Tag Archives: God

Is God eternally traumatized?


The first words of Alwyn Lau’s “Saved By Trauma” essay remind us that the work of Jesus Christ on the cross is the foundation and center point for all of Christianity.§ Without the cross, there is no Christian faith.

The Christian faith is centered around the historical trauma of the suffering, death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Christian theological reflection starts from and eventually relates back to the work of Christ. Indeed, for some theologians, the resurrection points back to and affirms the cross. The apostle Paul’s declaration that the Christian pronunciation is essentially “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23) ontologically entrenches trauma, destabilization, and anxiety at the heart of kerygymatic [sic] proclamation. (p.273)

Sit with that last sentence a bit. Christianity is at its core or essence a faith wrapped up in trauma. Yes, there is an all-important resurrection, but a resurrection cannot happen without a traumatic story (false-blame, injustice, torture, abandonment, and death). If Christianity is ANYTHING, then it is a faith that takes seriously the impact of brokenness.

So then, Lau makes an important next point about what a Christian theology should provide:

Theology proffers a distinct vocabulary to talk about personal and interpersonal wounding and trauma; the Christian community approximates a traumatic community. (ibid)

Victims of trauma ought to find great comfort and help from Christian leaders and communities because they observe a community that really gets their experience, both by word and deed.

Are we that community?

Or, are we a bit more like Job’s friends? Consider Lau again,

 Job’s friends, in presenting all kinds of explanations for why Job suffered the tragedies he did, were attempting to obscure the trauma of the truth of evil in the world. Job’s disagreement–and God’s eventual vindication and endorsement of his views over against that of his friends–demonstrated resilience in the face of such tempting illusions of closure. Job refused to look away from the void in his pain. He refused to accept cheap solutions to the problem and “causes” of his suffering. (p. 274)

To become a safe community for victims of trauma, we must continue to highlight that God and trauma are put together (albeit willingly) for eternity in the abandonment and death of Jesus on the cross. In this God takes trauma (injustice, torture, and death) into his own being–no longer does it exist in creation.  Again in the words of Lau, we need a “theology of Holy Saturday” if we are going to show that “hope can be spoken of only within the context of injustice, negativity, and despair; the joy and the Lordship of Christ takes place in and through sickness, death, and sin.” (ibid)

“If God’s being cannot be comprehended without factoring in the suffering and death of Jesus Christ…” (p. 275) then consider this statement:

“If indeed God suffers in the cross of Jesus in reconciling the world to himself, then there must always be a cross in the experience of God as he deals with a world which exists over against him.” (quote of Paul Fiddes in Lau, p. 275)

God is defined by trauma. But he, unlike creation, is not weakened by this trauma. Rather, Lau encourages us to see that “the God self-revealed  and depicted in the Judeo-Christian tradition is a begin who, out of love for the created order, chose the trauma of death as a central facet of God’s self-definition.” (276) In an immeasurable act of love that had been present in God from eternity past, God chooses self-sacrifice to break the power of sin and death. And since this love is not temporal, then neither is God’s character ever without the knowledge and drive to reconcile a people to himself–even through trauma.

So what? What if we really understood God’s experience of trauma?

  1. The church would follow her head in the care of the most vulnerable even at the cost of her own comfort and safety. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through to victory.” (Matt 12:20, quote of Isaiah 42:3)
  2. The church would regularly make room for lament (individual and corporate) as acts of faithful worship. Like Thomas, we need to see the wounds that remain in the risen Christ.
  3. Hope would be illustrated in her ability to equally cry out about the “not yet” part of God’s present kingdom even while she looks for the “already” present redemption and healing. There is as much hope in Psalm 88 and Lamentation 3 as there is in Revelation 21.

 

§Lau, A. (2016). Saved by trauma: A psychoanalytical reading of the atonement. Dialog, 55, 273-281.

 

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Doctrine/Theology, Gospel, trauma, Uncategorized

Preventing spiritual abuse? Listen to that little voice plus…


Over the summer, I have been writing a few thoughts about the nature and causes of spiritual abuse. At the end of this post, you can find links to those entries. I have been doing this in concert with Carolyn Custis James over at the Whitby Forum. I heartily recommend you read her take as well. This post will give you her latest and also provide links to her previous as well. For those of you who are new to the concept of abuse, here is my definition:

Spiritual abuse is the use of faith, belief, and/or religious practices to coerce, control, or damage another for a purpose beyond the victim’s well-being (i.e., church discipline for the purpose of love of the offender need not be abuse).

