counseling

Review: Together But Alone

Together but Alone: When God Means Something Different to Your Spouse
by Donna Erickson Couch

So often, married couples share everything… but their faith. What happens when one spouse is devoted to God, but the other doesn’t care about religion or spirituality? How can a person remain true to God and not cause division in their marriage? Donna Erickson Couch writes this book to offer guidance to a spouse facing such a situation.

Except… don’t. Just don’t.

Listen, there is great need for counseling for those in marriages where one spouse wants nothing to do with Jesus. People in such situations need to be reminded that Jesus is not about earthly peace, but about something much more. Passages dealing with encouraging and loving those that are hard to love can certainly be applied, as well as talking about how much Jesus loves us, even when we feel alone. A book that uses such passages that offer real comfort based on God’s love for us, as well as practical ways to live that out, would be welcome.

This is not that book. (more…)

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Llama

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Don’t send the police to my house.”

And so began the slide today. For once it didn’t strike at the hand of a member. For once it didn’t come from a leader of the church displeased with something God is blessing, or displeased that God isn’t blessing the way they want, or some such nonsense. Instead, it came from a prospect that, well, if you read this blog this past Monday, you can probably already guess at.

We had texted through the week, though I’d not seen anyone from the family. And then this text today.

And the slide began.

We texted back and forth, and it wasn’t… it wasn’t what I wanted. I asked to meet face to face. They refused. Only texting.

Sometimes texting is a real blessing, and other times it is a mask to hide behind.

And it got to the point that… sigh.

Sometimes depression just plain sucks. Actually, most of the time depression just plain sucks. There aren’t many times I can imagine it being awesome.

So as the afternoon edged into this evening and I got ready for evening church, I was thinking about a church I’d heard of just today that would soon be calling a new pastor. Boy, it would be nice to start over, wouldn’t it? To take all the lessons I’ve learned the hard way the last five years and chuck all the bad and start over?

My daughter dogged me as I set up the room for evening worship. She was happy, and her joy kept me from sliding perilously over the edge into pure glum.

But the texting conversation continued. And kept pulling down, down down. Family is angry. And apparently the dam let loose today. It’s my fault. I embarrassed them. I alerted the whole world to all their problems. They never want to see me again and refuse to ever talk to another church.

And then it was time for worship.

Well… it helped. It gave voice to my sorrow. We got to talk some about depression, and how God comes to us in our depression. And I got to say something I often need to hear:

When we face depression, our emotions tell us that it will never, ever get better. Those emotions are wrong. Because there will be a last tear. There will be a last bullet. There will be a last time a family is shattered, a last time there is shame. And after that… there is joy. Because Jesus faced all our pain for us. Our darkness will end, because he faced darkness for us. And what comes after is only light.”

So by the time worship ended… I was ok. Not great, but ok.

But we had two guests in worship tonight. Two teen girls I’d arranged (along with other teens of both genders, but these are the two that came tonight) – two teen girls I’d arranged to come, participate in worship and then evaluate afterward over ice cream – my treat. And so we went out to DQ after everyone else had departed from the church.

And they chattered away. And told me about things they liked, things that didn’t work, suggestions…

…and it was fun. Just to listen to them talk. These are two young women I know and serve through our teen center. They laughed and giggled and told secrets as I ate my mini Blizzard. And they talked about seeing llamas today at a petting zoo.

On the way home, I played them a song by one of my favorite bands: “Let Me Be Your Llama.” And by the time I dropped them off, both of them were belting it out at the top of their lungs.

And by the time I got home… yeah. Happy.

So in my ministry, I pissed a family off. For doing the right thing. And I have suffered for it – if not “in fact,” then in my heart. I may never see them again. I pray more opportunity to serve them with the Gospel, but… well, that’s not up to me.

And then God does this. He finds two young women that delighted in tonight’s service. “I like that you asked for opinions, so we didn’t have to worry about being wrong. And then you used that to teach us about God. I like that you joke around, but then you use it to tell us about Jesus.”

And then singing about llamas at the top of their lungs.

He allows me to feel pain. He allows me to feel the cross. He allows me to suffer for serving him. And then he brings me joy from another source entirely.

