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I Don’t Know What It’s Like 

By God’s grace, I have personally lived a mostly sheltered life in that I grew up in a Christian home and always have had exposure and access to godly examples. To be clear I have my fair share of inward and outward battles with sin and enduring through suffering. I’m in my thirties and have never been married and I don’t have children. That being said, I can understand the struggle a counselee can have when they come to me seeking help in their marriage, parenting, or with a specific presenting problem that I have not personally experienced. I have been told on multiple occasions by counselees, usually with great kindness, “You’re young, have never been married or had kids or been through what I’ve been through, so, I’m not sure if I should be asking for your help with this issue.” When this comes up for me in counseling, I seek to remember a few truths that help me best respond to and care for my counselee. If you have faced similar comments or sometimes wonder the same yourself, I hope the following points will encourage you.  

  1. Be Thankful for Honesty and Pursue Humility 

Instead of being defensive, I can be thankful that my counselee has been willing to be transparent about a challenge they are having in our counseling relationship (1 Peter 3:8). I want to be quick to acknowledge that I am limited in my experiences and knowledge. And the reality is even if I find myself in a similar season of life or set of circumstances, I still don’t know how my counselee is processing and going through their own situation. However, I will also gently give the example of the fact that in God’s Word we receive a lot of instruction on marriage and parenting from Paul, who was unmarried (1 Corinthians 7:1-14; Ephesians 5:22-6:1-4; Colossians 3:18-21). And I will also remind them that thankfully, our goal together will be to submit ourselves to God’s Word and not anyone’s opinion. 

  1. Be Willing to Learn from their Experience 

I will go over the fact that experience is not ultimate in my last point. But, here, I want to be sure to recognize the fact that we can learn from experience. In fact, Paul helps to warn us from turning to idolatry by reminding us of Israel’s failures in the wilderness and how we ought to also take heed, lest we fall (1 Corinthians 10:1-12). It has proven beneficial to be quick to hear and observe what common fears, thought processes, and questions might arise in various situations. Hearing stories and struggles help to give me categories of potential temptations that could be present for others. This also helps in one of the key components of building involvement in my relationship with my counselee (Proverbs 18:13). If I have found myself having similar struggles to my counselee, it can also sometimes be helpful to bring an added layer of sympathy and specific language for what they are going through. It has also allowed me to testify from firsthand experience of the sufficiency of God and His Word to grant everything that we need to proceed in a way that honors Him (2 Corinthians 1:3-7).  

  1. Only Jesus Can Fully Know and Understand 

I let counselees know that I will seek my best to ask questions and understand the nature of what they are enduring. This is important in being able to accurately minister God’s word to their hearts. However, I aim to be really careful not to claim that ‘I completely understand’ or that ‘I know exactly how you feel.’ Instead, I strive to lift their gaze to our sympathetic high priest, Jesus Christ who perfectly knows what they are going through and has matchless power to give them grace in their time of need (Hebrews 4:15-16). I find that many counselees are discouraged by the fact that people and especially the people closest to them don’t seem to understand them as deeply as they would like. While that can start off as a good desire, an important way to prevent that from becoming an idolatrous desire is to think rightly on the fact that only Jesus fully knows and understands and is our source of refuge and hope (Psalm 73:25-26). 

  1. God’s Word Reigns Over Our Experiences 

At the end of the day, we must submit ourselves to God’s Word where He gives explanation of and guidance in everything that we need (Proverbs 3:5-6). God’s Word sheds light on how to interpret and respond in any and every circumstance (Romans 12:2). Our experience is not king and does not have authority to bend the Word of God to our own preferences. Our task is to view our experiences through the lens of God’s Word in order to respond in ways that are holy and pleasing to the Lord (2 Peter 1:19). This is something we can rejoice over and find great freedom in knowing that our identity and purpose is found in Christ and not any circumstance.  

I hope these reflections and lessons I have learned in the last several years can help you properly balance the benefits and limits of your experiences and the sufficiency of Scripture in light of what you have not experienced firsthand.