Like child abuse, spiritual abuse comes in many forms. It can take the form of neglect or intentional harm of another. It can take the form of naïve manipulation or predatory “feeding on the sheep.”

With this post I want to consider two means by which we might prevent spiritual abuse (both to ourselves and to others)

Listen to that little voice inside

If you are experiencing that ping inside that says you are being mistreated…stop and listen to it. Too often, we ignore that voice inside that says something is not right. And in those settings where leaders wield significant authority, those vulnerable to abuse are most likely to believe (or be told) that their feelings can’t be trusted. This is especially true in environments where a significant portion of the community (e.g., children, women) are treated as less trustworthy.

Now, notice I said “listen” to that inner hitch in your soul. Notice I didn’t say to always “believe” your gut. Our gut isn’t any more or less accurate than any other portion of our being, and feelings may or may not be accurate. But just as we out to pay attention to fire alarms and not grow complacent, we ought also to pay attention to that voice that says something in wrong with how we are being treated.

If that voice is ringing in your ears, I suggest you find someone to talk to who doesn’t have a major stake in how you respond to that voice. Such a person will be less likely to have their own axe to grind. You don’t need someone who tries to force you to stay in an abusive situation or someone who believes all spiritual leaders are abusive giving you advice. That sort of problem only continues the manipulation.

The point of listening to your own little voice is to notice your own experiences and to take them seriously as you explore what is happening.

Other ideas

Of course, there is much more objective ideas for preventing spiritual abuse. Education is one of our best means to prevent spiritual abuse

  • Educate the entire church about servant leadership and how it opposes power grabs
  • Educate the entire church about how the Gospel opposes all forms of oppression/abuse as well as opposed the subjugation of any portion of the community
  • Become missional (joining what God is doing in the world, opposed to focusing only on our own mission)
  • Teach leaders to listen as much as they exhort
  • Teach congregants to be Berean with everything that they are learning–to search the Scriptures to see if what is being taught is in accord with the whole of Scripture
  • Teach the congregation that deception and cover-up of abuses by Shepherds never pleases God

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Doctrine/Theology, Evangelicals, Missional Church

Belief System Supports for Spiritual Abuse


We continue our survey of some of the issues regarding spiritual abuse. You can see these links at the end of this post for prior blogs and also check out Carolyn Custis James’ thoughts on the same topic: www.whitbyforum.com. In this post I want to consider some of the beliefs that may support the ongoing presence of spiritual abuse among people of faith.

Beliefs of those who abuse

In my recent trip to Rwanda, we got into a discussion with some Rwandans about husbands and wives and the “right” husbands had to demand sex. In Rwanda, the groom pays a dowry for his bride. He pays it to her family. They set a price of “cows” that she is worth. This is an old custom but one that continues even in modern Rwanda where the “cows” are kept at the bank. In some people’s minds, a man has a right to demand sex at any time because he paid for her. She is property. Sure, he treats her as a prized possession but still, he has the right to have sex whenever he wants. Here, you can see, is a considerable belief system held by those in power about their right to use others. Does something similar exist in evangelical Christianity that enables a person in power to abuse another using spiritual tactics?

  1. The leader should not be questioned. He is ordained by God and therefore speaks for God. While evangelicals and fundamentalists are not papists, they appear to maintain a similar belief that ordination means the leader speaks for truth and for God. And if someone should bring a charge against a leader, it will not be entertained without multiple witnesses. Too bad that most abuse takes place in private, without witnesses. A corollary to this belief is that when a leader abuses a less valued person in the community, it is likely the less valued person’s fault for the abuse.
  2. Important rules must be fenced/protected. The bible speaks against divorce but not in all cases. Thus, we should protect against the abuse of divorce by refusing biblical divorces for those who have the right to them and demanding reconciliation. The bible indicates ordination of men (this is how it is read in many circles). So, in order to protect against women teaching or preaching, we won’t let them have any leadership outside of Sunday School for children. Fencing the law is legitimated in order to protect against the appearance of wrongdoing.
  3. The organization is more important than the individual. If one person does bring a credible charge against leader(s), some orgs will attempt to restore the leader and push the victim on to another church.
  4. Chronic weaknesses (e.g., mental illness) are signs of spiritual flaws and are deserving of rebuke. If a parishioner struggles with chronic anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder, some leaders are prone to make it clear that the primary problem is not mental illness but a lack of faith and obedience. And in light of this ongoing rebellion, the person with mental illness (and their family) are not given the same kind of care as those with physical weaknesses.
  5. Thinking is less biased than feeling. When an allegation of abuse is brought against a leader, the merits of the case are sometimes decided in favor of the leader’s logic and against the victim’s emotional arguments. It is assumed that cognitions are less impaired by sin nature than feelings/emotions. Similar to this belief is the one that says that men are more logical and accurate than women or children.

