Reflections on Counseling

Last week, I had my last counseling appointment.

For roughly a year, I’ve been going to counseling through the counseling center at my school. I entered nervously, uncertain of what to expect but certain that I needed help. I noticed myself becoming more isolated and distant than I could remember being. Social circles were shifting around me, stresses and emotions were stacking up inside me, and I found myself feeling disconnected and lonely and stuck. I knew there was a problem, but I couldn’t seem to fix it. I was surviving, but I wasn’t doing well.

Counseling, in many ways, was exactly the thing I needed. There, I could voice the things that weighed upon me and receive help in processing through it. I could share my fears, my anxieties, and my shame and receive encouragement and perspective. My counselor helped to put names to the things that bothered me, thereby helping me both to identify and to understand the more difficult aspects of my life. Though I’m not sure I could list all the ways God used counseling in my life, a few reflections stand out.

  1. I accept my emotions and am a bit more open about them now.
    Historically, I’ve not been very good at acknowledging my feelings. I’ll try to approach situations academically if possible, operating as if emotions shouldn’t have a say in my response. But I’m learning such an approach isn’t feasible. God created us with emotions, and life in his world requires that we come to terms with that truth. Sure, learning to accept emotions and feel them isn’t always easy. Facing difficult emotions and dealing with them can be painful. But there’s a freedom that comes with such growth, a fresh perspective on life and how God means us to live it. I’m still learning, but I’m slowly growing to allow emotions their rightful place in my life.
  2. I still struggle with my emotions.
    Therapy didn’t make life’s difficulties go away. While my counselor did a fantastic job of listening and guiding me toward a healthier mental and emotional state, she didn’t fix my problems. Instead, she reminded me that people never outgrow the growing process. We’ll always be working on something, improving in some area, finding ourselves still lacking in some respect. Growth, both spiritual and mental, is an ongoing process. But while I’m not “perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:4), I think I’m further along than I was when I started counseling. I’ve achieved some goals, seen measurable success, and have found that the difficulties that often overwhelm me aren’t quite so unique or crushing as they may feel in the moment.
  3. I love the Lord more than I once did.
    Because I’ve been unsure of my emotional intelligence for so long, I’ve tended to lean into more comfortable ways of loving God. I would think of Jesus’s instruction to love the Lord with the heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30), and I would see in that a justification for pressing into academics. If I’m not good at feelings, let me prioritize thoughts. But as I reflect on my time in counseling, I’m starting to see that Jesus’s statement isn’t a list of options. Instead, his is a call to love God wholly, bringing every aspect of the self to him in surrender. Counseling has helped me to do this better. As I’ve faced my fears and my anxieties, I’ve seen areas where my faith is weak, where what I affirm mentally isn’t reflected in how I follow Jesus practically. And as I’ve sought to bring my heart into submission to the Lord, the work has entailed a submission of my body as well as I’ve seen how my physical health influences my mental health. I’ve begun to pursue growth on all fronts, learning to love the Lord not just with my mind but with my heart, strength, and soul as well.

The work isn’t complete. I still wrestle with fear and insecurity, with anxiety and doubt, with disappointment and discouragement. I still feel overwhelmed and stuck sometimes. I’m not sure we ever escape such things this side of glory. But counseling gave me perspective and resources to respond to my emotions, and to all situations, with more faith than fear, more courage than cowardliness, and more hope than hopelessness. I thank God for counseling, and I highly recommend it. Whether you feel crushed by the weight of life or you simply want to better understand yourself and your place in this world, counseling can serve you well. I pray you take the step, and I pray God uses it mightily in your life.


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On Fasting

Fasting seems like a great idea until you feel hungry.

I’ve tried to fast more regularly over the last year or so. Jesus seems to expect it of his followers (Matthew 6:16-18), and I’ve heard many speak of it as a key part of their spiritual journey. And yet, while I’ve always understood fasting to be a spiritual discipline, I’ve tended to see it as lesser in importance than other disciplines. If I don’t devote daily time to Bible reading and prayer, I feel off. If I miss a few days of journaling, I can sometimes detect a shift in my perspective. But fasting? Sometimes fasting doesn’t even cross my mind.

So I followed a buddy’s recommendation and tried to set a time each week to practice this discipline. I placed a reminder on my phone’s calendar so I wouldn’t forget, making a choice to form a habit. And initially, I felt great.

Then I would get hungry. Or I would be invited to grab lunch with someone. Or I’d be given food of some kind. Often, the first challenge to my resolve would result in me eating, in a break of the fast. The plan that seemed so simple in theory became increasingly difficult to fulfill in practice.

Ultimately, this is to be expected. Fasting is a clear denial of the self, a deliberate choice to abstain from food in order to seek the Lord, to lay your requests before him, to abide in Christ. When you fast, you embrace temporary discomfort to press into eternal comfort, experiencing the emptiness of your stomach as you open your hands before the Lord. It’s an act of faith, of hope, and of love. And such acts aren’t always comfortable, nor should we expect them to be. Self-denial, even in small measure, may be deeply felt.

