There are all kinds of problems people bring to the Counseling Room, some are more difficult than others. After counseling for nearly twenty years I am still grateful for some advice given me when I started my internship under my mentor Jim D. As a former Navy chaplain (and having worked in one of the Navy’s largest counseling centers on the West Coast for several years), Jim had the experience and wisdom I lacked. What Jim said was that to counsel wisely I would need to develop a solidly biblical understanding/doctrine of sin. He also lent me a book to read titled, Inside the Criminal Mind by Stanton E. Samenow, a totally secular view of the human heart bent on what God calls sin. What I found valuable in Samenow’s book was learning how the “criminal mind” takes advantage of what he perceives to be the weakness of others. Jim also talked about certain “sin patterns” that crop up in counseling such as abusive patterns that can take many forms: physical, verbal or a combination of the two, there is often deceit and/or disrespect toward the victim and can manifest a variety of control issues.
Following that piece of wisdom has helped me counsel clients who are caught in abusive relationships to implement the wisdom and direction of the Scriptures. There are times when we do everything we can to address the problem but there’s no change or even remorse evident in the abuser. What then? My answer may surprise you but it is absolutely biblical: let them go. Remove yourself as best you can to stop giving the abuser opportunity to continue sinning. One Scripture that helps illustrate the wisdom of this comes from the parable taught by Jesus about a father with two sons. The youngest son was rebellious and disrespected his father to the point where he demanded his inheritance. In Luke 15 we learn how the son further abused his father in verses 13 and 14:
“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need.”
Sometimes the only thing that will awaken an abusers hardened heart is to experience the consequences of their sinful behavior. I love the next bit of the story because I believe it wonderfully describes the moment when we have been in darkness for some time and suddenly light pours in and illumines what we were oblivious to moments before:
“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.’” (Verses 18, 19)
There is a beautiful principle here that I don’t want you to miss. When we “come to our senses” after being caught in sin before God, it behooves us to learn from the son’s example of repentance as we seek God. The truly beautiful part we want to emulate when an abuser’s heart is convicted and begins to demonstrate change, is by learning from the example of the father in verse 20:
“So the son got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Forgiveness and a willingness to love are the right and proper response to the truly repentant. Sometimes that is more easily said than done, but with God’s help something truly lovely can be made out of the darkness of our past.
Some people ask how I can stay “up” when counseling people with such problems? My answer is simple: the Scriptures, prayer, confidence in God’s faithfulness and the knowledge that this is not all there is. If I thought it were all on my shoulders I would have been sunk years ago! Instead, I think of what the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 4:
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (Verses 16-18)
All to His Glory!