Those who are abused also maintain many of these same belief system. They feel that they are not in a position to know truth, that their feelings are distorted more than others, that their needs do not merit help, that the preservation of the institution is more important, and that they are the cause of the problems they experience.

What other beliefs have you noticed that support the acceptance and continuation of spiritual abuse?

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Doctrine/Theology, Uncategorized

What factors support the use of spiritual abuse?


Carolyn Custis James, over at www.whitbyforum.com, has been discussing spiritual abuse, its causes and what we can do to be aware and avoid it. If you have been manipulated by another using spiritual themes and concepts, you likely wondered, “How did this happen? How did I get myself into this position?” While these are good questions, they rarely satisfy since abuse cannot make sense!

Nonetheless, it is good to consider some of the factors that support spiritual abuse (or any other forms of abuse for that matter). For abuse to grow beyond a “one of” event into a pattern a few things need to be in place. Consider the following list and use the questions as the basis for ongoing discussion in your own church.

  • Leadership that uses autocratic power to achieve its ends. A good organization must have strong leadership, clear goals/objectives, and vision casting to achieve its ends. A leader who allows underlings to do whatever they want is not a good leader. However, it is all to common in some circles to see leaders who try to achieve good ends via autocratic methods. They believe that their methods are good because the goal is good. Individuals in an autocratic system do not matter as much as outcomes. They are expendable. In addition, since the visionary knows best, then decisions must always emanate from the top. Freedom for the masses to make decisions cannot be tolerated. Spiritual abuse will flourish in such a setting since a spiritual goal will seem to trump the needs of an individual.

Important question: Why are some leaders attracted to authoritarianism?

  • Protection/honor of leader is elevated over servant leadership. Far too frequently, we engage in leader worship. Someone with charisma, talent and a history of success may find it tempting to assume that anyone questioning their motives and methods must be a hindrance to the vision. In addition, these leaders may be tempted to believe the press clippings about their value and so cease examining personal motives and desires. The inner circle near the leader often feels special because of their relationship to the famous leader. These become militant against those who question the leader since the inner circle only has power when the leader maintains total power. When keeping power becomes the top priority, spiritual abuse will thrive.

Important questions: What theological errors do we make when we promote charisma over servant leadership? What personality features are most prevalent in those who seek a group of yes men and women?

  • A culture of silence about conflicts: silence about what happens to you and what you see happening to others. Any institution or church will have individuals who sin against others and who cloak that sin in spiritual language. It is a given among fallen people. But, a culture of silence is needed in order for spiritual abuse to flourish. Those who experience such sins feel they ought not or cannot speak up. Those who witness spiritual abuse feel the same. The root of this culture of silence may be fear of reprisal or rejection or the misguided belief that the ends justifies overlooking abuse. I once heard a teen explain why she did not speak up about the sexual abuse she received from a senior pastor. She felt that to do so would interfere with the work of evangelism since so many were coming to Christ under his preaching.

Important question: When you experience/see spiritual abuse, what are some of the reasons why you might remain silent? Conversely, what might enable you to speak up with courage?

