalm 119:99 says that meditation leads to great insight.

Psalm 119:148-149 shows how meditation on the promises of God give helpful purpose to sleepless nights leading to reminders of God’s love are protection.

We see in these verses the value of meditation. The focused fixing of your thoughts on truth is something Christians need to engage daily. Meditation can be practiced by taking a passage of Scripture and focusing your thinking on it through prayerful rehearsing of the words. It is the mental holding of truth while pushing out warring thoughts. It can be the singular focus on one word, the calling to mind rich promises, or the intentional focus on the manifold character of God. Meditation is focused thinking.

There are other places in the Bible that talk about mediation. But Psalm 1:1-3  is one of those places that highlights the connection between meditation and health.

Blessed is the man
    who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
    nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law[b] of the Lord,
    and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
    planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
    and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

 

The words there explain that daily meditation on Scripture is what brings blessing and produces a life that is strong and stable like a tree planted by streams of water. This passage alone ought to encourage us to make meditation a regular practice. As we meditate on God’s promises, there is no doubt that our inner spirit is helped but we can also see the value that meditations brings to our whole person. The focused attention on truth brings about well-being that encompasses all of who we are.