I was touched by the calmness of her demeanor as Lisa appeared on my laptop screen.* Had it been just a month since I agreed to counsel her online? When first approached by a mutual friend about helping Lisa, my hesitancy went far deeper than the 400+ miles that separated us. I was hesitant because in the 25 years I had counseled clients, the best results were invariably connected to work done in the Counseling Room–otherwise known as my office. Located on the 2nd floor of my church, the space when I put materials together, returned phone calls or wrote reports was my office. However, when working with Clients and praying with them, the room became a space that was far richer; it was then that my office became, “the Counseling Room.” I finally agreed to. counsel Lisa despite my doubts, because her story so tugged at my heart; and I am so glad that I did!
When I asked how she had been doing since our last meeting–this was our third session–Lisa responded with a wry smile and a shrug of her shoulders as she replied, “Up and down.”
Nodding my head to assure her that I understood her struggle to “re-enter life” without her son, I began our session with prayer. As I thanked God for meeting with us, I also thanked Him for Lisa’s life and asked Him to direct the path of our conversation. In that moment it was as if we were transported into the intimacy and safety of the Counseling Room—just the three of us–despite the 400+ miles that separated us!
Lisa she shared her thoughts as to why her daily living continued to be, “up and down.” as I watched and listened. She stated that the discipline of doing her Journey Notes* had been a definite help in finding peace as she got closer to God. However, she admitted that she struggled most when well-meaning friends asked her how she was doing overall. Lisa stated that she knew they asked because they cared, but in those moments she felt obliged to go back down “some of the old paths” that fed her depression. As she fidgeted with her fingers, Lisa admitted that at those times. it seemed easier to isolate herself from friends rather than risk re-entering the paths she wanted to avoid.
while still walking through the valley in missing her son,
her goal had become quite simple,
to separate herself from well-meaning friends as she
carved out a new path with God in the lead.
It was then that I responded with an idea that popped into my head in that moment, it was a thought I knew did not originate from me:* “Rather than avoid your friends, why not change the trajectory of your conversations with them?”
Lisa looked at me questioningly as I continued, “Why not minister to your friends by asking them to name three things they’re thankful to God for right then? Tell them how doing your three daily praises have been helpful, share your three as you encourage them to do the same. I guarantee, Lisa, you will bless your friends as you take the focus off of yourself.”
Lisa sat there quietly as I went on, “It’s a dangerous thing to cut yourself off from the people who care about you—that could lead to another form of depression. Why not instead turn your conversation in a healthier direction by ministering to your friends? You have discovered the blessing of writing your daily praises, why not offer the same opportunity to them? Then you can still open up about whatever you continue to struggle with if you feel led to, but it won’t be entirely about you.”
As we sat there in the quiet I thought to myself, “Okay God, help us out here! I think I see where You’re going with this, but will Lisa get it?”
Then it happened! Lisa tilted her head and a smile slowly formed on her face–she definitely could see the possibilities!
In that moment, I saw the opportunity to teach an important lesson. Lisa needed help to continue to move forward with God in the lead. I asked her to open her Bible to Isaiah 30. As she did, I talked about a night when I was filled with fear saying, “After having surgery that instead of relieving the excruciating pain in my right knee made it much worse, I thought that it was the beginning of the end for me. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid of dying, my fear had more to do with having to continue in so much pain until I died that filled me with dread.“
Seeing she had found the chapter I asked her to read verses 15 through 18 for us:
“This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says:
“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
in quietness and trust is your strength,
but you would have none of it.
You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
A thousand will flee
at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
you will all flee away,
till you are left
like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
like a banner on a hill.”
Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for Him!
Lisa had stopped reading when I asked, “Okay, what stands out to you in the passage? What is God saying to you?”
Going back and silently studying the passage, Lisa slowly raised her head to look at me and said thoughtfully, “Running isn’t good?”
I responded, “Yes . . . and no. It all depends on where you’re running to.” With Lisa still quiet I added, “Running from problems is never good; it almost always leads to raising our fears and deepens depression. Now look again, do you see how the passage is bookended with hope? Tell me what you see, Lisa.”
Again, the room was quiet but I could see her working it out in her mind. After a few more moments Lisa’s face brightened when she said, “I think I get it! When we go to God like it says: “In repentance and rest, and then in quietness and in trust,” He will meet us there. But if we don’t run TO God, if we choose to instead run away in fear, He will not stop us. He will allow us to run ourselves ragged until we are entirely spent.”
Nodding my head with a grin on my face I said, “That’s right! Now . . . do you see the second bookend?”
I could picture the “wheels” turning in Lisa’s head as she scanned the passage once more. Finally, she said, “There in the end, I see GRACE and COMPASSION, JUSTICE and BLESSING extended in verse 18 to ALL who seek Him in FAITH.”
It was a lot to take in. Lisa and I sat there quiet, separated by hundreds of miles. Finally, not wanting to waste the opportunity to press home the mystery of God’s Sovereign Goodness, I asked Lisa to continue reading verses 19 through 22:
“People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious He will be when you cry for help! As soon as He hears, He will answer you. Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Then you will desecrate your idols overlaid with silver and your images covered with gold; you will throw them away like a menstrual cloth and say to them, “Away with you!”
Not wanting to break the spell of the moment, I softly asked, “Okay, Lisa. What can we learn here?”
Lisa replied slowly as she chose each word carefully, “Tragedy is a part of living and can be overwhelming. But God definitely hears us when we cry out to Him. In fact, many times we need to resist the temptation to be run by fear, despair or anger. The passage warns against running to anything less than God. It is saying to wait until we hear Him whisper, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’”
With nothing more to be said as God’s call pierced both our hearts, we agreed to close in prayer.
All to His Glory!
*Not her real name.
**Journey Notes Praise Journaling: A process of journaling that helps curb depression through logging daily praises to God and then reading and responding to Scripture.
*** I learned early in my career to get out of the way when this happens because it is God’s Spirit interjecting something important. It is at such times that I have learned to take a step back and then do my best enter into the conversation as He leads.