I am not writing this article as a professional, experienced counselorstriving to teach other counselors—I am nothing of the sorts. I am writing this as a believer who has battled her way through the thorns of doubt, and who has discerned both the goodand poor counsel given from others. I also come with humility, recognizing the times I have given the same gut-wrenching, doubt-inducing counsel that was once given to me. If there is anything to be taken away from this, I hope it is this: Let’s counsel those who doubt with the gospel—not their works.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe you love the snow, but the beating down of the summer sun makes you cranky. Or maybe you’re sick of trudging through muck and puddles from the seemingly endless rain. I’ve been there too. I didn’t think much of it—its just what everyone does. Complain about the weather, maybe try to find something good in it, if you can. I had little consideration for my complaints because I was so used to hearing them—from both my own mouth the mouths of others. Until I saw myself wandering the wilderness with the grumbling Israelites.
Perhaps you’ve heard this variation: “Depression, anxiety, heartbreak—you are not bound to living that way. You don’t have to suffer anymore. Freedom exists in Jesus. Come to him and find freedom.” This is a false gospel. This gospel motivates people to believe in it by presenting your best life now if you’ll just come to Jesus. This is a damning lie. Jesus doesn’t take away your suffering—he promises it (John 16:33). And because we live in a fallen world, your body will fail you—both mentally and physically. But the true gospel, presents a truth much greater than this prosperity gospel could ever conjure up.
With the admonition to be slow to speak should come the caveat, So be slow to assume. Based on one action, with no thought on the past, I had conjured up an assumption of my husband that was far from true. Offering no charity, I assumed the worst of my husband’s motives. Maybe it’s ironic and hypocritical, but I’m assuming I’m not the only one. I believe many of our conversations as believers would be much more edifying and our relationships much less tense if we lived by the phrase, “Love hopes all things,” (1 Corinthians 13:7). Our relationships within the church could be more unified if we remember the grace and charity we have been shown by Christ, who knew the depths and sins of our hearts, and seek to show charity to one another in our assumptions of each others words and motives.
In the church today, you probably didn’t even have to read one of those books to hear the term spiritual leadership tossed around. We hear the plea, “I just want to find a man who will lead me spiritually,” or, “I’m so sick of my husband not taking up his role of leading me spiritually.” Perhaps you share that plea. Maybe the man you married hasn’t turned out to be the spiritual leader of your dreams. If so, there are two temptations I’d like to encourage you to guard yourself from: Taking up your chisels to carve your husbands into an idol, or carving yourself into an idol for him.
I had to carry my doubts to the foot of the cross. I needed to remember the sufficient and complete work of Christ that merited God’s forgiveness and love towards me. I needed to remember that forgiveness of my sins was a gift of grace, and continued to be a gift of grace, so that, “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (Romans 10:9-10 ESV). I needed to remember the old, old story of the cross.
What I couldn’t see was the sovereign God at work smelting my hardened heart. It was the beginning of the gentle call of his irresistible grace. I didn’t know I was a sinner in need of Christ. I saw myself as righteous on my own, not requiring anyone’s help with my salvation. But to be saved by the grace of God, we need to recognize our own depravity. We need to recognize that because of the first sin of Adam and because of our own sinfulness, we have fallen short of the glory of God and have no way of restoring ourselves.
It hurts when someone we love is hurting, and we hate that we can’t stop their suffering. We love them, and we wish we could simply dust away their pain, collect it in a dustpan, and chuck it out the door. But we were never meant to do that. Even our most faithful prayers may not make the pain disappear. We were not created to be healers. We are meant to be a part of the body. As a fellow part of the body, I am not meant to fix another. I’m not able. I can’t take away that pain, and to believe I can minimizes their suffering.
Rachel found her identity in something we still do today: Motherhood. Whether we are mothers already or desiring to be mothers, we too at times find fulfillment and joy in becoming moms. We place our hope in being the best mom and strive to outdo one another in mothering (just look at the mommy wars on social media). Or perhaps while waiting to be married, we watch the mothers around us and wish we could find a husband so we could fill our arms with a baby too. Or maybe we are married but God has shut our womb.
I’ve noticed this to be a trend among those of us who love theology. Though I would (and have) argued that we need to pursue sound doctrine and speak out when falsehood is being promoted, there is also something honourable about lips that are slow to speak. I am learning more and more the value of being the last one to speak on issues, especially in a room of people much older and wiser than me. There’s value in taking time to re-evaluate and ponder what someone’s words could have meant before criticizing them. There’s value in listening to a person’s story before voicing our counsel, and value in hearing what others may have to offer for advice first.
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