But the discomfort of self-denial teaches us. When I see how quickly I break a fast to be filled with food, I realize how deeply I depend upon what is seen and felt and how little I depend upon him who is not so immediately perceived. My failures in fasting reveal my misplaced priorities. But they also provide opportunities for growth. When I see my weakness, I learn to pray for deeper dependence upon the Lord, deeper faith in his provision, deeper love for him. I learn to seek contentment in Christ rather than in my circumstances. I learn to wait on the Lord rather than seeking the speedy fulfilment of my desires.

I’m still not good at fasting, but I want to develop the habit. I want to see more clearly my dependence on the Lord and better understand his provision. I want to grow in faith and hope and love, denying myself a meal to be more deeply satisfied in the Maker. And I pray the Lord would sanctify me in the process.


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In Whatever Situation

Have you ever been discontent with your own discontentment?

Many life experiences can bring about discontentment. Maybe it’s your job situation. You can’t seem to find a position that fits, you aren’t being compensated for the extra work you’ve been given, or you were let go in spite of hopes to continue on. Or maybe it’s your relationship status. The relationship in which you invested has come to an end, or maybe the relationship you now have doesn’t fulfill you like you’d hoped. Or maybe it’s your church. You find division where there should be unity, arrogance where there should be humility, distractions where there should be devotion. You can fill in the blank with almost anything. Discontentment isn’t rare.

A strange thing can occur in some cases, however. As time passes, you may find yourself becoming discontent with your own discontentment. You know the Lord is your provider, that he gives peace and joy in abundance. Yet you can’t seem to shake the feelings of discontentment, and you feel ashamed. You feel as if you should be past this, as if your struggle shouldn’t last so long. You feel weak for still feeling so helpless.

True, we shouldn’t grow content with discontentment. A healthy dissatisfaction with the state of mind is right and good. However, we needn’t hold ourselves to unhealthily high standards. I sometimes feel as if I ought to stifle any emotions that have overstayed their welcome, denying or overlooking any feelings that persist beyond a comfortable time frame. But such an approach is unrealistic. We progress at different paces, adjust to new seasons in various ways, and heal more slowly than we’d like sometimes. Because of this, feelings of discontentment may indeed last longer than we think they should, and such extended seasons can humble us.

Thankfully, the solution to discontentment remains the same: the power of Christ. As Paul expressed by his personal testimonies in 2 Corinthians 12 and Philippians 4, the power of Christ enabled him to face any situation with contentment, even extended suffering. In all seasons, Paul understood that the Lord was his shepherd, his provider, his protector. Faith in this truth freed Paul from looking to anything else as a source of contentment.

Finding contentment in Christ doesn’t necessarily mean seasons will pass more quickly. It won’t make life easier. You’ll still be bummed sometimes, still be hurt sometimes, still struggle to feel okay sometimes. And I think that’s part of the point. As we feel deeply the strangeness of this world, we see clearly its inability to be for us all we’d like it to be. The insufficiency of the world reminds us of the sufficiency of Christ. So look to Christ. No matter the circumstance, look up to the Savior. In your weakness, he is strong.


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Sadness is a growing thing

Sadness is a growing thing.
It is watered by frustrated plans,
fed by unfulfilled affections,
lengthened by loss.
Sadness is a subtle thing.
Unchecked, it soon can choke
life and love and laughter
as grief sours and
breeds bitterness.
Sadness is a frail thing.
It breaks open and spills out
unexpectedly
at the slightest touch.
Sadness is a fleeting thing,
a fading thing.
It is disarmed by a deeper truth,
held in perspective by purpose,
and will be redeemed
at the coming of the one
whose love was never lost.
He will wipe away every tear.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

At the End

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How many little moments will we find
Were not without significance at all
But were the subtle graces of a kind
Untarnished by the twistings of the fall?
How many hours of testing will reveal
Themselves to be the reasons for our joys?
How many wounds will show they served to heal?
How many pains upset the serpent’s ploys?
How many seasons thought to have no end
Did end one day with mercy fresh and new?
How many things seemed only to offend
But deepened both my love and faith in you?
How often is there more than eyes can see?
How little do we understand of thee.


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The Pen

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You have been used to chronicle the rise
And fall of kingdoms, showing them to be
Far frailer than what many then could see.
You lend perspective to our searching eyes,
Reminding us that, under younger skies,
Stories of fears and foes and fantasy
Appeared in fiction and biography.
You keep the record of both truth and lies.

And through mere momentary markings, you
Can capture glimpses of eternity,
Can testify to what is ever true
In ev’ry ebb and flow of history,
Can tell the tale of what one Word can do
When written in the heart of one like me.


Photo by MJ S on Unsplash