  • Groupthink caused by discouraging diverse thoughts and identities. The above facets conspire to produce homogenous power structures, decision-making made by a few who think alike. This creates groupthink. Those in power think alike, act alike. Those who think outside the box, who look like an outsider, who are willing to hear and respond well to internal and external criticism often are not allowed in the inner circle. In the church, this primarily means that those of the female gender and those who might not hold cherished but peripheral doctrines have no voice. When you have no voice, you are more likely to be the subject of spiritual abuse–to take one for the team. Consider this example: a male leader of the church is accused of a long pattern of verbal abuse of his wife. The wife speaks up about the problem and asks for others to intervene. The church convenes a care team of 4 other (male) leaders who hear her complaint. When they speak to the husband, he doesn’t deny the verbal abuse but he argues that she has been withholding sex because of unforgiveness from his past porn use. If she would stop withholding sex, he would be less likely to call her names. The men have heard of other women who withhold sex just because their husbands looked at porn a time or two. They are concerned that the wife is failing to live in submission to her husband. They meet with her to remind her of her wifely duties (1 Cor 7) but fail to consider the husband’s coercive behaviors as destructive to the marriage. No one thought to ask about ongoing porn use. In this case, the lack of women on the care team eliminates the voice that might see and acknowledge the impact of verbal abuse and porn use on sexual intimacy. The men are not wholly insensitive to this matter but may find themselves more worried about their own needs/desires than the woman’s need for protection. Or consider one other illustration: a Black man complains that other parishioners are making racializing comments that hurt. The White leadership hears his complaint but assumes he’s too sensitive and has a chip on his shoulder. They speak to him about the need to be understanding and that being an angry Black man doesn’t help his cause. Because leadership does not have experience in being a minority, they fail to care for one of their own and to walk in his shoes. Their use of spiritual categories is not only naive but potentially abusive.

Important question: What are some of the foundations encouraging the formation of groupthink?

I am sure that there are other factors that support spiritual abuse in the church. I imagine all of these points can be boiled down into one factor: CONTROL. The desire for it. The fear of losing it. The belief that we must protect our power and institution and should use all means to do so.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, church and culture, Relationships, Uncategorized

Spiritual Abuse: What it is and Why it Hurts


In 21st century United States, does spiritual abuse really happen? Can’t we all just choose churches where we feel safe? No one makes us (adults) go to church so shouldn’t spiritual abuse be nonexistent in this day—or at least happen only once (e.g., fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…)?

Sadly, spiritual abuse happens in all sorts of churches and for all sorts of reasons.

What is spiritual abuse?

Spiritual abuse is the use of faith, belief, and/or religious practices to coerce, control, or damage another for a purpose beyond the victim’s well-being (i.e., church discipline for the purpose of love of the offender need not be abuse).

Like child abuse, spiritual abuse comes in many forms. It can take the form of neglect or intentional harm of another. It can take the form of naïve manipulation or predatory “feeding on the sheep.” Consider some of these examples:

  1. Refusing to provide pastoral care to women on the basis of gender alone
  2. Coercing reconciliation of victim to offender
  3. Dictating basic decisions (marriage, home ownership, jobs, giving practices, etc.)
  4. Binding conscience on matters that are in the realm of Christian freedom
  5. Using threats to maintain control of another
  6. Using deceptive language to coerce into sexual activity
  7. Denying the right to divorce despite having grounds to do so

For a short review, consider Mary DeMuth’s 2011 post on spotting spiritual abuse.

Why it is so harmful

If someone demands your wallet, you may give it but you do not think they have a right to it. You have no doubt that an injustice has occurred. You have been robbed! When someone abuses, it is a robbery but often wrapped up in a deceptive package to make the victim feel as if the robbery was actually a gift. Spiritual abuse almost always is couched in several layers of deception. Here’s a few of those layers:

  1. Speaking falsely for God. Spiritual leaders or shepherds abuse most frequently by presenting their words as if they were the words of God himself. They may not say “Thus sayeth the Lord” in so many ways but they speak with authority. When leaders fail to communicate God’s words and attitudes, they are called false teachers and prophets. Some of these false words include squelching dissent and concern in the name of “unity.”
  2. Over-emphasizing one doctrinal point while minimizing another. Consider the example of Paul, “Follow my example as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). In three other places in the NT, Paul says similar phrases. The application is that our leaders are to exemplify the character of Christ. Sadly, it is easy to turn this into, “do what I want you to do.” Paul does not say to imitate him. He says to imitate him when he imitates Christ. There are other examples as well: forcing forgiveness, demanding victims of abuse to confront their abusers in private so that they will meet the letter of Matthew 18.
  3. Good ends justifying means. It is a sad fact that many victims of other kinds of abuse have been asked to be silent for the sake of community comfort. Indeed, community comfort is important. But forcing a victim of abuse to be silent and to forego seeking justice is a form of spiritual abuse.
  4. Pretending to provide pastoral care. I have talked with several pastors who crossed into sexual behavior with those they have been charged to counsel. All too commonly, the pastor deceived self and other into thinking that the special attention given to the parishioner was love and compassion. In fact, their actions were always self-serving. However, the layer of deception made it feel (to both parties) like love in the beginning stages.

