Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Donut Metaphor


Last week I talked about the barriers that exist when it comes to living in the Spirit. One of those barriers is sometimes not knowing our values or not being clear about them. Here’s a metaphor I like to use to illustrate this point:

Let’s say I have a goal, I want to lose ten pounds. And maybe I really want to lose it, I have a wedding coming up or some summer shorts I want to fit into. But then you come into my office and bring me my favorite donut (substitute your favorite food!) Here’s the thing: the donut is guaranteed. It looks good, it smells good, I know it’s going to taste good. Plus it’s right here – immediate gratification! There’s only one reason I would ever refuse the donut in favor of my weight loss goal – and that is if my long term weight loss goal is so “tasty”, so available, so immediate that it’s like choosing between two available treats – and then I can choose the healthier option.

A lot of my work with clients involves clarifying their values. If you aren’t clear on what you’re moving toward, you’re going to take your eyes off your goals every time – in fact, it’s hard to even make and clarify goals if you don’t have a value system to base them on. So if, for instance, kindness isn’t a value that is clear and salient to you, you’re going to go for that pleasure that comes with lobbing a word grenade at someone in an argument – every time. Often when I ask a client “what are your values?” there’s a long pause and then they say something like “to be kind?” or “to love people?” That’s like asking an entrepreneur what his business vision is and having him say “um, to make money?” If you don’t have a very clear and significant vision of where you’re going, how would you ever hope to get there?

Sadly, in my experience I’ve found that we in the Church are no better at having defined values than anyone else – and we should, shouldn’t we? For an entire body of people whose lifestyle is based around the values laid down by the One we claim to follow – Jesus – we sure have a pretty vague sense of where we’re going sometimes. Paul said in his letter to the Philippians (3:13-14), “Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (NIV) Paul knew that it’s better to go toward something than away from something.

If you find yourself constantly doing something you wish you wouldn’t do (like lying, watching porn or eating) – or not doing something you know you should do (working out, eating healthy), you might have a problem with vague values. You may be getting distracted by the immediate tug because what you really value is too far out of reach, too hypothetical. What you don’t want to do is readily available, and what you want to do is too much of a “Sunday sermon” and not enough of a daily reality.

 What are your values? Were they given to you by your parents or your church, or are they yours? Can you taste them? Or do you take the donut every time?

PRACTICE: If you feel like you do not have very well defined values or a very clear “life vision”, take some time in a quiet place to imagine that it’s years from now, and you have passed away. Somehow, you have the opportunity to be present at your own funeral and hear the words your loved ones are speaking. If you have lived your ideal life, what are they saying? What kinds of examples are they giving of how you lived this out? If you spend enough time really visualizing this scenario, you will have a better idea about what your values really are, and how that would look right now, today.

*Read my comment(s). My dear friend has agreed to give her non-therapist view of my crazy ideas to get the conversation started.  Jump in!*

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I Want To, But I Can’t

“What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what’s best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary…..I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.” Romans 7: 15-20 Message version

What we have here is Paul’s assessment of the human condition when we try living rightly without God’s Spirit. Paul, who glimpsed heaven and is one of the most admired Jesus followers, faced this bitter dilemma within his own human nature. He did what he didn’t want to do, and didn’t do the things he wanted to do. And can’t we relate? What are we to make of this though? If Paul knew his nature to be capable of this, how can we ever hope to gain control of our human nature?

Paul’s solution is Jesus, of course. Paul’s point is that we can’t resolve it with rules, but only by relying on the Spirit. Later in the chapter he says: “Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.” (verses 24-25 MSG). Of course, we know that Jesus is the answer. One day, we will be changed in the blink of an eye, and we will no longer be a slave to these competing desires. And Jesus helps us now, too, in that loving Him changes us and changes our values – Romans 8 is an exposition on how we can have victory through the Spirit.

