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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Melodies in Miseries

In working on my Masters degree in counseling I've noticed a couple of disturbingly pervasive lies:

"I'm a Christian; I shouldn't need counseling if I have enough faith,"
"I'm a counselor; I can take care of myself."

Common sense reveals these thoughts for the absurd lies that they are, but they aren't usually spelled out so plainly.  They come in the form of prideful attitudes and judgmental thoughts. They are terrible, insidious lies that have the power to cause long-lasting damage. I should know, I bought into these lies for years.

For some strange reason, there is a societal stigma against seeking mental help. Our society has developed a prideful attitude which says that asking for help is a sign of weakness, that we need to fend for ourselves and solve our own problems. It's ironic that in a world so obsessed with sharing every triviality on social media, we still can't allow for the possibility that sometimes we may have very real, very private problems that require outside help. In the past I told myself that my problems were small in light of "the bigger picture." As a result, I took care of myself for years and let my wounds fester. I was always strong enough to handle it myself. I was fine. I just needed to read my Bible a little more and pray harder. I didn't need anyone else because I had faith and counseling experience.

I don't mean to sound flippant or arrogant; I'm only trying to be transparent about my thought processes. I'm a counselor at heart. I am passionate about helping others through their darkest days - everyone, that is, except myself. Being both a counselor AND a Christian surely meant I didn't need anyone else's help; furthermore, I knew what a counselor would say and thus could basically counsel myself through my own problems. Wrong.

This attitude led me to a total emotional breakdown, after which I found myself baring my broken and humiliated soul on a counselor's couch.

Last year I was spiraling out of control emotionally, and the counselor inside me finally recognized that I needed outside help to pull out of it. At first, I kept it a secret from everyone because I was so ashamed. I was supposed to be stronger than that; I was worried that my Christian friends would judge me for not having enough faith, and that people would doubt my abilities as a counselor based on my perceived weakness. Again, I was wrong. In addition to seeking counseling, I reached out to a couple of very dear friends whom I knew to be wise Godly women. They added the perspective and loving support that I desperately needed. I learned more about myself and God in those few months of counseling and Christian accountability than I had in the previous 20-something years of my life.

You see, there's absolutely no shame in seeking counsel. NONE. I love these lyrics from a recent Amy Grant song:
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

There's beauty in brokenness. Think about it. I love the story of the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears. She came to him, broken and worthless in the eyes of the world. He didn't judge her. He didn't push her away or lecture her about her problems. Instead, He showed her the deepest grace and love any human being can ever know. He lifted her out of her pain and redeemed her battered heart.

For weeks I was completely lost in the issues that seemed to be swirling around me, stealing my joy and threatening to break my spirit. I knew God loved me, and I knew I would get through it. But I also knew I needed help reorienting myself and redefining my perspective. Through the help of a couple of Godly women and a Christian counselor, I was able to get back on my feet and jump back into the fray. I will admit that in counseling, I didn't so much need the counselor to tell me what was wrong with me. I really only needed someone to dump on emotionally; I needed someone to listen, to help me shoulder the burden for a little while, and to help me regain a positive, battle-ready perspective. I have since stopped going to counseling, but I still lean on my friends periodically for accountability and continued support.

I can now look back and share this experience with you without feeling embarrassed. I was struggling, I sought out Christian support, and now I'm even more prepared to help others. I don't see it as a weakness. I knew then, as I do now, that God has given me everything I need to fight whatever battles come my way. The difference is that I now know that sometimes some of the best weapons I have are the love, prayers, and support of others. If I can be humble enough to seek their support, and to admit to God that I cannot do everything on my own, I will be better equipped (and allied!) to fight these battles. Please understand: I'm not saying that faith in God is not enough. I am saying that sometimes God requires us, in faith, to reach out and ask for help. That's one of the reasons we have pastors, mentors, parents, and friends. It's the reason we have the church, the unified body of Christ.

But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers,
to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, 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. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

I don't share this to garner pity or to make myself sound spiritually mature (which I'm certainly not!). I truly hope that in sharing this, someone is encouraged and perhaps even empowered to ask for help in their personal battles. There is no shame in seeking help. In fact, I do believe that God is blessed when we humbly seek His face in our brokenness. Jesus said that all you need is faith the size of a mustard seed to move mountains (Matt 17:20). Think of how much more you could do with faith the size of a mountain (the combined help of other believers)!  

Hapless but hopeful,

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