How Does Christian Counseling Work?

Do we sit and read the Bible and pray? That is not a bad idea, but it is more than that. The Bible is the core of the Christian faith, and prayer is the way we develop a relationship with God. Counseling is a process in which a relationship is developed between counselor and client that is not based on the counselor’s needs, but is centered on the needs of the client. God knows our needs much better than do, and we pray that God will use the therapeutic relationship (sometimes in spite of us), to make life-lasting changes. The most important aspect is that the counselor represents God, an unconditional love and acceptance that is both just, and casts out fear. This is nothing special about the counselor, but it is everything to point to God, even in our own weakness. 

Suffering is unavoidable for everyone, but Christianity offers hope. C. S. Lewis, a well-known Christian author, wrote to a friend, "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be."1

Working with despairing depression, and immobilizing anxiety in my work as a mental health counselor, and not being a stranger to these experiences myself, has left me sensitive to the struggle of life that I see all around me. However, when you witness your children in pain, the emotional impact is on another level. We are approaching my son's 'diaversary,' marking the discovery of his juvenile diabetes five years ago. Essentially, his pancreas is non-functioning. My heart broke in two when he said, “If I ever get this again, I'm going to be mad.” How do we explain to him that there is no cure? How do we convey that he now has to endure seven shots a day? Or that without insulin, his life would be at risk? The fear of his blood sugar dropping dangerously low in the middle of the night also lingers.

My wife and I were introduced to the need to count carbs, frequently check his blood sugar, and oversee countless needle pricks throughout the day. My wife has mostly carried this daily to-do list, but we both sense what our son feels and that his life can no longer be normal. My wife and I do not like having to stick my son with a needle multiple times a day. It is not unusual to consider that our son could die overnight. We have experienced his anger at God and the weight of depression. We know we are not alone in this, but that is not usually consoling.

Romans 8:26-28 says, “Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.”2 In the given context, the goodness refers to conforming to the image of Christ. It doesn't imply that every detail in our lives is inherently good. Instead, it will yield a harvest of righteousness and peace (Hebrews 12:7-11). Even the challenging details of our lives, as dire as they may be, will ultimately result in something beneficial. This transformation can manifest in various ways, because suffering has the potential to shift our reliance from ourselves and circumstances to something better, bringing about personal transformation and reflecting God's glory upon us.

Suffering Transitions Us to Depend on God
A possible result of suffering is that it transitions us. We grow less concerned about ourselves and our circumstances, and more consumed by a greater dependence on God (2 Corinthians 1:9-11). His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). When we realized how much of our life we cannot control, we really are at the mercy of our faith. Paul put it this way, "I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift." (1 Corinthians 12:9).3 Every day we could focus less on life's inadequacies and more on His daily mercies (Lamentations 3:20-21). This can be a relief, knowing that we cannot subvert God's plan for a life with our personal failures for those that love God. The Bible is complete with stories of personal failures and God's purposes prevailing. 

Given that my son's life relies on daily doses of insulin, I've become acutely aware of the necessity to surrender control to God. I turn to Him knowing that disaster could happen at any moment. Reflecting on my past, with its numerous mistakes, I also observe the transformative work God has shaped in me. Am I really living an inferior life because of my mistakes? I've certainly made my fair share of them. Could it be that these changes are precisely what God intended to reshape my connection with Him and with others?

Suffering Transforms Our Character
Some declare that suffering either refines us or makes us bitter. Suffering can produce perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope (Romans 5:4). In this way, suffering transforms us. Hebrews 2:18 says, “For because He Himself [Jesus] has suffered when tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” As we are helped in this way, we then are able to help others.4 "The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mentioned and the parts we don't, the parts we see and the parts we don't. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing." (1 Corinthians 12:25-26)5 God comforts us so we can comfort others (2 Corinthians 1:3-4) and carry each other's burdens (Galatians 6:2). "Although the world is full of suffering it is also full of the overcoming of it… Believe, when you are most unhappy, that there is something for you to do in the world. So long as you can sweeten another's pain, life is not in vain."6

What kinds of character transformations or newfound hope are taking root in my wife, myself, or my son? Could it be determination, courage, or a heightened compassion for others? How do these changes manifest in my life? These questions only scratch the surface of the ongoing transformations. New research finds that people become more religious when hit by natural disasters. The reality is that among those who lived through the ordeal of Auschwitz, the number of individuals whose religious life was deepened—perhaps paradoxically—far surpasses those who abandoned their faith.7 Another illustrative case is the 2005 survey by the Washington Post, focusing on Hurricane Katrina survivors relocated to Houston. Astonishingly, when questioned about their faith in God, 81% emphasized that the experience fortified their belief, while only 4% claimed it weakened their faith.8 After the September 11 attack, nine out of ten Americans reported that they coped with their distress by turning to their religion.9

Suffering Transfers God's Glory to Us
Our present sufferings are not worth comparing with our future glory (Romans 8:18). Peter even goes so far as to say, "…do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed.” (1 Peter 4:12-13).10 Similar to a mother who overlooks the pain of childbirth the moment she gazes into her baby's eyes, or a competition winner who forgets years of dedicated work, a single glimpse of Jesus and the prospect of spending eternity with Him will render all the trials worthwhile. CS Lewis said, “Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the sufferings of Earth, and no solution of the problem of pain which does not do so can be called one.”11

Paul's prayers in the New Testament exhibit three distinctive characteristics. First of all, he expressed gratitude to God for the grace that enabled others to persevere. Then, he maintained an eternal perspective on life's storms, considering their significance in the context of eternity. In essence, he pondered the implications of present circumstances for the everlasting. Lastly, recognizing that storms are frequently beyond human control, Paul emphasized reliance on God's power over our own.

Waking up in the middle of night to check on my son, prick his finger, insist on him eating, or give him a shot is most discouraging when it's dark and exhaustion clouds our senses. Experiencing fatigue and navigating through the day has been described like trying to run underwater: a daily reality for so many people. Dreadful experiences, abuse, and neglect can leave children and adults to a mere shell of their former selves. In these challenging moments, we must question whether suffering will be worth it. Solely from that perspective, the answer would likely be a resounding no.

However, if there was no evil and suffering, would there be need for compassion, mercy and sacrificial love? If it wasn't for our failures and mistakes, would we ever know the depth of His grace? On multiple occasions, Jesus asked God to take this cup (suffering) away from Him, and Paul asked God to take away the thorn (suffering). Instead of receiving what they asked, they ultimately received so much more by depending on God's will. In addition, all of the stories we tell involve the overcoming of suffering. Who would engage in a compelling story or watch a movie without the theme of overcoming adversity? It is through these challenges that we undergo our own transformation. Helen Keller once said, "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, and ambition inspired, and success achieved."12 When we pray for the relief from suffering, have we considered how God intends to utilize that suffering? As we transition into God's glory, what significance will our endured suffering hold? The transformations within us, the changes shaped in us, and the purpose served for us can emerge as outcomes of the very suffering we endure.

If you would like to continue the conversation, or allow someone to come along side and help you reach your goals, clarify God’s leading, and provide spiritual resources, feel free to contact us.