Many pastors we know regard personal counseling as a tiresome, thankless job that seldom bears lasting fruit. The biggest problem, it seems, is that people want simple answers to a multitude of anxieties that may have taken years to accumulate. They want it all to go away by repeating a magic prayer. Or they’re not willing to do what the pastor recommends to start down the road to recovery. Or they don’t have the will power to follow through on basic instructions. It’s not unusual for them to just want someone to talk to, privately and confidentially, and sometimes that’s all it takes. Some who come for advice even seem to enjoy their misery. It can be discouraging when the one asking for help doesn’t seem to be improving. Or they become addicted to the therapy. Or worse yet, they misapply the instruction given and blame the counselor for all their problems. The same can apply in personal relationships such as with a friend or family member asking for advice for a sensitive issue.
We have some experience in this area, have taken courses, and are convinced that counseling is an art best left to those who are truly gifted, called and trained to do it. But you can find yourself in a situation where you feel obligated to speak to someone who has high regard for your opinion. We’re talking potentially major problems here with no one else around to fill the void in this critical area. When we lived in Mexico, we found ourselves spending many hours talking people through their problems, hang-ups and fears. Not because we felt particularly qualified but just because they trusted us to be discreet and give insight with biblical perspective.
Most people hide their deepest fears until they meet someone they think will keep their secrets confidential and give them counsel, expecting nothing in return. And, man, it’s amazing how bizarre some situations can be! It reminds me of a line from the old movie “Hoosiers” when the interim basketball coach is being unceremoniously replaced by the new head coach. In the chagrin of the moment, the outgoing coach makes the remark, “It’s one thing when a man goes out in the woods at night and gets naked and howls at the moon. It’s another thing if he does it in your front yard. One, you can kind of overlook. The other you have to deal with.”
That’s the predicament we found ourselves in. A lot of naked people howling at the moon in our front yard. Because we experienced the Lord’s grace, salvation and deliverance in such a dramatic way many years ago, our tendency in the beginning of our ministry was to try to give a hurting man or woman a flood of information about the power of God, many times using portions of our personal testimony to inspire them to immediate victory. But it seldom worked out very well. Occasionally, someone might be touched deeply enough to bring a radical change but most of the time, that wasn’t the case. It would end up being a frustrating experience for them and for us.
We grew to avoid that type of ministry and still do for the most part. We re-tooled our thinking and changed our approach. Our guiding motto has become, “They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” At the same time realizing it’s irresponsible not to speak the truth in your heart and let the chips fall where they may. You do your part and let God do His.
Here’s one example. It involves an accomplished professional whose name we’ll call Melissa to protect her privacy. Melissa, a single woman, had been a Christian for a long time and had been going to San Miguel for lengthy visits for several years. During that time, she met a man who was also employed in her field of practice. And also married. They began an affair and would meet once a year in Mexico, using San Miguel as their trysting place. Their stays there with one another grew into longer periods of time. His seasonal duties as an instructor at a local institute were his cover to deceive his wife back in the States. He and Melissa spent more and more time with each other. And they fell in love. At least that’s what she thought.
But, alas, a friend of the man’s wife got wind of the matter and blew the whistle on the affair exposing the whole thing. Then, during the man’s return stay at home, he was confronted not only by his angry wife but also by his doctor who informed him that he had terminal cancer and not much time to live. His wife told him he’d better make a choice quickly between herself and Melissa. He chose his wife and died within a year. Melissa learned of this turn of events through the long-distance grapevine, was not allowed by the man’s wife to call her lover as he lay dying in the hospital and was not permitted to come to the funeral. As you might suppose, Melissa was devastated.
When we met Melissa, she was a basket case. It’s mind-boggling to hear how true believers can deceive themselves. Melissa recounted her story to us and went on to tell us that while back home in the States, the Lord spoke to her and told her to return to San Miguel, that her deceased lover was going to rise from the dead and meet her in front of the old Parish Church on the central plaza and they would be reunited at last. Hmmmmm……….
It’s been my (Terry’s) practice to withdraw from these types of sessions with women. Esa took over. Since her late lover didn’t show up as the Lord had promised, Melissa was now suicidal. But the enormity of the deception she was under required Esa to break in at one point and say, “Whoa. Whoa! Whoa! Are you listening to yourself? Do you know who you’re talking to here? I didn’t fall off the turnip truck early this morning. Let’s get real, can we?” Then Esa began to methodically take the bereft woman through some scriptures to show her that God can do anything but that He’s not likely to compromise His character in the manner described. Soon Melissa was weeping on Esa’s shoulder and repenting. Esa reassured her that God forgave her and really does love her. Mercy and truth are met together (Ps. 85:10). After a few more sessions, Melissa became rational again with her feet back on the ground.
Melissa told us that had she not met us at that point in her life, today she would either be dead or in an asylum or fallen away from the Lord altogether. We didn’t want to get involved in this situation, but there she was, howling at the moon in our front yard. You never know when you may be confronted in such a way. Remember Proverbs 15:23 if you find yourself in a similar circumstance. “A man has joy by the answer of his mouth, and a word spoken in due season, how good it is!”