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Knowing My Role

burnoutBurnout — A Near Miss

Sorry I’ve not written here as much recently as usual. A number of projects are currently in work, and I’ve not had my accustomed time available. But that’s what I wanted to mention here, because grace teaches (me) all the time.

A week or so ago, I had a bad day. Let me rephrase… I had a BAD day! I had one of those (rare for me) days where by the time the sun was setting I looked up towards the Lord and said, “OK, Lord… this isn’t fun any longer. I don’t want to play anymore… let’s do something else with my life, eh?”

Seriously, stuff that had been in work for months, all arrowed in with crisis traumas at the same time, none of which I could fix or do a blessed thing about but pray. These were people in terrible and traumatic situations for which:

  • I couldn’t DO anything helpful
  • I couldn’t SAY anything helpful
  • I didn’t KNOW anything helpful

All I could do was pray, which I did with intensity… feeling utterly exhausted and drained by the end of the day.

Are you feeling sorry for me yet? Well, if so… thank you, but I was feeling more than sorry enough for myself by then to cover all that was needed. I seldom succumb to much self-pity, but I guess this was my scheduled day. Know what? Self-pity and petty self-indulgence is exhausting, too!

The Lord, with His customary patience, just sort of stood aside watching and let me “play myself out”, before I actually NOTICED Him! I mean, after all, He was supposed to be sitting somewhere writing down all my desperate prayer needs and requests, right? Oddly enough, He seemed to be doing no such thing.

I didn’t criticize… after all, that wouldn’t be polite. But I wasn’t happy. And He knew it. (It sorta works like that.) It wasn’t like He was upset with me or my attitude, or that He was making fun of me. None of that. But I could tell from the look on His face that it was like… “He knew something I didn’t”, and I don’t mean that in the obvious sense. I mean that He wanted to say something to me that would help, but He knew I wasn’t yet calm enough really to HEAR Him.

The day had drawn to a close, I was starting to cook the evening meal, and over time the adrenalin receded. I wasn’t happy. He knew I wasn’t happy. I waited to see who would speak first, while we chopped onions. Finally, I couldn’t stand it. But it was hard to figure out what to say without being impolite (which I really didn’t want to do).

“I’m not happy, You know.” (the best I could do).

“I know,” He nodded. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Well… what about this? What am I supposed to do? Why don’t You do something? Why don’t You fix it all?” (Not sure if I SAID all of that, but it’s certainly what I was THINKING, and with Him, it amounts to the same thing.)

“I AM doing something, and I CAN’T ‘fix it’, in the way you mean. Neither can you, which is what has you so upset. That’s what I’m sorry about. Oh, and by the way… I don’t have to tell you this isn’t always ‘fun’. But perhaps I do have to tell you, um… no, you’re not going to go do something else with the rest of your life.”

At this we both laughed. “I know, I didn’t mean that. But really… today? Really? This was NOT one of our better days, eh? I couldn’t do a THING! I didn’t accomplish a THING! And all of those are situations with people hurting. So, what am I supposed to feel?”

Time passed as we cooked, and I continued to cool…

I’ve always been drawn to the scriptural image of the disciples and Jesus just sitting together at their fire, eating, after a long and trying day. I can readily imagine the conversations that took place as they shared experiences, impressions, questions, and answers. I always think Jesus just sat, enjoyed his fish or lamb chunks, wrapped them in some flatbreads, maybe spread with some hummus, or enjoying some dipped in honey for dessert, as He just encouraged them all to share… before He began to speak and sort things out.

Well, that’s sort of how things were at dinner that evening. The day kept replaying with my frustrations and concerns, and after a bit more venting I was able to calm down. He is so very patient.

Finally, He said, “I know you’ve heard this before, and you know what I am about to say. But sometimes, you just need to hear it again.

“You’re looking at this all wrong, which is really easy to do. But you’re angry because you’re setting the wrong goals, the wrong expectations. You feel like a failure because you couldn’t ‘fix’ everything.

“Little Monk? That’s not your job! That’s not even MY job! Both of us DID our ‘jobs’ today. The difference is, I recognize that and you do not.

“You are to hold an unconditionally loving relationship with these people. You did that. You are to embrace them and their experience without judging, with empathy and compassion. You did that. You are to share what words I give you to bring My grace into the moment. You did that. Sometimes, there are no such words, or they are minimal. And you are to lift them up to Me, wrapped in love, that My grace flow. You did that.

“You did your job today, and it was a very demanding day. Yes. When I walked, I often had very demanding days. But today, I did My job, too. My job is not to ‘fix’ as you think of it, because each of these people have their own free will and are making choices, and their lives are woven with others doing the same.

