Category Archives: Grief

The most damaging counseling mistakes

This could also be called, “Lessons from Ignaz Semmelweis.” He was a fascinating man. He was the first one to suggest that doctors wash their hands between patients. He was ridiculed and soundly mocked, put down, and outcast for it. Everyone knew that sickness came for spirits, bad air, bad joojoo, or God’s curse. What did handwashing have to do with it? He’s just being worldly. There’s got to be Bible verses about the evils of medicine. Isn’t it “trusting in man” or something like that?

I used to think the same way. I was taught that anything learned about counseling from a (hushed gasp) secular counselor, or, the most shocking of all, the psychologist (!) was just one step away from inviting the devil to dinner. I heard of a sermon where the pastor said that anyone who goes to a psychologist is denying Christ and the sufficiency of scripture. Stupid hand-washers!

I say this to my shame, for I used to believe and counsel the same way, and have since repented of my ungodly, unbiblical attitude.

If we will put aside our pride and listen to the voice of simplicity, and just “wash our hands” we will learn from our mistakes and quit killing the souls of those who come to us for help.

Here are the biggest mistakes we still make – soul killers – in no particular order. By the way, for you “nouthetic” people out there, each one of these mistakes is a mistake because it contradicts scripture, not because unbelievers say they are wrong. I agree with you that scripture alone is our only guide. So let’s hear what it says. So here is my list. I suspect there will be more to come.

  1. We say, “It takes two to ruin a marriage”. Or “It takes two to fight”. No. The Bible nowhere teaches this. Abel didn’t cause Cain to sin. David didn’t provoke Saul. Jesus didn’t provoke Judas. Joseph wasn’t to blame for his slavery. Stephen didn’t cause his stoning. And on and on. In fact, David said, “I am for peace, but when I speak they are for war.” (Ps. 120:7). There is a difference between David and those who sought to kill him. They wanted him dead because they “were for war”, not because “it takes two to fight.” Quit making this completely unbiblical statement. It simply isn’t true.
  2. When we hear of pornography use, we say, “Are you satisfying him in bed?” This one astounds me. Everyone listen up: Pornography and marital sexuality are as different as night and day, dark and light, good and evil. One is an expression of our one flesh intimacy, an act of love and mutual dignity and honor. The other is assault. A man who assaults doesn’t learn how to not assault by being taught to assault his wife instead. Just stop. Porn is death, murder, darkness. It isn’t “sex with the wrong person”. It is as far from the love of marriage as death is from life. Just stop. Now read Ephesians 5 again – from the beginning, not just the “submit” part. Fornicators need Christ and repentance, not a “porn-star wife”. Sheesh.
  3. (Similar to 3) We hear of a man committing adultery, and assume it is because the wife isn’t loving him enough. This comes from a horrible interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7. If you want to know what it really means, you can listen here. But, again, adultery is not simply sex with the wrong person. It is death, folly, madness – assault. The same applies, by the way, with the sexes reversed.
  4. When we hear the cry of the soul against injustices done, and we say, “You are just bitter.” Not only is this NOT the meaning of “bitter” in the scripture, the hatred of sin and the cry for justice is NOT sinful. It is what it means to be in God’s image. Jesus will not come in justice because he is bitter, but because he is just. We long for that day. We long to see our enemies destroyed, and justice reign. It is what Psalm 72 is all about. The promise of the kingdom is NOT that we should quit being “bitter” but that Christ will come with justice and righteousness in his hands. This is how we learn to put off anger, wrath and malice. Not by pretending that injustice is OK. You can learn more here.
  5. When someone is weeping, we assume that they are trying to manipulate us. Very common, but again, contrary to scripture. I am so glad that Jesus doesn’t treat us like that. Paul said to “weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15). Can someone show me the passage that says, “Beware of those who weepeth, for they are seeking to manipulate thee.”? Compassion with wisdom can only be taught by the Holy Spirit.
  6. We automatically assume that depression is a sin.  Depression is sometimes medical – an imbalance of chemicals.  Counselors, learn the signs of depression and get people to medical help if needed. But sometimes, our sighs and tears are just the proper response to living in a cursed world, far from the shores of the celestial city. We aren’t home yet, and sometimes that makes us sigh and weep.
  7. We make the same assumptions with every medical condition we don’t want to deal with. Chronic illness? Just laziness. Bipolar? Just rebellion. Adhd? Just a scam. Tourettes? Just looking for attention. They could stop if they wanted to. This one makes me want to scream at people.
  8. We assume that every problem that anyone can have can be fixed if we just find the right thing to rebuke them for.

