Responding to Someone Hurt by Biblical Counseling

Not everyone’s experience with biblical counseling is positive. I am not talking about situations where a person is running from God or holding tightly to sin. Biblical counseling will not land well on a hard heart.  Instead, I am talking about experiences where people have humbly sought out biblical care and have sadly come away more wounded by the experience.

As counselors, we must be willing to admit that sometimes people encounter poor applications of biblical counseling. Sometimes counselors fall very short in incarnating Christ when engaging the fallen, broken, or downcast brother or sister. Sadly as biblical counselors, we do not always express thoughtful love or engaging compassion as faithfully as we confess

I assume I am not alone in hearing stories of people hurt by their engagement with a biblical counselor. You, like me, may have been cautiously questioned about your counseling approach by a believer still carrying wounds and shame received from a hurtful counseling experience in their church. What we do when we encounter brothers and sisters whose engagement with biblical counseling was hurtful is extremely important. Our response can solidify their concerns, wound them further, or give them hope. I pray that this article will lead us all to the later. The following tips on what to do and what not to do should be reviewed as regularly as we encounter those hurt by biblical counseling.

What to do.

Listen

As counselors this should be our default, but it is worth emphasizing here. Take care that you are intent on hearing their story. Give plenty of time and space to let them unfold it. Allow them to share their experience and actively engage in hearing them. Let your words be primarily questions that encourage them to share more. Listening will elicit the trust that was likely broken in their past experiences. The first step in loving someone hurt by counseling is to let them know their story is important to you and you want to hear all of it. James 1:19 is an unfailing guide for this.

Empathize

As you listen, seek to identify and understand the emotional weight of their experience. Enter their world by seeking to grasp the reality of their pain. Carry their burden with them in the spirit of Galatians 6:2. Empathy will help you respond appropriately. It will assist you to offer encouragement, comfort, and support in a way that validates that sorrow, grief, and pain are normal responses to being hurt.

Self-reflect

Not everything you hear in their hurtful experience will be solely due to the counsel or counselor. They bring their own stuff to the table as well. Lord willing, there will be a time and place to work through that further with them. This is not that time. It is crucial that biblical counselors examine themselves when they hear stories of counseling hurt. How is hearing this story impacting you? What feelings and emotions are coming up in you as you listen? Humbly reflect on the way you bring care. What in this person’s story could be true of your care? Where is needed change in your own approach to caring for people being revealed?

What not to do.

Gossip

It is incredibly easy to slip into gossip when someone shares the hurt they have encountered from biblical counseling. In an effort to sympathize, the desire may arise to confirm what you also may have heard or experienced from a counselor or ministry. Maybe you have even had previous engagement with that specific biblical counselor, church, or ministry and you can add a tasty morsel to confirm their evaluation. This is not helpful. It does not bring healing and only solidifies distrust for those in biblical counseling. Do not do it.

Defend

As you hear a story of hurt, you may feel like defending yourself as a biblical counselor. Avoid the temptation to personalize what you are hearing. Even if the things are about the ministry or organization where you serve or received your training, a defensive response is not a humble response. Biblical counselors are not perfect people. We are in process just like our counselees. Taking up a defensive posture may be an indication of the work needed in our own hearts. Hearing someone’s pain should rouse understanding in us, not defense. To do otherwise is the way of the fool (Proverbs 18:2).

Dismiss

You may not agree with everything the person is sharing. You might see holes in how they have assessed their situation. There could be glaring over-reactions. Avoid being dismissive. Dismissing their pain will only affirm their experience. A wise counselor ascertains the appropriate time to address these things. Wisdom includes being able to hear emotional and sometimes irrational thinking for a time, in order to carefully build the trust needed to engage the person’s heart later. Don’t dismiss or make light of their pain to jump to what you assess as more important matters.

Conclusion

We need to lovingly engage people who have been hurt by biblical counseling. Not doing so will only distance sufferers from communities of care that God has provided. We have a responsibility to compassionately care for those who are hurt, all the more when they have been hurt by us. Let us model the way of the wonderful Counselor who draws near to the crushed and brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18).

What is EMDR therapy? – Speak Truth Podcast

I am delighted to share with you a conversation I had with the Jeremey Lelek and Shauna VanDyke, president and executive director of the Association of Biblical Counselors. In this podcast I answer questions about EMDR therapy.

