Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Who is My Shepherd? THE Good Shepherd

The weight of responsibility to care for people in pain is very HEAVY at times; too heavy for people-helpers to carry by ourselves.  That's why I'm so glad that THE Good Shepherd cares for me, and the people I/we (Grace & Truth) serve.

Nearly every session I pray for knowledge and wisdom from The Good Shepherd.  Why wouldn't I?  He promised His presence and ministry to us by the indwelling of The Holy Spirit as His very presence and power to inhabit us as Wonderful Counselor, Great Physician, Comforter, Teacher "who will teach you all things and remind you of everything I have taught you" (John 14:26).

And at the end of nearly every session, I exhort clients to talk to and listen for The Good Shepherd; that they are not without care and counsel just because they aren't in session with me.  I'm pretty convinced that teaching the people I care for as Jesus's Helper that He is their Shepherd (and not me) who wants to communicate with them, guide them, teach them, comfort them, and to lead them on the path of truth, righteousness, purposeful life in and for His Kingdom, IS the MOST IMPORTANT thing I can do for them.  Pointing them to cultivate a listening relationship in which they learn to hear His voice "My Sheep know my voice . . . "

This is good for them, and it is good for me.

It's good for them because they are inoculated against elevation of man to positions that are above and beyond us, even if we are counselors, doctors or pastorally gifted helpers, and empowered to approach Jesus directly themselves (not through an intermediary such as was required under the old covenant to approach God through a priest).

It's good for us helpers (those that some would entitle 'shepherds') because we're reminded that while we may indeed by gifted and positioned to provide pastoral care to those on our path, that there is ONE who is above and beyond us whom we rely on for Knowledge and Wisdom, and on whose behalf we care for them.  AND, that they too can directly approach Him for the same 'after hours'.

As a compassionate care-giver, I feel a sense of loss and anxiety when I open the door to say goodbye to a client in pain and crisis.  But they are comforted, as I am, that they can directly access Jesus, and hear from Him.

One day a mother asked my opinion on a complex set of issues facing her family.  "What do you think?  You're the professional."  I began to answer, but felt checked by the Holy Spirit.  "Ask her what she has heard from me."  So I did, and my jaw dropped as this 'untrained' lady (not a professional counselor or minister) responded with an elegant solution.  There was a long silence before she said, "That's bad for your business, you know.  Empowering your clients to hear from God Himself vs. relying on you to hear and see for them."  She'd heard the brilliance of the Lord's guidance in her situation, and knew that it came from Him, not from me.

Practicing counseling in this way may indeed be bad for 'client retention', if maximizing my client's financial value as an ongoing customer is my objective.  (As they say in Washington, D.C., "There's a lot of money to be made by prolonging the solution to the problem").  But it's certainly not bad for the Kingdom of God to have yet another empowered and powerful (filled by the Holy Spirit) special force worker in the world to continue hearing Him and teaching others to do the same!

Who is my Shepherd?  "The Lord is My Shepherd" (Psalm 23).

Who is your Shepherd?

Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Decide with Whom and How Much to Share Your Heart

The question often arises in counseling: How much should I share with ____ ?  And it is usually in the context of relational strain, hurt or desire to reconcile.

"They sometimes use it against me."
"They don't understand or try to understand."
"They twist everything I say to fit their view of reality, and don't try to consider mine."

And it goes on.  You can probably very easily add to the list, because you've probably run across a few 'unsafe' people.

In Scripture we see descriptions of close community in the Body of Christ, and proscription for intimacy in marriage and family.  How does that happen without knowing each other, and how do we know each other without open sharing?  Many relationship education models agree that Emotional openness + physical closeness = Intimacy.

Naked and unashamed is a phrase from Genesis that Jill and I use to talk about the goal of marital communication; that we might present our honest thoughts, feelings and desires to each other without fear of judgment, reprisal, scoffing, disregard or dismissal.  In other words, a goal in relationship to be a safe person; one whom is capable and trusted to hear and hold other's hearts when they open it to us.  But the degree to which we are trusted to hold other's hearts varies.  Sometimes people hesitate to share because they've been burned by others in the past. And sometimes they hesitate because we've burned them. The reasons vary, and they are many.