And yet, here we are. As long as we are in these bodies, we are going to experience this paradox that Paul faced – even though we so often pretend we don’t. It’s true that we can have success in right living when we live our life connected to God’s Spirit, but so often when someone is struggling with sin, we say something that sounds like “you just need more of Jesus”. And that’s totally true – and yet if someone is struggling, it’s often because there is a barrier in their lives that thwarts their ability to live rightly. When we say “you need more Jesus” we imply that they just aren’t trying hard enough or there is something wrong with them because they can’t access the Spirit in their struggle. There may be real and complex reasons why a barrier exists.

I think counseling can help us with this, and I personally believe that exploring this human compulsion can be both sanctioned and directed by God’s Spirit in cooperation with a competent counselor. I think it’s helpful to explore why I do the things I don’t want to do. Let’s take a man who was told by his father he’d never amount to anything. So now he’s caught in a gambling addiction and he doesn’t understand his compulsion to do the thing he despises. It’s partly true that we’re prone to addiction because of our human condition. But it’s also true that in counseling he might discover that his drive to “amount to something” compels him to try to make money in any way possible to prove his father wrong. The problem might not actually be that he doesn’t love Jesus enough, or isn’t trying hard enough, but that the beliefs he’s been given drown out who he really is, and who he could be in connection with God’s Spirit.

Do you do things you don’t want to do? Or find yourself unable to do the things you know you need to do? I would encourage you to explore these things in the office of a professional counselor, who can help you unwind the messages you’ve been given throughout your life; who can help you cling to truth and discard fear and doubt. Will you still struggle until the day Jesus returns? Yes, you sure will. But what if you could struggle less?

*Read my comment(s). My dear friend has agreed to give her non-therapist view of my crazy ideas to get the conversation started.  Jump in!*

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Thoughts on Unity

I know, this is a blog about counseling – hang with me, and I’ll circle back. Because of how the inception of this blog happened, I feel like unity is a good topic to begin (again) with.

I grew up in a church that believed in unity – we believed in unity so much that we sometimes sacrificed truth to attain unity. In this legalistic group, we dressed the same, we looked the same, we talked the same and we all held the same values (except we secretly didn’t). So unity is a tough topic for me. The overarching message of my life has been “shut your mouth to preserve the unity”.

So I like to flippantly say “unity is not one of my values” – or at least that it falls way below telling the truth and standing true to my beliefs. I love the fact that we do not all look or sound the same at my church. I love the variety and color of the Body of Christ. I think any healthy church will be a cross-section of such a variety.

But of course, unity is one of my values, and must be, because it was important enough for Christ to expound upon on the evening of his death. But what does it mean that we all “be One”? How can my toe and my ear be one just because they are in one body? What exactly were Jesus’ own values about unity? He certainly did not believe in biting his tongue to preserve the peace or avoid conflict. He didn’t sugarcoat the truth in order to keep from hurting anyone’s feelings. But those who truly encountered him didn’t think “rabble-rouser” – they thought “love”.

But – and here’s where the counseling part comes back in – when we equate unity with the idea that in order to fit in – in order to be perceived as appropriately Christian – I have to say what everyone else is saying and be where everyone else is on the journey, I think we cause a great deal of unnecessary pain in the church.  In this environment it is an easy next step to “I have to hide my true self”.  If someone leaves a service thinking “everyone else has got this and I’m just messed up” then our incorrect view of unity – that we all have to be alike – has caused even further division.   Unity doesn’t mean we all have to agree on everything. There are many, many issues where two Christians can differ – read Romans 14 (preferably in The Message version) for context.

Folks, unity is love. It’s not feeling the same about issues. It’s not looking the same, or having the same jargon. It’s love. One place where you can find unconditional love that leads to healing is in the counseling office of a solid therapist – someone who can hear you and see you without any judgment or opinion about who you should be, but appreciate you for who you are and who you can become. Another place you could find it is in the Church, if we would all just drop the judgment and arm ourselves with love.

*Read my comment(s). My dear friend has agreed to give her non-therapist view of my crazy ideas to get the conversation started.  Jump in!*


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