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)

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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 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.

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

Are Screens the Problem?

RaisingKids_BookCover_Small
Click to pre-order at 10ofThose.com.

Have unwanted graphic texts, violent video games, pornography, cyber bullying, sexting, or screen addition been a concern for you as a parent raising children in this cyber age?

These name only a few of the concerning vices that our screen-saturated world has brought about. Parents can feel lost in the digital landscape where their children are the technological experts and mom and dad struggle just to keep up. But keeping your child screen-free is about as realistic as keeping them from outgrowing their clothes.

If it isn’t already your reality, eventually your child will one day have that tell-tail rectangular pattern lining their jean’s pocket. Most parents are dependent on their child having a phone of some type in order to keep up with one another in a full and fast pace life. Despite the discouraging engagement that a world of devices can bring, the question to ask is this; Are screens really the problem?

Is the solution to avoid giving your child technology? Most parents have already found that is an unrealistic option. Screens enter children’s lives at the earliest ages. Pediatrician’s offices have screens in their waiting room to help the children pass the time. Libraries rent colorful tablets that are preloaded with books and games for preschoolers. Schools begin using iPads at the elementary level and many students will be assigned a device at the start of a school year.

Parents fighting for screen-free space in their family can wrongly vilify the device as the problem. But if the screen is not the problem what is? In Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World, parents will find practical answers to this tension. Consider the following:

“We are not fighting against technology. Phones, tablets, laptops, etc., are amoral. They are tools that can be used for good or evil. Don’t over- spiritualize activities because they either include or exclude a screen. Certainly there are times where living a life pleasing to the Lord will mean the intentional absence of screens but keep in mind that the screen is not the enemy. The frailty of weak and wandering hearts turns a potentially helpful tool into an instrument of destruction. In a world so profoundly dependent on technology, the answer is not to label devices as the problem and avoid them. Rather, reflect on what technology is revealing about what is in your heart and your children’s heart.”[1]

This approach deals with the deeper issue. Conversations must be about what is driving screen activity is more important. What is motivating what they consume, produce, and promote online is ultimately where the problem lies. The screen simply gives a platform for the heart.

Recognizing that technology or screens are not the root problem will create a avenue to see the potential positive use that screens can bring into your child’s world. Rather than focusing on the screen consider how to better understand what is drawing your child and begin to have conversations there.

[1] From Raising Kids in a Screen-Saturated World. Pre-order your copy at 10of Those.com.

God’s Grace in Your Suffering by David Powlison- Video Review

This excellent resource brings compassionate wisdom to those facing trials and suffering. Author, David Powlison offers hope on every single page of this very readable book. Check out my review here and then go order it from Crossway today!

How to Fight the Pull of Anxiety

Anxiety is a pulling experience. How much it is pulling often goes unnoticed. Although much of what you feel, when dealing with anxiety, is felt in the present moment it is doesn’t have its strongest hold on the present. Instead anxiety is about the future and the past.

The Pull to the Future

Anxiety pulls you into the future and throws a millions “what ifs” at you. What if this happens or what if that doesn’t happen? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I will be alone? What if my loved ones get hurt? What if get hurt? What if I panic? What if things go wrong? These questions and so many others are what anxiety asks persistently. They are all thoughts about the future. They say to you that you must prepare for the war ahead. Anxiety is the forecast of harm and danger that awaits you. Thoughts of the impending harm begins to feel very present by their continual tormenting.

The Pull to the Past

Anxiety also pulls to the past. Perhaps you have had a troubling experience that replays when situations seem similar. Maybe you have known intimately the feeling of being alone or rejected. The thoughts quickly pull you into the past and another set of “what ifs” invade. What if I fail once more? Maybe the money is going to run out again? What if my illness returns? He/she might leave me a second time? What if my family hurts me again? These thoughts flood your mind and say that life went bad before and it will probably go bad again. Anxiety causes you to look at the present situation through the shadow of past hurts and tells you things are not safe. <–Click to Tweet.

Your Body’s Response

In both of these situations your body begins to respond to future and past struggles in the present. I heard someone once explain the physiological effects of anxiety as your mind telling your body that the war is not over. Despite the fact that often, in the present moment, none of the doom imagined is actually happening the body begins to react as if it is.