The reason why spiritual abuse hurts so much is that it always fosters confusion, self-doubt, and shame. This recipe encourages isolation, self-hatred, and questioning of God. When shepherds abuse, the sheep are scattered and confused. They no longer discern the voice of the true Shepherd.

This is exactly why the Old Testament and New Testament speak in such harsh terms against abusive and neglectful Shepherd: Ezekiel 34:2; Jeremiah 50:6; John 10:9. Words like, “woe to you…” and “you blind guides…” reveal that spiritual abuse for any reason is destructive and is not of God. And it gets no harsher than, “better than a millstone be tied to your neck and thrown into the sea” to illustrate the depth of evil in harming vulnerable people.

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, Doctrine/Theology, Evangelicals, pastors and pastoring

Global Trauma Recovery Intensive: Day 1


20 students along with myself and Dr. Diane Langberg just finished a 3 day marathon together at Biblical’s Hatfield campus. This inaugural cohort has been studying together via our e-campus since January. We’ve read books, articles, watched slides shows, and discussed a wide variety of topics (e.g., the psychological, social, spiritual, biological impact of trauma, shame, culture, strengths-based listening skills, and faith and psychological intervention strategies). At this meeting, we continued to consider how to listen andGTRI - First Graduating Class respond to traumatized individuals in places other than our own.

Morning Session: Romania

Our morning consisted of a live engagement (thank you Google Hangout!) with mental health practitioners in Romania. Dr. Ileana Radu and Stefana Racorean hosted the meeting. The Romanian contingent consisted of mental health therapists, psychiatrists, and Christian leaders. As part of their conference, they took time out to ask us questions about trauma, trauma recovery interventions, and integration of psychology and Christian faith practices. In return, we asked them about the mental health scene in Romania, the most common forms of trauma and intervention models in their practices. From our conversations, it appears that they experience a significant divide between secular mental health models or “bible only or prayer only” models.

The conversation bolstered our students understanding of Romanian culture and put a human face to what they had read about regarding torture trauma resulting from pre-revolution days in that country. In addition, students had the opportunity to discuss a couple of PTSD cases written up by mental health practitioners in the conference.

The entire conversation and connection (bridge, according to our new Romanian friends) was the result of Dr. Langberg’s inability to travel to Romania in April. She was to be their keynote speaker but due to the death of her mother, she was unable to attend. The conference was rescheduled and Dr. Langberg spoke via SKYPE and previously recorded DVDs.

Afternoon Session: North Philadelphia

Elizabeth Hernandez, executive director and founder of Place of Refuge, led our afternoon session by giGTRI - appendix photoving us a window into the trauma work going in North Philadelphia among the latino population. She shared with us some of the groundbreaking work they are doing with low-income population who have experienced many traumas. The class also engaged around the matter of syncretism (Catholic faith practices mixed with witchcraft and other superstitions) and how faith-based counseling services are delivered.

We ended the day with some brief use of video to “listen” to trauma stories in Eastern Europe and the US. After these engagements, we had our students explore writing their own laments as means to connect with God and concluded with a corporate lament. The purpose of lament is to confess (one’s own sin or the sins of others!), converse with God and others, question God about what we see that is not the way it is supposed to be, and by questioning acknowledge hope in God that he is in the process of redeeming and rescuing a broken world. Lament is not a tool to get better but to connect to each other and to talk to God about our suffering.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Seminary, christian counseling, christian psychology, counseling, counseling skills, Diane Langberg, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, trauma, Uncategorized

Protecting Desire in an Age of Gluttony


[These thoughts on living with unfulfilled desire were first published here back on October 20, 2006. Since I am teaching on addictions and the need to protect (no slake nor deny) desire this week, I thought I might resurrect this introduction to a short series on the topic of protecting desire. To read the remaining posts, follow the links at the bottom of the post.]