And so we have turned into the most heartless bunch. Cruel, unkind, uncaring, fools. Heaping burdens of shame on those who come to us for help. It is no wonder that people won’t see pastors for guidance anymore. We forgot how to be compassionate. We look for the simple fix, when maybe we just need to listen, to stop and hear, to offer a kind word. Maybe point someone to Christ, who sweat great drops of blood, who was afraid,  who wept at the tomb of Lazarus – KNOWING that he was about to raise him from the dead.

Weeping doesn’t mean I don’t believe the promise; fear doesn’t mean I’m not trusting God; sadness doesn’t mean I am unthankful. These things mean I am human, just like my Lord. And he came to redeem this flesh and this blood. He suffered with every infirmity, and was without sin, to redeem me, body and soul. The day will come when every tear will be dried, but that day is not today.

So excuse me if I weep now and then. Don’t mind me if I get afraid sometimes. Don’t sing “joy, joy, joy” at me when the infirmities of the flesh are sometimes too much to bear. Yes, I know that God is good. Yes, I know that he is coming again. Yes, I know that all things work together, and so on. But right now I’m sad. If all you can say is “All things work together for good!”, then just go away.

These are some of my thoughts today. What are yours? What is the worst thing you’ve heard? It seems like I am missing some. I expect that this blog will be continued…

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Filed under counseling, Grief, Pastoral ministry

Loss and Grief

Some of you might have noticed that I haven’t published anything for a couple of months. I’ve sat down to write a few times but could think of nothing to say. I think I am grieving. It’s an unfamiliar emotion. I don’t know how to analyze it.

In our culture, we learn very quickly to not grieve, especially if you are male. Grieving itself is viewed as a weakness. I think this is changing. But I’m not sure.

I know that in my own upbringing, weeping was a sign of weakness. Big boys don’t cry.

So I’m trying on this new feeling for me. Grief. Sometimes loss is just a bit overwhelming. Sometimes I wish I could just experience what they call the “ugly cry” but I don’t think I’m able to. Too unseemly. I have too much of my father in me I guess. But I still grieve.

I am grieving for lost youth. I wasn’t ready for middle age. I wasn’t ready for old people problems. I wasn’t ready for cancer. I haven’t finished being young yet. I wish that I hadn’t squandered my youth with childishness. But now that is gone.

My fingers cramp now when I type. My knees hurt when I walk. The arthritis gets my joints when it rains. I haven’t learned the third movement of the Waldstein sonata yet. There was always a part of me that knew it would always be a little beyond my reach, but now I say goodbye to the dream. It’s a strange feeling. Some days I don’t know who I am.

I am grieving things that I cannot speak of, for they are not my stories to tell. I am grieving the missed opportunities, the lambs that have wandered, the words unspoken, the good deeds left undone.

It’s hard to explain. I don’t know if this is what grief feels like. I know what being sad is, but it isn’t really exactly like that.

It a sigh, it’s a reset of the brain. The remembrance of things past.

I think it is like this: There have been moments in life when a grand buffet table was within your grasp. You tasted it for a moment, but it was taken away before you were finished with it.

Maybe this is how the grass feels. Just when it starts to bloom, the mower cuts it down. Always growing, always becoming, always cut short.

But then I remember that God remembers that we are grass.

13 As a father pities his children, So the LORD pities those who fear Him.

14 For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass; As a flower of the field, so he flourishes.

16 For the wind passes over it, and it is gone, And its place remembers it no more.

17 But the mercy of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting (Psa 103:13-17 NKJ)

I am fading.

