I’ve blogged a few times about the CCEF Living Faith conference last weekend. One of the speakers was Carl Ellis, a author who is well known in speaking on issues such as Islam, Black and Reformed theologies, racial reconciliation, and similar topics. Since the topic of the conference was about broken relationships, I expected him to talk about broken relationships in the church and between black/white communities.
Here’s the bombshell. He gave his personal story of living with a wife with bipolar disorder. And further it wasn’t a story with a happy ending. Yes, he could say that God was good and kind in the midst of his suffering. God protected him from allowing his “brute beast” (a la Psalm 73) from carrying out tempting violent thoughts. Yes, God protected his children and they are walking with the Lord. But, no, Christian counseling didn’t solve the manic-depression and his marriage ended in divorce. An no, he isn’t now happily married. Here’s the amazing thing. At a biblical counseling conference, a man gets up and talks about how christian counseling failed to understand the depth of what was going on; it had no name for for what he was experiencing. Instead it frequently offered him cliches from Ephesians 5. It was a psychiatrist, after 12 years, who gave him a name for it. Second, divorce, not reconciliation, was honestly discussed. Carl was honest about how he was handling it and how he was relieved when the marriage was over. He was honest how he nearly committed violence to try to get out of the craziness of his marriage.
He concluded with somewhat humorous words regarding the fact that he revealed his “skid marks” and that he hoped that no one would look at him as having it all together. He also reminded us that we have our “skid marks” that we try to hide. He wanted us to know we are not alone. he connected this honesty to integrity. Amazing. A well-known speaker talking about such brokenness and not covering it up. 2 years ago, he told me pieces of this story over breakfast. I saw both that the christian community had done much damage and yet I also saw that God had used these things to shape a man for real life ministry.
No one could probably hold a conference where all the speakers talk about such brokenness and failure. Who would pay to come? We like stuff all tied up with bows. We like the “happily ever after” stories. But what Carl shared with us was the real living faith: that God is in and among our failures and protecting our souls (Psalm 121–thanks Diane for reminding me of that Psalm) in the midst of our walk through the valley of the Shadow of death. While he does provide a feast (Ps 23), it may not look the way we want. The reality is that we counselors often believe that if we just try a little harder, find the right tool, we can solve every problem our clients face. What a dangerous and damaging lie we believe. Lord, come quickly and rescue us from our selves!