“You want to ‘fix’ everything, in terms of ‘making everybody happy’, and ‘relieving all pain’. Sometimes, beloved Little Monk, that is not possible. What I DO, and what you are committed to, is to lift up My presence and My grace in ALL the moments… painful, joyful, or otherwise. I ‘weave time with all the freewill choices’ in such a way that every encounter is perfectly ‘redemptive’. Every person you encounter and interact with, brings a gift of grace and growth into your life in that moment. And you impart such a gift to and for them.

“My ‘job’ is to uphold all things with the word of My power, given Me by Our Father… such that all things work together for good in Our Father’s love. Sometimes… what is truly ‘good’, is not necessarily ‘fun’ or even ‘painless’. That’s just the Truth.

“You say you had a ‘bad day’. Well, if you see it so… that’s up to you. But, in Truth, you had a Good day, doing precisely what you are called and gifted to do. I regret that you’ve felt frustrated about it, but that’s only because you’ve mistaken what you’re here to do. And that is in YOUR control, not Mine.

“But here is your bottom line, and maybe this will help. You’re upset because you didn’t meet your own expectations… you didn’t reach the ‘destination’ you set for yourself. But that’s not My expectation of you. That’s not what I intend for you to do. I want you to be a traveling companion, enjoying the journey and embracing and supporting your fellow travelers. If you will just do that… just focus on that… you’ll take a lot of pressure and frustration off yourself.

“I give you more than enough grace to travel these journeys, I am He who navigates the route and terrain in the first place. I am the only One who can bring you safely to your destination. So, quit mistaking your goals and worrying about that. Just bring grace in and to the trip, and embrace your fellow travelers.

“Just know your role, Little Monk. And embrace with My grace.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Oh, yeah. I’d known that… but I forgot. Sometimes, I just need to hear it again.

Thank you for your prayers, Gentle Reader. I am ever a work in progress. Blessings and grace to thee — The Little Monk

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Where Do We Live… Really?

spiral-galaxy-ngc1300-nasa-1600Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. [Philippians 4:4-9]

Christians are (or should be) in the “Rejoicing Business”. Our task is to share the Gospel, the Good News of hope, loving one another unconditionally. Paul encourages us to joy. He addresses aloneness first, assuring us that the Lord is near. He addresses our fear and anxiety next, commending us to make our requests with prayer, supplication and thanks. Once we do so, he assures us, the incomprehensible peace of God will guard our hearts and our minds in Christ Jesus.

Isn’t that amazing? What a simple instruction… don’t be anxious but in everything, offer up prayer with thanks… and peace will guard our hearts and minds.

Then Paul follows up this incredible promise with a more specific instruction, that we dwell on excellent and praiseworthy things. That we are to practice what we’ve learned from Paul, focus on the good and excellent, and thus the God of peace will be with us.

This rings deep with me for two reasons, and has suggested a question to me. I thought I’d share the question, and see what you think.

Most of my ministry is counseling. People come to see me when they lack joy in unbearable ways. That is the first reason this rang in me. I realize a strange thing. The people I see, people who hurt, are not generally “hurting in the present”. That is, they are not hurting from things of the “here and now”. The pain they feel comes from ideas they dwell upon. Usually, these are either memories of the past, or fears of the future. Whether divorce, family troubles, business failures, all ghosts from the past. Then there are the anxieties of the future… job worries, children, financial strains, all fears of future misfortunes. OR, even if the concerns are of the present, they are often based on people and decisions that are not HERE. People and decisions made by others elsewhere, about which we can do nothing.

Here’s the question… How much of our time, do we actually spend dwelling on the here and now, where God and grace are accessible to us? And how much do we spend either in regrets of the past, fears of the future, or stressing on things well beyond our ability to affect?

Here’s an amazing thing I’ve realized. “Joyful people” live mostly in the here and now, and focus on excellent and good things. Miserable people, do not.

The second point that made this so ring for me was actually a bit funny. This blog is the “Postmodern Mystic”, and much of my focus is meditation, contemplation, mental prayer. I get lots of questions about what these mean, what IS this, when I speak on it… people are curious, sometimes hungry, to engage in prayer of this sort. It is easy enough to “describe” or “define”, but not so easy to help people understand.

But I realized that this little Philippians passage is a wonderful description. I’ve admitted from time to time my challenge with “cat-herding”. My mind sometimes bounds from one topic to another in a rather “out of the box” stream of consciousness that usually links up to a general theme, without necessarily making sense in a chain-link fashion.

