If you find yourself focusing on fixing a behavior or a problem that’s been revealed by a counselee, you would be in good company. Falling into this trap all too often, I began to seek the wisdom of God that would allow me to cease from this unhelpful and potentially damaging counsel. As trained spiritual heart surgeons, biblical counselors know the answer is not in changing the behavior, but exposing the convictions of the heart behind that behavior. We can think of it as “the why behind the what.” However, knowing these truths didn’t always play out in the counseling room. I often went into “fix-it mode” as I sought to address my counselee’s problems.
Only God Knows the Heart
In order to shed the faulty image of “fixer,” I needed to address three key elements. First, I had to confess the sin of playing the big “C” counselor instead of my true role of little “c” counselor. Instead of being a helper to the Helper, I usurped His role of revealing the thoughts and intentions of the counselee’s heart (Hebrews 4:12). Just as it is His to convict us of ungodly behavior, it stands to reason that He also is uniquely equipped to assist the contrite of heart to change. We cannot look at our counselees’ behavior and know with certainty what is motivating a heart. It has been a beautifully freeing feeling to let the Holy Spirit do what He does best.
Suffering Designed for Growth
The second error, of massive impact, was neglecting to see the benefits that suffering has in my counselee’s lives. I found that when a suffering counselee came to see me, a natural reaction was to try and rid their life of that suffering. It is vital to help our counselees see what God is up to when suffering comes knocking at their door. God’s sovereignty is easily understood when times are good, but I must help them see that God is always sovereign—even when things seem out of control. I live with this visual in my head (and share it with every counselee): our progressive sanctification is an upward sloping arrow with the end goal to look like Christ (Philippians 2:2-8). That goal is realized by the constant heat and difficulty of life, as God refines us by removing the dross from us. As we seek to please God in our responses to negative situations, we look more like Him and less like us. While this is essentially Christian Doctrine 101 to most, it was earth shattering to me when I realized that taking the suffering out of someone’s life amounts to shortcutting the sanctification process. It highlighted that I was operating under the wrong goal—to make their lives happier, rather than to make them holier.
The Gracious Discipline of the Lord
Much like neglecting to see the benefits of suffering, I also swooped in to save the day from my counselees experiencing the discipline of the Lord. It is often the case that counselees are suffering from the effects of bad decision making. Perhaps they are caught in the sin of laziness at work, which led to a job loss. This natural consequence for sin is a good gift of discipline from the Lord.
We are content to focus on the mercy and grace of God but shun His discipline like the plague. Much like a helicopter parent who hovers over a child, ensuring that no pain penetrates his protective bubble, I have inadvertently done this with counselees. Discipline from the Lord shows his love for us—“for those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines” (Hebrews 12:6) We are not to regard it lightly, nor grow faint from his reproof.
These three errors were not overt. You wouldn’t have noticed them. It wasn’t until the Lord brought me face to face with how I was dealing with difficulty in my own life, that I began to analyze what I might have been bringing into the counseling room.
I trust that the lessons I have learned will be helpful to my fellow “fixers” and will help you avoid the same pitfalls.