In the summer of 2013, there was a shocking story about two life coaches who committed suicide together. What was ironic and sad was the fact that they hosted a radio show called "The Pursuit of Happiness." Apparently the two were a couple and the woman suffered from major depression. This tragic story highlights an important issue. Those of us in helping professions need to take care of ourselves as we help others.
You can't give out of an empty cup.
When I was in a counseling class in seminary, the professor told us that all pastors and counselors should seek counseling for themselves. I found that odd at first but immediately recognized the wisdom behind it. It's easy to ignore our issues when we are ministering to others. Not only is it unwise to bury our personal problems, it can lead to inefficiency. I think this is part of what Jesus was getting at when he said:
"How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye." (Matthew 7:4-5)
You are responsible for yourself.
It's obvious that Jesus is speaking to those who have a blatantly critical attitude but it's amazing how a lack of self-awareness can cloud the best of our intentions. It's so easy to hide our insecurity behind the busyness of taking care of others. We can't help other people with their problems until we own ours first.
If we don't take care of ourselves spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally, we will be ineffective in our attempt to help others. Even worse, we can burn out. We can't see clearly as we minister to others until we allow the Holy Spirit to take the plank out of our own eye.
How do you find time to take care of yourself?
Subscribe to My Newsletter
If you are wondering whether you are called to the work of Christian counseling, here some points to consider. These are not all-inclusive, but may confirm what you already know.
1. You are a people person
This does not mean that you have to be overly-outgoing or extroverted. Being a people person means that you have a heart for others and like to understand what makes people tick. You have a desire to see others grow and enjoy walking with them through their struggles over the long term. You don't shy away from emotions or awkward situations. You are gracious, accepting, and have what Carl Rogers called "unconditional positive regard" for those you work with.
2. You've worked on yourself.
When I was in seminary, my counseling professor told our class that all pastors, counselors, and caregivers should go to counseling. That left an impression on me and for the next four years, I went to therapy to work on my personal issues. That one resolution made me a better counselor—more than any textbook could. Dealing with your own trauma and grief breeds the compassion needed to authentically connect with others. Compassion is key to making any therapeutic relationship work. It's important that you regularly take care of yourself before you seek to help others. You cannot give out of an empty cup.
3. People already come to you.
Many people can sense whether you are a safe person to confide in. When this happens, feel free to ask them, "what made you relaxed enough to share this with me?" You might be surprised at the answers you receive. If you have people who are comfortable enough to open up to you, this might be a good sign that counseling could be a calling for you.
4. You know in your heart.
Ultimately, many people just feel God speaking to their heart about pursuing a call to ministry in counseling. If this is your case, you will also feel a passion for the field and a desire to learn more about helping others grow. If you are unsure, consider talking it over with a few close friends or a mentor you respect. If God has called you into this work, He will make a way, and He will give you the peace to overcome your insecurity about the adventure ahead.
Free Courses in Christian Counseling
Sometimes I will get a call or an email asking for counseling, then never hear from the person again. This is normal and I have come to expect it. Most people don’t reach out for help until they’re desperate or have run out of solutions. Yet many times, it’s not solutions we settle for, it’s distraction.
Sadness, grief and anger are emotions that are disturbing and invade our lives at the most inconvenient times. Our first reaction is to bury these feelings and push them below the surface so we can carry on with our day-to-day lives. We opt for appearing like we have it all together while trying to numb the pain through various activities—resorting to anywhere from workaholism to alcoholism. But the feelings will return, and if deeply suppressed, may return with a vengeance years later. Unresolved grief can lead to depression, anger issues and a host of other problems. Unresolved grief will also negatively affect your personal relationships.
It doesn’t help that America is a highly individualistic culture. We’re taught to pull ourselves up and not depend on others, even if it means that you should put up a false front. This has seeped into the American church as well. Some Christian teachers believe that should deny your emotions and completely ignore your feelings. “Doing the right thing” and simply believingin God has replaced having faith and trust in God.
Yet there is a better way. We need to overcome the fear of our humanity and trust ourselves completely to God. He is not afraid of your feelings and wants you to pray in a way that shares exactly what is on your heart and mind so you can release it to Him. The Psalms are full of various people who cried out to God honestly with much emotion. The Lord may not give you an explanation, but He promises to carry you through. He will provide other people to walk with you and process your pain. He will give you the strength to overcome and you will eventually find peace as a result. The positive feelings will return. They will. Trust God with your whole heart—after all, He is the one who made it.
Subscribe to My Newsletter
Whenever we face a personal or relational problem, our first instinct is to run. Couples bury their emotions until they flare up later. People deny their true feelings until they begin to interfere with their day-to-day lives. However, in order to alleviate the discomfort, you have to address it, even if it means feeling pain in the process.
Run toward your problems not away from them. Move toward the source of the conflict, not away from it. This takes discernment and the right kind of tools. If you are having trouble in your relationship, it takes wisdom and the right kind of resources to help you find resolution. In order to deal with grief or depression, it takes the right kind of support to deal with your emotions so you can find healing. This might include counseling, journaling, prayer, depending on close friends, or reading books that addresses your problem. Most importantly, it takes the presence of God who brings redemption in the midst of devastation. If you run away, you may be able to postpone or ignore the issue temporarily, but it will eventually find you. Resolution is only found by dealing with the problem head on. With God’s help you can do it.
Subscribe to My Newsletter