Bottom Line: When one follows Paul’s instruction here, God fulfills His promise. When/if one chooses to “dwell” upon the excellent, lovely, and good… then the Excellent/Lovely/Good “dwells back” and the mind/heart is not only guarded, but experiences joy and peace. These tend to be addictive on their own, and reinforce the practice. “Meditation/Contemplation” may well BEGIN as an effort and a discipline… but with just a bit of perseverance, they become joyful, attractive, peaceful and… well, frankly… habit-forming.

What do you think, Gentle Reader?

 
13 Comments

Posted by on November 24, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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Martian Chronicles: Good News

Mars OneHail and well met, fellow missionaries! I’ve been off for a bit doing some investigating, exploration, archaeology. Results will be reported in due course.

Just to review the premise here…

OK, so we are on an adventure…

We’re posing the hypothetical possibility that we have been selected to be one of 10 Christians (or Christian couples) to journey to Mars somewhere between 2025 and 2040, to establish the First Christian Church there.

We’ve been endorsed and sent forth with the blessings of our denominations, and given extraordinary license and dispensation to establish a new church whose only constraints are scriptural, not traditional. That is not to say that tradition is to be despised or held in contempt. Merely that the traditions of one or some should not hold sway over the traditions or convictions of others.

What’s more, we have the incredible opportunity to establish “A” (not “THE”) First Century Church. All these colleagues have an active, living, breathing, personal speaking relationship with the living Christ, and the humility to balance personal revelation with scriptural validation and mutual accountability and examination. (That’s an amazing statement.) This is to say, these are all unabashedly functional mystics.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The last post on these Chronicles posed the question, “Are We Alone?” and considered a frequent impression of people far from all that is familiar and homey.

An interesting point is/was that, while it makes perfect sense of Martian colonists or explorers to feel very isolated and alone so far from home, (even isolated from God Himself), that this is a common, frequent, quiet fear and concern for everyday normal people right here, right now. This sense of isolation, sometimes called “existential angst”, or a sense of the “void”, is something of a primal fear we learn to keep penned up in our darkest closets, lest it escape and take up residence under our beds at night.

We may come back to considering this chimera later, but for today I’d like to consider one of its most common companions… the sense of insignificance.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Now, our colonists have all been specially picked, specially screened, specially trained… for this extraordinary mission. They are very “secure” in every psychological sense.

But many people who seek out counseling, or pastoral counseling, experience great pain in their lives and seek help for what APPEAR to be a vast variety of reasons: parent problems, kid problems, spouse problems, work problems, social problems, school problems, health problems, legal problems… People seek me out because some arena of relationships is causing someone pain.

What I have found, time and time again, is that people do NOT seek me out to hear my “wonderful advice”, or even so that *I* can “solve” their “problems”. That’s really not what they want or need. (It has taken me a painfully great number of years to learn that!) When there is “success” in a counseling relationship, it is nearly always because I was able to meet one single fundamental need they had when they came, and once it was met they were able to resolve their own issues.

Their need? Significance.

It starts in the very first appointment, when they sit down to “tell me all about it”. Years ago, I used to interrupt a lot, seek to array the facts and details in “their proper sequence”, and work to frame my response and recommendations “just so”. Eventually I learned how very out of order that was. I need/needed simply to LISTEN… let them be HEARD.

This is the first step. This is something incredibly lacking in our day to day lives. I, like so many others, live(d) in a “mindset of response preparation”… rather than a “mindset of embracing their expression and experience.” Someone who seeks me out doesn’t nearly so much want to know “what I THINK” about their situation, as they want to know “that I UNDERSTAND them, what THEY are thinking, what THEY are feeling”… and that I can enter into that experience with them.

So I’ve learned… it starts with (usually) our very first meeting. They have a “story to tell”, and I need just to sit still and quiet, and “receive” that story. Free of reaction, free of judgment, free of comment, free of response. Just receive them, their story, their experience. I don’t have to “approve” of all the elements or decisions made throughout the story. That’s not my role. They haven’t yet asked a question for me to answer.

But it took me the longest time to realize, the underlying theme in ALL these stories… was how this person seeks to affirm their own meaningfulness, their own influence, their own significance, in their lives and relationships… and the pain they experience when their efforts fall short.

Now here’s a strange thing… this is as true for truly “powerful”, “influential”, and “significant” people (whatever that really means)… as it is for the weak and helpless. The issue of “security” and “insecurity” is not met with worldly potency.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Bottom Line on this Piece of Good News:

Truth: Human beings crave “attention” as “affirmation”.