I have a confession to make: desire, not cotton, is the fabric of my life. I crave foods, comfortable living, excitement, time with my wife without interruptions, sex, prestige, freedom from illicit temptations (or is it freedom to indulge without penalty?), free time, obedient children, and employment that doesn’t seem like work. Satisfaction is the name of my game. And with 4 decades of experience in achieving at least partial satisfaction, I still find it ever elusive, never lasting more than a moment in time. Even when I get what I want, it’s never enough. Continue reading

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When all you see is brokenness…what then? A thought from Jeremiah 29


As a counselor and a Christian it is easy to see that the world is breaking. Suicides. Shootings. Affairs. Cancer. Addiction. Corporate Greed. Abuse. In addition, we hear about

  • Christian leaders who either perpetrate abuse or fail to protect when they hear of it
  • rampant immorality
  • political corruption

When we face these kinds of things, it is easy to fall into one of two unhelpful patterns. For some of us, we fight. We try harder. We attack others with sarcasm. We lay blame at the feet of others. While fighting harder to correct injustice is a good thing; while pointing out blame where it should lie is not a bad thing, the pattern of fighting may reveal a dangerous value system: if I can control my little corner of the world, things will get better. Sometimes this is true but most of the time, the “getting better” motif is an illusion. The wrong kind of fighting usually leads to embitterment.

Others of us choose a pattern of giving up.We stop trying to make a difference because it won’t. We turn down the volume on suffering. We avoid others who are obviously suffering. We move towards embittered discontentment. Now, it is not wrong to turn off the 24/7 “news” and to not read up on every tragedy. It is good not to fill our brains only with brokenness. But, giving up can sometimes lead to lamenting that the “good ole days” were better.

Enter the Prophet Jeremiah

In chapter 29, he writes to those who are experiencing brokenness. Israel is no more. A mass of Jews have been carried off into captivity. They live in a land that is not theirs as foreigners and likely without rights, privilege or land. They have lost connection with the promised land, with family, with language, with custom. Around them would be idol worshippers and a society not built on the Torah. There are some individuals who have been prophesying that in 3 years they will return home to Israel in triumph.

Jeremiah says, “Not so fast. No, you guys will die in captivity.” Well, no, he doesn’t exactly say that. He says it will be 70 years and then you (meaning your children and/or grandchildren) will get to return to the Land.

Nice. Jeremiah responds to their suffering and says, “Yup, it’s bad. And it is going to stay that way.”

But read on because he tells them God has a message for them to hear: (in Phil’s loose translation)

Obey me [the Lord, not Jeremiah]. Because I love you dearly, I will protect your soul. I will be blessing you even though there are dire consequences happening to you. Here’s what I want you to do:

  1. Look for the blessings I am sending you NOW. Don’t overlook them. They are really there for you to find.
  2. Live holy lives, not out of fear, but in confidence that I am keeping my promises to raise of a kingdom for my people.
  3. Live. Don’t put your life on hold. Build houses. Plant gardens. Harvest. Marry. Have kids. Help your kids get married. Enjoy your grandchildren. Be present and rooted where you are at. Live. Enjoy it.

Notice that to live, you have to move, act, have impact, even as you are accepting that you cannot avoid the consequences of living in a fallen world. I think this can be helpful for us in a season of much brokenness. Without denying the suffering that is everywhere, we can also choose to notice the little and the big blessings. We can simplify our lives to, “What do you want me to do today?” We can be mindful of the small activities of life. The grocery store is drudgery. Laundry is never-ending. And yet, we have the opportunity to act in our world and to pray for the peace of the city (as Jeremiah gives encouragement to do).

Maybe your joy is pretty tiny these days. That is okay. Just find it and savor it as a gift from God for the few minutes you have. Not all is broken. In a few days, hours, years, God will indeed put all to rights. Every heartache will become untrue. Still, even now, hang on to the signs of life and growth.

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Depression, Despair, Meditations, suffering

The Five Minute Antidote for Anxiety


I’m an anxious person by trait. It is a common trait, especially in graduate school (in combination with narcissism. I say this also in self-disclosure; both features support successful completion of doctoral studies). Anxious people tend to spend considerable time ruminating through “What if…” questions along with should, coulda, woulda thinking. We worry about our past failures coming to light and whether we’ll be up to the challenge the future presents.

Sound pretty negative way to live? It is. The only way we differ from depressed people is that we still have some thought that our worry might save us from disaster. As you can imagine, such worry robs us of joy. It keeps us from enjoying the present or seeing God’s gracious hand on our lives. And we compound our problems by then shaming ourselves for failing to follow God’s command, “Do not be afraid.”