But what I want to focus on is the razor for making the decision about whether to share and how much to share.  Here is my usual suggestion:

"Take a slight risk to open your heart and see how ____ responds.  If they don't treat your heart with respect, take it back.  Imagine handing ___ something precious to you, like a family heirloom.  If they don 't hold it carefully, or worse, if they begin to harm it in some way take it back.  This is part of protecting your heart, which scripture admonishes us to do (Proverbs 4:23, "guard your heart for it is the well spring of life")

"Sometimes we find that _____ has a track record of hurting hearts.  So when you discern that they haven't yet changed their manner don't give them the opportunity to practice their pathological way of relating to you. Tell them why, and suggest that if they want to have a more open and healthy relationship with you that it will require a change on their part; that they become a safe person whom you can trust to hear and hold your heart."  This is truth spoken in love that provides an opportunity for confession and repentance (making a wholesale change in how they relate to and respect you.)  Casting pearls before swine applies (Matthew 7:6), "you should not put what is valuable in front of those who will reject the notion that it has value and furthermore that they will seek to diminish or destroy what you offer" (wikipedia).  Some people won't change, but at least you gave them the opportunity to understand why you are disengaging and an opportunity to make the changes necessary to continue/heal a relationship with you.

It is all too common, and injurious, to misapply the notion of turning the other cheek amongst Christians I've counseled.  Many have become so downtrodden that they have great difficulty rising up again to try in a relationship again.  Their condition would be much better, if they'd said "When" a bit sooner.  Sadly, many look and feel like they're beyond the point of no return.

Here's how I'd say it in a couple of sentences; Keep your love on (Danny Silk) and remain open to sharing your heart, but don't do it indiscriminately.  Be vigilant to discover who will hold and honor your heart vs. those who repeatedly injure and disrespect it, and don't be afraid to take it back and refuse them further opportunities to defile you and themselves by trampling on that which is precious.

Blessings, Jeff

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Good Reasons: Why People do the Things They Do

Why do people do the things they do?  For Good Reasons.  

Dig deep enough, long enough and you will discover that people have good reasons for the ways they act, feel and respond.

"Why did I/do I do that?"  "For a good reason' has become my stock response.  But its more than a cliche.  I believe it.

Twenty-three years in Clinical Psychology, thousands of patients later, and I have yet to serve a person, marriage or family with "problems" that didn't make sense (eventually).  Listen long enough to appreciate the context in which people's problems have developed and surfaced, and you'll find a good reason for the way they act, the beliefs  they believe and the things they do.

I don't get surprised much anymore.  And I hope I have a poker face.  Our youngest, Laura, says I do.  Upon Harley's rescue (our dog) from a runaway episode into busy traffic Laura asked why I wasn't more visibly upset. "I"m sorry, honey.  Guess I'm a bit desensitized by the things I hear and see everyday."

Consider these scenarios:

  • Her father began violating her during the middle of the night when she was three.  
  • His nights were filled with moans and screams from his mother's escapades with abusive men.  
  • A pedophile fulfilled her desperation for affection after her father 'disappeared' into himself with serious illness. 
  • She spent entire days cleaning and re-cleaning the bathroom.  
  • She 'loses it' if he becomes authoritarian (like her dad).  
  • He lacks compassion when she cries, and finds himself wanting to pile on the abuse.

It all sounds pretty sick, right?  But dig a little deeper.  Let them tell their life story. Walk in their shoes for a few hours and it will begin to make sense.  I promise.

Neurotic reasoning and responses remain hidden until the valid reasons for their existence are discovered, understood and accepted. But this happens only in environments and where Grace is the fragrance of the relationship.  

Do you do this for those that God has put on your path?  Does the scent of acceptance and understanding waft around you?

Pat Conroy, said it well in his book, "The Prince of Tides" through one his characters who was severely abused throughout his childhood.

'People are quick to judge my relationship failures.  But they haven't lived my life.  They judge by my appearance that I am like a racing Schooner (boat) that should cut through the water fast and true, but fail to see that below the waterline that the hull is full of holes, and that I'm doing well just to make the sucker float.'

Sit with such a person long enough, and lovingly listen with heart and skill, and I guarantee that their attitudes and behavior will begin to make sense. And as you validate and accept that they have good reasons, those reasons will begin to make sense to them.  They will connect the dots, and begin to act (and react) out of awareness rather than self-protective habit.

And as you do this, you will be administering Grace while recognizing the Truth of their lives, and your manner will be full of Grace and Truth!

The results of such understanding ministry will be a more whole and healthy Body of Christ, one person, one marriage, one family at a time.

Hopefully, Jeff

*Jeff Williams is founding director of the global counseling and coaching ministry, Grace & Truth Counseling and Coaching.