Some more, some less. But the more powerless someone feels, the more attention they will demand, and the more their behaviors will absorb the time and attention of others.

So where’s the Good News here?

We, human beings, are MADE this way. We are FASHIONED this way. We have an endemic need for the nurturance and security of attention.

And we are “fashioned” this way because this is a socket in which we are permanently seated, in and for our relationship with God.

Scripture after scripture, from Genesis, through Psalms, through Proverbs, through the Gospels… affirm over and over again… God is HERE, God is ATTENTIVE, God is ALWAYS PRESENT, and He is NEVER too busy to be “paying attention” to you… to me… to each of His children.

This tremendous “Mystery of the Infinite”, this characteristic of Omnipresent God, assures that Jesus, Father, and Spirit, ALWAYS hold our hands and carry us in their arms.

We have no need to:

  • Beg for His attention
  • Ask His pardon for interrupting Him with our petty prayers
  • Hope He doesn’t see our mistakes and shortcomings
  • Cringe, cower, or plead that He will hear and respond to our petitions
  • Wonder if He knows what we need or the timing of that
  • Wonder if He really notices or cares…

None of that.

But I’ve noticed before, that a person CANNOT believe a kindness of God, that they have never ever first experienced from a human being. So, I’ve discovered, first and foremost, the greatest gift I can offer to someone who seeks me out… is simply to “pay attention to them”, “acknowledge them as significant and ‘worthy’ of ‘my time'”, and “HEAR them”.

You would not believe how often, simply THAT… simply LISTENING to them without comment, judgment, or interruption… for the entire first time we spend together… relieves 50% or more of the pain they felt when they arrived.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So, suggestion… share the Good News of someone’s significance with them today. You don’t have to “Say” a thing. Just HEAR them. In this, you will affirm them in an incredible way. You don’t have to affirm the “rightness” of everything they think, do or feel. You are simply affirming the rightness of their BEING in the first place. God will grow them, as they allow that. But first, they can know that it is valuable (at least to YOU) that they exist and live at all!

This is a tremendous gift.

This, is Good News.

 
 

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What Do You Expect?

Lion AngryYesterday, AGAIN, Don Merritt published a great post that God just grabbed in my heart and ran with. And *cough* AGAIN, I wrote this… erm… well… “comment”. Come to find out, that comment has set Don’s new “record for longest comment ever received”, and it has prompted some very gratifying discussion appended to his post. I decided the comment deserved its own post here, and I’d love to see the discussion continue.

His post is “What do you expect from the Bible?” and was prompted by the recent Creationism/Evolution debates on YouTube. Please look at his post, and then contribute to the dialogue, either here or there! Here are some “critical trigger words” that Don wrote:

What do you expect from the Bible?

Have you ever thought about that?  Are you looking for a science textbook or a history textbook? The end of the world? Sex and violence? Facts, trivia and minutia? The way to follow Jesus? Maybe something else?

It could be argued that you can find all of these in the Bible to one degree or another, and people seem to find what they are looking for in most cases. [Don Merritt, Life Reference]

Here was my response:

What do we Expect?

Expectations!

How incredibly powerful this one little word is. Don’s post, the title itself… the Lord took this in an utterly “unexpected” direction for me as I pondered, and I thought you might enjoy the trip. The title, as read by most people, would seem like… “What do we expect from THE BIBLE. But my reflections sounded more like… “What do WE EXPECT from the bible?” Entirely different syllabic emphasis.

Without getting lost in detail and footnotes, let me just air this thought for consideration. You, as all readers, are welcome either to ponder and affirm this as true in and for your spirit, or totally cast it aside if it does not ring true. But through years of ministry and counseling, I have discovered…

In any and every encounter or relationship, we, as humans, tend only to see, perceive, hear, and experience that which we EXPECT to experience. Events that ‘surprise’ us, tend to be perceived and reported subject to a great deal of factual error (such as accident or crime reports). Emotionally, we experience ‘negative’ emotions (anger, sadness, disappointment, fear) when we hold one set of expectations for an event, and the actual outcome is ‘less, or lower’ than anticipated. We tend to experience ‘positive’ emotions (joy, love, gratitude, awe) when our expectations are exceeded.

Here’s a piece of research that changed my life when I was in my graduate studies as a counselor. There is an 80% correlation between ‘pre-therapeutic expectation of outcome effectiveness’ for any given school or style of treatment, regardless of modality. That is, no matter which of the 15 or so types of dynamic therapies a client undergoes, 8 times out of 10, if they expect to complete treatment with a positive outcome and improvement, they do so; and 8 out of 10 times if they expect counseling to make no difference to their situation, it does not. Didn’t matter if that was Freudian Psychoanalysis, Behavior Modification, Adlerian, Gestalt, Transactional Analysis… didn’t matter. Intake expectation was far and away the strongest predictor of discharge outcome.

