Allow me to start the New Year off reminiscing and thereby create anticipation for the year ahead.
Untangling the Webs People Weave
Some twenty-three years ago we moved from a major city to a small town outside of Birmingham, Alabama, in mid-April. Earlier, just after the New Year, a young woman came to me for counseling. Through her tears she related how she no longer loved her husband and desired to divorce him. Overall her countenance projected a different story. In God’s providence she was the last case of the day, and so I was able to take some extra time to listen to her. After about forty-five minutes I asked if I could make several inquires. Still crying, she managed a “sure.”
After several clarifying questions regarding her martial relationship I asked, “Tell me, have you had an affair?” She immediately burst into agonizing moans with a fresh flood of tears. She shook her head yes. After gaining sufficient composure she asked, “How did you know? I just could not tell you. I was too ashamed. And, I did not want tell my husband because it would have crushed him.”
Such is the logic of sin.
She then told me her story of how their marriage had become so routine and boring and about unexpectedly reconnecting with a high school flame who was just passing through town.
At the next session her husband joined her, and with my moral support, she confessed her sin and sought his forgiveness. He almost slipped into physical shock, but I engaged with him, offering the hope of reconciliation and renewal through Christ and the indwelling Spirit. He did forgive her. Together we worked to rebuild (actually, to build) a Christ-centered marriage. Then in April I said goodbye.
The following Christmas I received a Christmas card with a family picture. The message read something like this, “Thank you for being there. Thank you for not allowing me to cover my sin by claiming the loss of love for my husband. As you can see I not only have my husband and children, but we are expecting our third child. The Lord used you! Thank you! We are now fully active in our church and walking together in the Lord.”
Untangling the Idol of Self
A similar scenario has occurred on several occasions since, including this Christmas. Sometime last spring Joe (not his real name) emailed the pastor of our church to say that his wife had filed for divorce. The pastor was out of town so he referred him to our Staff Pastor who shepherds our Sunday School Communities. This pastor met with him to encourage him. He walked him through the gospel and referred him to me.
We began meeting a day or two later. He was an emotional mess, but I was able to cobble together that he was a negligent and self-centered man. When I asked about their involvement in our church he said, “Well, we are here at least twice a month,” and after a pause, “except in deer season, then once a month.” I said to him, “So let me walk you through a typical week of hunting season.” With this process he was confronted with his selfish lifestyle in the neglect of his wife and daughter and the Lord. I gave him the assignment to write her a letter that recounted what he was beginning to realize through our counseling and to seek her forgiveness.
He could not get the letter written! Finally, he cried out to God to help him—which really became a sinner’s prayer of repentance. Then he wrote and the letter flowed. At 4 a.m. he awoke, sat up in bed and cried out, “I’m saved, I’m saved!” He immediately called his wife who was in another city on business. She had not been taking his calls. She took this call only because it was 4 a.m. and she feared there a problem with their daughter.
She told me the next week that all her anger melted away when he shared his encounter with Jesus. By September they were regularly active in worship, Sunday school, and mid-week activities. They were dismissed from counseling. In mid-October he emailed me one day saying they were in the process of buying a new home and were struggling with communication. In my response I walked him through the basic rules of communication in Ephesians 4. Several weeks later I saw him at Home Depot. He thanked me for the email and reported working through the communication issues.
Their Christmas card reflected a peaceful family in which godly consideration of the other had become the norm. The hand written message confirmed their picture. Their countenance on the occasional contact in the hallways of church has also confirmed their continued growth in grace.
So live and counsel with expectation
So here is my anticipation—and yours! God will work through us as His instruments as we use His instruments (the Word and the Spirit with His power) to do His work in the lives of those He brings to us in 2017—just as He has done in the past!
Join the Conversation
How has the Lord reinvigorated your confidence in His Word and power through your counseling?