It wasn’t meant to be like this. I was made to live forever. But now, I fade and die.

To grieve that loss is to be human, I think. But to be a child of God is to try to remember that God knows that.

I am tired of saying goodbye. I am tired of saying goodbye to youth, goodbye to dreams, goodbye to friends, goodbye to family.

I’m tired of it. But God remembers that we are dust. And I try to remember that I will never, ever have to say goodbye to God’s mercy.

God’s mercy is from everlasting to everlasting. You don’t have to say goodbye to the one who doesn’t change.

“O thou who changest not, abide with me.”

Some days I forget to remember that God’s mercy is from everlasting. But God doesn’t ever forget.

Some days, I am in the valley of the shadow of death, and I forget to remember that God is with me. But he doesn’t forget.

He doesn’t leave me behind and forget that he has a child. He doesn’t forget his little lamb.

I think that is astounding.

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Filed under Grief, mercy, Uncategorized

Sometimes, we just need to be quiet

You might have noticed that I haven’t posted in a little while.  I have been feeling a bit under the weather, but that really doesn’t have much to do with it.
I’ve been thinking lately – sometimes I just need to stop and meditate.

When I say stop and meditate, I am not talking about what normally passes for meditation: emptying your mind, feeling one with the universe – whatever that means.  I mean it the way the Scripture means it.  David wrote, concerning the blessed man, that he was one who meditates on the law day and night.  The word that we translated “meditate” means to make a low grumbling sound, somewhat like thunder, or the purr of a great lion.
It seems like an odd word to use.  But now imagine that you are in a room of people, all studying, memorizing, reading aloud to themselves, practicing pronunciation, all of them buried in the words of the Holy Scripture.  That’s the sound it would make, wouldn’t it?  Not very many in David’s time could go to Sam’s Club and buy a bible.  They had to go to where the scrolls were and use them together.

To meditate is to sit quietly and think about a passage of scripture.  It means to be slow to speak and quick to hear.  It means that wisdom does not come by reading through a passage once or twice, but by committing it to the heart, through the eyes and ears, running it around and around in your mind.

It means to compare scripture with scripture; to pray for understanding.  It means to take out all the rot and error and ignorance in my own heart, and put the Word of God in.

Meditation in the world means to quiet yourself so you can hear your own heart; but in the Bible it means to change what is in your heart to what is in God’s word.

This can only be done if you quit arguing with God and put all of your ideas on the prisoner’s dock to be judged by the Word.

Sometimes I have to shut up enough to hear God’s word.

I had a lot to say, and I still do.  I’m letting it roll around a bit, marinating in the word.

But there is one thing that I would like to say today:  A very beloved and famous man died a tragic and lonely death this past week.

Why do we then immediately feel the need to spout off our opinions about the “sinfulness of depression”?

Why do we need to make decisions about his eternal state?

Why do we have to always try to make straight what God has made crooked?  Why do we always think that we have all the answers?

Is it necessary to make an ultimatum about what depression is or is not?  Wouldn’t it be far better to simply show the love of Jesus to those who hurt in a lost and broken world?

Why do we need to shout others down?  Do we live in such fear of our beliefs that we cannot allow any opposition?

Are we so sure that depression is always sinful?  I read a majority of the Psalms that describe depression exactly.  Are they sinning, or are the psalmists simply grieving in a broken, sinful and cursed world, and crying out to God, “How long?”

Maybe instead of launching our mostly ill-begotten opinions, all of us should grieve for a lost man in a broken world.

Maybe we should pray for his wife and family.

Maybe we should leave hard questions in the hands of God.  He is perfectly capable of doing what is right.

Maybe this is the time, instead of harping on those who struggle with depression, to reach out and say,

“It’s an ugly and broken world; but God came in the flesh, in the person of Christ, to take that curse upon himself.  He died in my place and rose from the dead, conquering sin and death and the curse forever, and someday, He will make it all right and beautiful and good and peaceful again.

“Take my hand.  I’ll walk with you through your tears, through your pain, through your sorrow, and show you the One who died for the sins of the world.  Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.”

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Filed under Grief