Your “fight or flight response” has been triggered by the pull of anxiety. In reaction your brain begins to produce adrenaline to aid you against the perceived harmful attack. You may begin to feel your heart rate increasing. Your breathing may become rapid and shallow. You will likely experience trouble concentrating on anything other than the worry. Normal tasks you used to be able to do are much more difficult. You sense you have a shorter tolerance for frustrating moments. You may find sleep is very difficult and so you often feel tired. You might even notice occasionally trembling, numbness in hands and feet, and sweating.

Your body responds even when you aren’t thinking about the anxious thoughts. The anxious buildup from the many thoughts that have flooded your thinking are having their effect on the body. Much like a teacup that is filled to the brim, you don’t notice it is a problem until one more little drop is placed in and then the spillover comes. These physical symptoms can actually cause even more anxiety.

Stay in the Present

So what can be done with these strong pulls to the future and past? The key is to stay in the present. This can be hard for someone who is feeling the physical effects of anxiety. Staying in the present is the way out of the anxious moment. Respond to the physical symptoms of built up anxiety with physical activity in the present moment. Taking slow deep breaths is one of the best ways to fight the physical symptoms of anxiety. Deep breathing actually triggers the “rest and digest response” in your brain. By taking a couple slow deep breaths your body begins to respond to the rich oxygenated blood that is going throughout your body all the way to your fingers and toes. In contrast to the rapid shallow breathing that tells your brain something is wrong.

In the present you can begin to counter the anxious thoughts with what is true. Calling to mind helpful truths will give less space in your brain for the anxious pulls of replaying the past or the frenetic thoughts of preparing for the future. Tell yourself that you have gotten through anxious moments before and this moment will likewise pass. Think of the people who have been helpful to you and remind yourself in the moment of how they have helped.

Allow God to be your comfort and hold on tightly to his truth. You do not suffer alone. He promises to help you. It is no coincidence that in Psalm 46:1 it says that, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” The present is where your help is. He will not leave you or forsake you. Cling to that truth and stay present with it. The Scripture is full of promises from God to be with you in trouble and that he will faithfully help you. The opposite of anxiety is peace. Peace comes from knowing that God is in control when you feel your life is out of control.  (<-lCick to tweet.) Take your struggles to the Lord. Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:7).

*Mindfulness activities can help calm anxiety and give your brain a rest from the flooding happening in your body. In addition to deep breathing, here is a simple mindfulness activity to try the next time you are struggling with the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Caring Starts with Prayer

Prepare for the session

As a counselor I want to be prepared for each one of my sessions. I can look over past notes, consider resources, or maybe consider homework to suggest. Preparation may mean I do some reading on what the person is struggling with and learn ways others have helped people in similar situations. Preparing for a session can be very helpful both for me and the person I am seeing.

Prayer for the session

But as a biblical counselor I am convinced that as important as being prepared is, it is not the most important thing. In order to care for people well I have to have spent time in prayer with God for them. Prayer centers my mind and heart and takes the focus and pressure off me. Prayer reminds me that the people who are coming in for counseling need the same thing I need. I am not what people need. My words are not what people need. What people need is the comfort and care of the Lord. In order for me to care well for people I need to hear from the Lord, I need to be with the Lord.

Diane Langberg in her book, In Our Lives First, Meditations for Counselors, states so wisely…

“How quickly our eyes become riveted on the task and not the Master! We think somehow that our primary task is the work we do. It is a good work. It is an important work. It is even a work that God himself has called us to do. It is, however, never to become our main work. Our first task, the one that is to govern all else, is that of maintaining relationship with the only One who is needful.”

The Reminders of Prayer

Prayer also reminds me that I am not alone in counseling. God is present and ready to help those who I am seeking to care for. God is invested in their good and their needed healing more than anyone else in the room. Prayer reorients my agenda so that I can get out of the way and yield to what God wants to do in each situation.

For me, this means I must commit to praying for each person I am caring for. Most of the time this comes in a daily review of my calendar. I look at the names I have on my schedule and I take time to pray for each person. I know very intimately the struggle and suffering they face so my prayers can be very focused. I pray for help in their situations. I pray for wisdom and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit’s work as I walk with them. I also pray that they would know God’s love in very specific ways as we meet. I pray that I would be able to love them well and speak the words God has for them rather than what I think they should hear.