As a counselor, for decades, that truth struck deep in me. And I never EVER began actual “work” with any client, until I could determine whether they BELIEVED and EXPECTED that this work would help, and change their situation. Until I had that, my focus was to improve their expectations, rather than begin the work on the specific issue.

That just came leaping to mind today, after reading Don’s post. The old saw,

“For those who believe, no explanation is necessary. For those who do not, none is sufficient.”

Don knows my view on “The Holy Bible” as a document, a book. For me, this fully sacred text is almost what we would think of as “magical”… a “dimensional portal”… where we, as finite, four-dimensional, little creatures as frail and faulty as we are… can encounter and engage FULLY… with the Presence and Person of Infinite Holy God — Omniscient Omnipresent Omnipotent Omnidimensional Omniconscious God — from our universe to His Omniverse. And THAT… I submit… is just plain flat AMAZING.

Why is this so? Because here is this “physical object”… two covers, white paper, black ink marks… this finite simple “book/thing”… that sets down symbolically the Word(s) of God (utterances of Jesus and God through historical revelations of the Holy Spirit)… ALONG WITH HIS PROMISE and ENDORSEMENT that when we “seek Him” here, He Himself will teach and reveal through the Living Word of His Holy Spirit.

So why is it then…

Why is it that some people can “read the Bible” and find nothing more than a series of dead historical reports… fodder for argument on philosophy, comparative theology, history, or literature? And others can enter into this Omnidimensional Portal and experience rhapsodies?

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

I believe Don hit the nail on the head. The difference is “What do we expect…”

I hope this offends no one, but the very power of God on earth, among men, can be “limited”… but only by a single thing, a single factor. The factor is: Faith. Look at the 6th chapter of Mark, the very beginning narratives and the ending narratives, and look at the progression through the chapter. Jesus is very very clear here, as is the inspired author of the chapter. Jesus’ “potency” is conditioned by the faith of the people surrounding Him, and grows from “He could only heal a few…” at the beginning, to mighty works at the end. Did Jesus change through the chapter? Of course not. But clearly the “dunamis” changed, and the chapter identifies only one factor to explain that:

The Power of Expectation…

9 “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. 11 Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he? 12 Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? 13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” [Luke 11]

Here, it seems Jesus Himself teaches of “expectation”.

Anyway, I thank Don. I think “debates” such as have been discussed, are really an “Apple/Orange” situation. If one approaches the Bible expecting an “encounter with God”… to “seek, ask, knock, know”… God honors that, and the encounter happens. If one does not… well…

But it’s important to note, merely pinning the label “Christian” on one’s lapel before approaching the Bible doesn’t define one’s expectations of encounter. I know countless “Christians” who diligently sit before their Open Bibles, NOT seeking an encounter with Holy God on HIS terms… but rather seeking to “Master the Bible” on their own. They’ve been taught to see scripture verses as “darts”, “weapons”, to be collected and mastered (largely through memorization)… not that the verses CHANGE THEM… but that they learn to “handle and wield them with dexterity” in order to defeat and wound others they define to be “the enemy”… whether that is non-believers, or other Christians not of their culture and traditions.

Approaching the Bible as one would approach caged animals… complete with whip and chair, to “train them to do one’s bidding and obey”… well, the Holy Spirit really has to struggle to get heard in such encounters.

I have found in my own walk, that what I “bring away” from an encounter with God in the Bible depends a lot on how I approached the encounter in the first place. When I go to meet Him, to seek, knock, ask, know Him… on His terms… I come away changed. When I go out of “duty” or “habit”, or to “get some verses down because of an argument I’m in”… or in ANY way… to MASTER the BIBLE… well… at best, there’s “no magic there”, at worst the Father has to pull this Kingdom over for a “little chat in the woods” for a bit.

“What do we expect?”… What a marvelous question. It’s not just “The Book” that is holy… the physical object. It’s not the black marks on the white pages. But rather, it’s that when we sacredly reach THROUGH the black marks of the object, our minds and spirits can encounter the LIVING WORD(S)… the “Speaker” of the utterances, and the “Teacher” of the utterances, and Giver of understanding and wisdom…. ON HIS OWN TURF! But ONLY when we EXPECT to find Him there!

Isn’t that amazing? Wow! Grace to thee! — The Little Monk

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 9, 2014 in Quiet Time, Sermon Seeds, Uncategorized

 

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