The Five Minute Antidote

Part of the problem with anxiety is that we are trying to control/manage every possible outcome in order to avoid future disaster(s). Fearful people know that the answer to their anxiety will not include,

  • Just not caring anymore. We’ve tried that…it doesn’t work.
  • Making sure we get it RIGHT. Tried that too. Didn’t work.

So, what might work? Try this on for size,

What is God’s plan for me for the next five minutes?

Most of us have no clue what God is planning for us next year or even next week. But, I suspect most of us can discern what we need to do right now…for the next five minutes,

  • I need to make dinner
  • I need to read this assignment for school
  • I need to attend to my child’s homework
  • I can call a friend who is grieving

We usually know the one thing we can do for the next five minutes. Do that with as much focus as you can. Here’s what you are likely to discover: your anxiety decreases, or at least does not increase. When we stop the ruminations or internal conversations, our anxieties decrease and our ability to be present increases. So, when you find yourself in an anxious stew, try to ask yourself, What is one thing I can do for the next five minutes or What does God want me to do for the next five minutes? Consider this your method of living out Psalm 131, where you are are stilled and quieted like a weaned child, content with what He has for you for the next five minutes.

Oh, did you think this will solve all your anxiety problems? No, of course not. But where God does give you something to focus your attention, call that a success. Part of the Christian life is repetition–repeated worship, repeated repentance, repeated obedience, repeated trust. So, do pray for God to remove your “thorn” but look for five minute relief. Notice when it works and then ask God for another five minute focus on the thing he has for you RIGHT NOW.

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Filed under Anxiety, biblical counseling, christian counseling, counseling

Is All Counseling Theological?


Why do we have to study theology? I don’t need that to be a good counselor?

These are words I have heard from students studying counseling and/or psychology in both university settings and seminaries. What would you say?

Biblical and theological training in professional programs?

Most Christian institutions offering counseling or psychology graduate programs require some level of theological engagement. Otherwise, why exist? Some do so via specific course work while others embed the theological or biblical material into classic counseling courses. At Biblical, we do both. We require traditional counseling courses such as Marriage & Family, Helping Relationships, Psychopathology, Social & Cultural Foundations, etc. In these courses we explore counseling theory and practice from an evangelical Christian psychology perspective. We also require students to complete courses like, “Counseling & the Biblical Text” and “Counseling & Theology: Cultural Issues” where they engage biblical texts and theological study as they consider how it forms counseling theory/practice and shapes the character of the counselor.

Is all counseling theological?

Yes. And David Powlison in the most recent CCEF NOW magazine (2-4) talks about this very fact. Here are some choice tidbits,

…counselors deal with your story. In fact, they become players in that story. By word and deed, even by their line of questioning, they inevitably offer some form of editing or rescripting, some reinterpretation of your story.

Counseling is inescapably a moral and theological matter. To pretend otherwise is to be naive, deceived, or duplicitous.

…all counseling uncovers and edits personal stories…. All counseling must and does deal with questions of true and false, good and evil, right and wrong, value and stigma, glory and shame, justification and guilt.

All counseling explicitly or implicitly deals with questions of redemption, faith, identity, and meaning.

Thus, if value-free counseling is not possible (the very questions we ask lead clients in one direction or another), then it stands to reason that every counselor ought to explore the theologies (doctrines, interpretations, beliefs, etc.) he or she brings into the counseling room. Who is God? How does God operate? What is the purpose of the Bible? Does it have anything to say about my life, my attitudes, my relationships? What is sin? What is my purpose in life? What does God think about my suffering? And on we could go.

But counseling is NOT theologizing

But lest you think that Christian counselors spend a great deal of time plying clients with the right answers, on sin hunts, or catechising clients, let us remember that exhortation rarely makes for good counseling. In fact, most clients are well aware of their sins–even those who do not call themselves “believers.” And those who have correct theology are not less likely to have trouble in their relationships or less likely to struggle with racing thoughts or depression or less likely to get caught in addictive behavior.

Instead, good christian counseling consists mainly of,

  1. loads of stimulating questions designed not to get the “right” answer but to awaken the client to how they think, act, believe, relate, etc.
  2. Short observations to stimulate more critical understanding of the personal narratives being written, and
  3. Collegial exploration and practice of new narratives, perceptions, and behaviors.

Wait, just what is Christian about these three points? Couldn’t unbelieving counselors agree with this list? Sure they could. What makes these three activities Christian is the submission of both counselor and client to core convictions and practices of Christ followers.

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