When we counsel it is most often a single member of a family; a wife or mother, daughter or sister who comes for some intensive discipleship counseling. When she begins to put into practice what she learns, I hear from her that while she is growing and changing in Christ, the other family members are not. Biblical growth and change can brings dissension and division into various relationships that prior to counseling may have been “good.”
“Good” is a relative term and very subjective as well. What I perceive as good may not be good to you at all. Such is the case when a counselee who has made great spiritual strides begins to operate differently within the family unit.
Typically there are dysfunctional aspects to the relationship the counselee has with the other family members, and each person in the family has a role they normally fulfill. Many of these roles are full of sinful habits and expectations. When the counselee begins to change their responses, actions, attitudes as a result of a change of heart it is very common for the other people in the family to become confused, angry and to try to force them back into the role they are expected to play.
What we see is that because of the changes in one heart, the whole dynamic of the family can be changed. This is a wonderful thing, yet it can also be painful for everyone involved. People tend to resist change, especially when they are comfortable with how things have always been.
How can we encourage our counselee to continue on the path of growth and biblical change? Frankly, it is much easier for them to succumb to the pressure brought to bear by the family. Those old sinful habits and responses are like comfortable old shoes; familiar and easy to slip into. The counselee has to be very committed in her heart to continuing the process of biblical change for the glory of God.
Keeping at the glory of God at the forefront of her thoughts is critical (1 Cor. 10:31) because it helps her to remember that pleasing her family is not as important as glorifying God by how she lives her life.
We encourage her to be willing to stand for righteousness despite the attempts of the family to persuade her to stop functioning within the new paradigm. Manipulation, angry outbursts, withholding affection, threats, crying and whining are some of the common tactics used by other people who don’t like what is happening to their loved one as she changes and begins to eliminate those old sinful patterns.
It is critical that she be counseled about the fear of man (man pleasing) issues at the first sign of such manipulative behavior by her family members. I urge my counselee’s to read When People Are Big and God Is Small by Ed Welch because it deals with this whole area and will give your counselee “counsel” between your sessions.
She will also be in the place of teaching her family how to change biblically as she explains why the old tactics they may use will no longer be as effective on her emotions. In some cases it is like steering the Titanic because these habit patterns are life-long but I have seen this work in many families. With the diligence and perseverance of one counselee to determine to glorify God by how she lives, many lives can be changed within the family.