“May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him,
so that you may overflow with Hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
It has been two weeks since I wrote the following notation to myself after a very special counseling session:
I didn’t see it coming. After a year of Covid,
of not being able to work with Clients in the Counseling Room,
I had almost forgotten what it is like to witness
when hope dawns in a human heart. In fact, I had wondered
if God had benched me permanently from counseling
since I am now in my seventies . . . I just didn’t see it coming!
I have missed working in the Counseling Room more than I can express. I have especially missed:
- The intimacy of listening to the stories of hurting Clients, knowing that God is listening too.
- Relying on God’s Spirit to help me choose what Scripture will best minister to the heart being poured out before me.
- Praying inwardly as they read the passage to me, trusting God’s Spirit to direct the path of our conversation.
- Listening to the Client’s response to the Scripture they have read and helping them apply it to their current situation.
Most of all:
- I have missed the exhilaration experienced when God whispers . . . and I can tell that my Client heard. When I see their countenance soften and the light of hope dawns (be it ever so slightly) . . . what a humbling privilege it is to witness such a moment!
Of course, it doesn’t always happen to the extent I have just described. But even small hints of God working in the heart of a Client is the bedrock of why I love working in the Counseling Room.
I emphasize the Counseling Room because, until now, that is the place where it has been most likely to happen. In the past I have invited Clients to work in my home (when I’ve been physically incapacitated) and although good, the experience never made the same impact. In fact, I long ago concluded that it was the quiet setting of the Counseling Room that made possible the miraculous change borne by intimacy with God.
Then a few weeks ago a friend told me about Lisa.* In 2020, in the midst of Covid, Lisa was diagnosed with cancer and had gone through treatment. Then, less than two months ago, she received the shocking news that her son had died from a drug overdose. Lisa met with a grief counselor near her, but found it lacking. When she told our mutual friend she wanted counseling that included God and the Bible, my name was mentioned. My friend called and asked if I would be willing to counsel Lisa. Initially, I hesitated—more than 400 miles separate us! In my mind I wondered how the level of caring/compassion Lisa required would translate not being in the same room. (Especially during a first session when emotions tend to run especially high.) In the end I prayed and said I was willing.
With the help of our mutual friend, Lisa and I talked briefly on the phone to sort out the logistics of how we were finally going to meet. With neither of us being proficient using social media, it was an awkward beginning. We decided that we would try to meet using FaceTime. On the morning of our first attempt, after several false starts, I fought the gnawing anxiety that asked, “Is this really going to work?”
Then all of a sudden, it was as if we were in the Counseling Room and saw each other for the first time! In that moment, the miles between us seemed inconsequential as my concerns about not meeting face-to-face evaporated. As I looked at Lisa, with her short, dark hair and eyes, I could see the pain etched into her pale features before she said a word. My heart went out to her. Unsure as to how to begin–making small talk did not seem appropriate— so I did what I normally do in the Counseling Room, I prayed:
“Thank You, God, for bringing Lisa and I together this morning. Thank You for her life and for Your Presence here with us. Help me, Lord, to listen well to what Lisa has to say. Also, help me to ask questions that will not only grant me insight into understanding Lisa better, but that will also help her to clarify her understanding of her problems. In all that is said, God, give us a sensitivity to Your Spirit and Your Word as You direct the path of our conversation. Amen.”
As Lisa spoke, the tragic loss of her son was reflected by the hollowness in her voice. As she spoke, the strain of trying to make sense of this tragedy was etched on her face as she asked, “WHY? Why had this happened when he had seemed to be doing so much better?” Lisa reflected on her son’s struggle that began in his teens. As she talked, I could see that her greatest comfort was the marked change she saw in him in recent years after he had embraced Christ as Savior and Lord. Yet it was also her greatest struggle: “WHY had he been taken when he seemed to be so much better?”
Resisting the temptation to offer answers when I knew that whatever I offered could never be enough, we brought God into our conversation. I asked Lisa to read a passage found in Jeremiah 17:5-10, where God speaks to our dilemma in sorting out life’s hardest questions:
This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who draws strength from mere flesh,
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
whose confidence is in Him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.
Who can understand it?
“I the Lord search the heart
and examine the mind,
to reward each person according to their conduct,
according to what their deeds deserve.”
As Lisa read the passage aloud, I prayed, asking God to help her comprehend that, who (or what) we trust in when facing trials, impacts our lives in powerful ways. When she had finished reading, the Counseling Room was quiet until I asked, “What stands out to you after reading the passage?”
Lisa sat there, quietly re-reading what she had read and finally said, “People don’t have what I’m looking for, only God does.”
I responded with, “Yes, you’re absolutely right. God says in the passage that our choices when trying to make sense of difficulty boil down to three options.”
I went on to explain by first asking another question, “Have you ever watched the gameshow called, The Price is Right?
Lisa nodded her head affirmatively.
I then asked, “Do you remember what happens at the end of the show, when the big winner is given the choice of taking one of three doors home with them?”
Lisa nodded her head, her eyes locking with mine.
I continued, “Remember how behind one of the doors is a grand prize, behind the second door is a not-so-great but okay prize, and the third door is a booby prize?”
Again, Lisa nodded her head.
I was quiet a moment before finally saying, “God is saying through Jeremiah, that we actually have three options when it comes to dealing with tragedy. For our purposes, let’s call them doors. So, what’s the first “door”?
Lisa was thoughtful as she said quietly, “Trust in what people say.”
My response, “Right. The description of what happens when we choose to follow the thinking of the world is one of the best descriptions of depression out there: “That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.”
“So, what’s the second door?”
Lisa responded with growing confidence, “God! God blesses us when we choose to trust Him in our struggles. Like for me right now.”
Lisa suddenly was quiet again, unsure of how to answer the question she knew was coming, “And the third door? What is the choice behind the third door?”
I heard a clock ticking in my head as I waited for Lisa’s answer. Finally, she responded, “The heart?”
I laughed as I affirmed her answer and shared the response of another Client years before who said, “But I thought I was supposed to follow my heart?!!”
I went on to further explain my own experience with battling depression when run by my feelings, “When we allow our feelings to rule our perceptions, darkness is never far.” I then added softly, “However, when we choose to trust in God’s sovereign goodness when bad things happen, the light of hope always prevails.”
We both sat quietly, reflecting on what had been said and no longer aware of the distance between us. Finally, when I looked at Lisa I saw that the tension in her face had eased and I wondered, “Do I see a bit of color in Lisa’s cheeks?”
Finally, I asked her to turn in her Bible to read Romans 15:13 for me,
“May the God of Hope fill you with all joy and peace
as you trust in Him so that, you my overflow with Hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.”
I didn’t see it coming, but God had everything in place to bless our conversation with His divine presence. I don’t remember what was said from that point, but I can assure you that most certainly HOPE HAD DAWNED as Lisa prayed and then I closed, marveling in His goodness.
All to His Glory!
*Not Lisa’s real name.