What Are You Becoming?
I’m pretty sure I have always wanted to become a counselor. I majored in Psychology in college because I wanted to help people learn to cope successfully with the problems of life. Though I did finish my BA, I also got my “Mrs.” right after college, and was blessed to become a wife and later, a full-time mom and homemaker. But I never lost that desire to be a people helper. After I became a Christian, it was clear to me that the education I’d received was not going to meet the standard to which God would call us to help His people. Secular thinking could never adequately address the soul issues of struggling individuals. So I decided to become a Biblical counselor, and I love what I do.
But sometimes, I’m a little concerned there’s a danger that I might be becoming something else—something I need to guard against. So, I wanted to address this with my fellow people helpers. Maybe you’re experiencing it too. Maybe you’ve experienced it in the past, and have overcome it. For those of us in the trenches of biblical counseling, there is always the danger of becoming several things we don’t want to become. So in no particular order, here are three of the dangerous directions we can go as we face the sin and sorrow of a hurting world.
We can become jaded.
Sometimes, I am just sick of sin. Many of the ladies who come for counsel have been devastated by someone else’s sin, either in their childhood, young adult life, or marriage. Almost every counseling day, I am dealing with the fallout of at least one tragic event that reminds me of the depth of the depravity of man. The pain expressed by my counselees is heart-breaking, and if you hear enough of that kind of thing, it is easy to begin to develop a protective callous, so that it doesn’t have quite such an impact. I suspect this is something secular counselors would see as a skill to develop. They need to keep their “professional distance,” so that they don’t get too involved.
Becoming jaded is a great danger for the biblical counselor, because we want to gain involvement with our counselees. We are called to weep with those who weep. How can we do that if we desire to distance ourselves from the gross and grievous sin perpetrated upon our counselees? And what about our counselees’ own sin? Becoming jaded leads to hopelessness regarding victory over sin. There are some weeks, or even months, where there is not a “win” in sight. No matter what angle I come at it from, or how fervently I pray, my counselees don’t seem to be getting it. If I based my hope for change on that record, I would definitely lose my enthusiasm as a people helper. We must remember that our hope is not in our ability to change them, but in Christ’s power to bring heart change. The sovereignty and grace of God are the double-edged sword that we must wield if we are to avoid becoming jaded.
We can become weary.
If you have been counseling for any length of time at all, you have surely felt the temptation to become weary. This is a difficult calling, maybe more so than you thought it would be when you first began. This is probably true of many Christian ministries, but counseling is unique in the sheer magnitude of sin and sorrow that we see on a daily basis: Couples in crisis; childhood sexual abuse; young girls who are slicing into their flesh to find some relief from the pain of life; teens coming out of sex trafficking; post-abortive women; abused and abusive spouses; lost and lonely elderly ladies who have been abandoned by their families, and the list goes on and on.
Many of these are folks who have been stuck in sinful patterns for years or decades. The task of helping them to change their lives by allowing God to change their hearts can seem insurmountable sometimes. If we set expectations based on what we think should happen, we are in trouble. We have to remember that we are not promised success in every case. We are well equipped, by the power of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, to help anyone who truly has a desire to change and is willing to submit to Christ to achieve it. If we think that we are the agents of change and that this person’s victory or loss in her sin battle is up to us, then we are setting ourselves up for extreme weariness, and maybe even quitting altogether. No, my friend, this is not about us and our skills. This is about the Holy Spirit and His power. While we take our training seriously and always strive to give our best to our counselees, it is the Spirit of God, not us, who changes people; and He never grows weary. We must guard against weariness by trusting God with our counselees, and relying on Him to bring change.
We can become consumed.
The job of counseling is very different from other types of ministry. We are invited into the most intimate aspects of our counselees’ lives. They share with us their deepest sorrows, pain, and heartache. They confess their sins to us, tell us their worst memories, and confide things they’ve never told anyone else. While we must know many of these things in order to help them, sometimes it is hard to put them out of our minds when the counselee leaves. They swirl around in our mind between appointments. We contemplate ways we can help them, seeking scripture and biblical principles that might encourage their hearts. There’s really no way to leave this type of work at the office. It is soul care, and the operative word there is care. We care deeply for our counselees, and rightly so. We love them with the love of Christ, and long to see them living the abundant life He died to give them.
But we must also remember that there is more to life than our caseload. We have family, friends, church life, and our own personal walk with God to maintain. If we are thinking of counselees every time we open our Bibles to read, then we may miss out on our own spiritual corrections. (This can lead to the other two dangers I’ve already talked about!) My ACBC Fellow gave me some good advice during my supervision phase. He suggested that I choose a light pole or another landmark between the office and my house. I can think about my counselees till I hit that landmark, and at that point, I must shift my thinking to home and family. I can pick it up again next counseling day, but until then, I should leave it there.
While I can’t say I’ve always been successful at this, it was a good standard to set, and has helped me a great deal when I sense that I’m getting swallowed up in a case. I do love and care for my counselees, but I know that I must strike a balance between the duties of ministry and life.
Friends, we are human. It would be easy to fall into any one or all of these dangerous categories. Remember, you are always becoming something. My goal is to become one whose deepest desire is to bring glory to God in all areas of my life. After all, that is the reason I was created. Not to fix people. Not to be anyone’s Holy Spirit, and certainly not to fall into a pattern of sinning in response to the sins I face each day in the counseling room! I find great joy in counseling, but I also know that, as a sinner, I must rely on the grace of God to guard my heart. In order to avoid these pitfalls, you and I must ask ourselves each day, “What are you becoming?”