Father, keep going. You told me that I must bear the cross. Teach it to me. But Lord, please, bring me your joy as well. Teach me to love those you give me, even in pain. Show me how much you love me, and grow me in trusting you. Because you know what you’re doing, even and especially as you teach me to bear the cross. Make more and ever more your servant.

Go to the Cross

Go to the cross. When stressed, go to the cross. When rejoicing, go to the cross. When despairing, go to the cross. There see your sins. There see your Savior. Go to the cross.

I visited him like I usually do. He’s in tears. He keeps swearing. He doesn’t want to do that anymore. “Why can’t I just control my mouth?”

We dig deeper. Why is he swearing?

“I’m angry a lot.”

Why is that?

“I can’t control my body the way I used to.”

And it eventually comes out… he feels like he’s not a man. He’s scared and ashamed. He feels he’s not acceptable anymore. And his anger covers that shame and fear.

Go to the cross. (more…)

Pastor, It’s Done.

“Dude, I said I wanted to talk. I don’t know what this is.”

Every Christian struggles against sin. (And in fact, if you do not struggle against sin, you are either not a Christian or very soon you will not be one if you continue!) Every Christian struggles against sin. We each have our own weakness. We fight against it. We do what we don’t want to do, and what we want to do, we don’t do!

In a moment of helpless clarity, you confess your dilemma to a good friend.

And your friend looks at you with concern in his eyes and says, “Have you ever considered just not doing that?”

Thanks.

When a friend gives advice like that, you want to belt them, don’t you? I mean, really? How does that help me?

Except… that’s what I do to myself all the time. I get depressed. What do I say to myself? “Get yourself out of this. Deal with it. You have more important things to do.”

What do I say when I mess up a meeting? “It’s ok. Pick yourself up. You’ll do better next time.”

What do I say when I bury myself in ministry and ignore my family? “Tomorrow. You can do better tomorrow. You won’t ignore them then.”

Notice the theme in all of these? It boils down to “Have you ever considered just not doing that?” It all boils down to… motivating myself with the Law.

(more…)

An Unexpected Answer

I’m not normal.

One of the ways that non-normalcy manifests is my stubborn refusal to answer, “How are you doing?” with anything but the truth. I won’t burden you with a half-hour story when you really are looking for a two-syllable answer, but I also won’t lie. How am I doing? OK. Decent. Not great. But I won’t lie and say “Fine” if I’m not.

That puts people off sometimes. When most people ask, “How are you doing?” they’re not actually asking what those words mean. They’re really acknowledging your existence and expect an acknowledgment in return. So, when I answer with anything other than “Fine” or “Good,” they get confused. I’ll be honest: I kind of relish that confusion.

That honesty causes me trouble, though. It makes me very vulnerable. People know how I’m doing just by asking. I’m not hiding behind a mask of professionalism or fake stability. (Oddly enough, being transparent in an age where people hide such problems makes the other person feel vulnerable as well.)

So this week, when a mentor asked me, “How are you doing?” and I answered, “Pretty decent,” he knew something had changed.

Something has turned. I can’t say I’ve conquered depression or anything like that – I mean, really, I haven’t done a whole lot to conquer anything other than slow down and start doing some counseling. I can say that…maybe I’m accepting things and learning to look at things differently? I don’t know. (more…)

Failure

“Pastor, I need help. I want to hurt myself. I’ve been having suicidal thoughts.”

I don’t remember a lot of the conversation. It was late. I was ready for bed when the call came in. And the second I heard what the problem is, my mind focused on that. And I prayed. Oh, I prayed.

“I’m cutting myself. I need someone to help me. Please.”

His guardian won’t take him in to get help. “It’s not that bad,” the guardian says. I want to hurt that person. They should know better.

Can I take him in? He’s a minor. I’m not a legal guardian. Can I pick him and take him to a doctor? Do I even know the place to go this late at night? Do I just stay up with him so he’s safe, and then take him in the morning?

I share Jesus. I share law and gospel. I tell him, “You’re my brother. I love you.”

“I love you, pastor,” he answers.

Tears in my eyes.

What do I do? (more…)