The Reorientation of Prayer

It has been my experience that the sessions where I confess my total dependence through prayer and I seek the Lord for help are far more helpful meetings than if I took a good amount of time to prepare, read, or study up on things. This isn’t to say I don’t prepare. I do. But it is not the most important thing. Prayer reorients me to the One who is able to bring healing and change to people’s lives.

Scripture gives examples of those called to ministry being called to a life of prayer. Samuel saw it as potential sin to not pray for the people who were under his direction and care. Consider what this means regarding the place of prayer in ministry.

“Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you. And I will teach you the way that is good and right.” 1 Samuel 12:23

All in all prayer centers my heart and positions me to give better care and counsel when I have spent time with the Wonderful Counselor.

Incarnating in Conflict

(This post first appeared on the Biblical Counseling Coalition)
Incarnating means putting something into flesh. Jesus was God incarnate. God put on human flesh or, another way to say it, he was clothed in humanity. In a similar way, as believers, we are called to incarnate Jesus. We are to be clothed in Christ (Romans 13:14). And indeed we are (Galatians 3:27). As believers our lives become testimonies of this truth. Jesus clothes us in His righteousness. This truth means we are called to resist putting back on the filthy rags of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. Being filled with the Spirit of Christ means we give great attention to the commands the Lord left for us regarding how to interact with people. As we seek to fulfill the first and greatest commandment to love God (Matthew 22:38-39), we are simultaneously called to love others like Jesus loved (John 15:12).

So how do we do this, especially when things are particularly challenging in our relationships? When things heat up how can we incarnate Christ in our conflict?

Show Instead of Tell

Inside each of us is a little lawyer’s voice. Sometimes the voice is small, just little whispers or tiny thoughts. There might be thoughts of how you have done far more diaper changes than your spouse. Reminders that you are always the one initiating the phone call or text message in a particular friendship. Little whispers of how you always apologize first and how you folded the laundry without being asked last week. Often the little lawyer voice gets louder in conflict.

Jon’s wife was upset because she felt he cared more about his golf swing than about her. Jon’s little lawyer voice began flooding him with reminders of how much he has sacrificed for her. Bob and Jane listened to their teenaged son complain that he can never please them and that they never encourage him. Simultaneously Bob and Jane’s little lawyers brought out evidence as recent as that very week proving they had encouraged him. Paul Tripp speaks of this little lawyer voice and how harmful it is in marriage relationships, “I tell husbands and wives around the world that if they want to experience lasting change in their marriage, they first need to fire their inner defense lawyer.”1The truth is no matter what relationship you are in, the little lawyer voice needs to go.

Incarnating Christ means you avoid defending your love and instead demonstrate it. The moment your love is challenged don’t defend it—display it. (John 11:32), or the question from the disciples, “Lord don’t you care that we are perishing” (Mark 4:38), he did not defend himself, but instead he displayed it by raising Lazarus back to life and calming the sea. He showed his love; he did not defend it.

Ask Instead of State

Asking questions is probably one of the best ways we can incarnate Jesus. Jesus was the master questioner. His questions were explorations of the heart of a person. Asking questions opens conversations; making statements closes them. (Avoiding Assumacide”2 says that honoring others with questions rather than assumptions allows intimacy to have a chance.

When Jeff’s roommate shared with him that he had once again fallen to the temptation of pornography, Jeff stated, “If you wanted to stop you would stop.” The statement not only led his friend to feel even deeper shame, but also made him less inclined to share with Jeff again. Asking a question in this situation would have allowed Jeff to learn more about his friend and his struggle and perhaps open the opportunity for Jeff to walk with him.

Hope Instead of Despair

In order to incarnate Christ in conflict, we must lean fully on him. Demonstrating love and asking questions are just two ways to incarnate Christ. Conflicts are full of challenges, and even when we seek to incarnate Jesus there may still be difficulties.  We fail in our attempts and can become discouraged. Yet, the Lord is merciful and forgiving and often provides more opportunity to incarnate His grace and love. He is committed to the good work He started in us.

Join the Conversations

Each one of us has had difficult times in relationships. Perhaps even now you are facing a challenge. What are some other ways you have found we can incarnate Jesus in your relationships?

Notes

  1. This quote came from: http://www.paultripp.com/articles/posts/were-not-independent.
  2. See http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.org/2016/06/22/avoiding-assumicide/