By Kathy Collard Miller, Author of “Whispers of My Heart (Daughters of the King Bible Study Series)”.
Whether or not we’re professional counselors, helping others with their struggles can be a challenge. Yet it can be done with compassion and competence. As a lay counselor with many hours of training, I still feel it’s like scary ground. But we can learn what we shouldn’t and should do.
What We Shouldn’t Do
The book of Job gives us some warnings about the wrong kind of counselor. In fact, Job called his friends “sorry comforters” (Job 16:2). Here’s why he called them that.
Job’s friends give Job the impression that the innocent do not suffer, therefore Job must be guilty of something. Eliphaz says, “Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7).
I also notice that they give pat answers without compassion. Eliphaz also says, “As I have observed, those who plow evil and those who sow trouble reap it.” (4:8). Unfortunately, I was a “sorry” counselor one day when a new acquaintance told me she recently had a miscarriage. Not knowing what to say, I replied, “Well, the Lord will give you another child.” I realized later I had totally missed an opportunity to minister to her in her grief.
Here’s another observation: they were good at “telling,” but didn’t ask questions. If they’d really wanted to know Job’s heart, they would have found out he had a tremendous passion for God.
Then in Job 8, Job’s friends have already decided his guilt. Bildad tells him, “Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned, for we were born only yesterday and know nothing, and our days on earth are but a shadow. Will they not instruct you and tell you? Will they not bring forth words from their understanding?”(8:8-10).
Also, in Job 11:13, we find a “sorry” attitude of, “If only you would…” Saying that to someone only makes it seem like you’re giving them a guarantee of a fast solution.
Then Bildad gets in on the “sorry” business saying, “When will you end these speeches? Be sensible, and then we can talk. Why are we regarded as cattle and considered stupid in your sight?” (18:2-3). What he’s really saying is, “Accept everything we say without argument or discernment.” But isn’t that really like playing God—to tell someone everything they should be doing?
Then quiet Elihu can’t stand it anymore. He bursts out, “I too will have my say; I too will tell what I know. For I am full of words, and the spirit within me compels me;” (32:17-18). Elihu blew it. Most often, hurting people need a listening ear as they talk and work through what God is saying to them.
What We Can Do
- Help the hurting person find the underlying cause of their hurt. Often, someone is focusing upon what seems to be the obvious, current reason for their pain, but sometimes, the cause may be from their past.
I’ll never forget talking with a woman who was very angry with her husband because he wouldn’t attend their daughter’s drill team performances. I asked her about her childhood and amongst other things she said, “My father never came to watch me perform with the band.” She saw the connection and realized because she’d never forgiven her father, she was overreacting to her husband’s responses. In tears, she said she wanted to forgive both of them.
- Reflect back their feelings (Romans 12:15). Say things like, “I can really hear the hurt in your voice.” Or, “You must really be feeling angry about that.”
- Express realistic expectations of growth or healing (Philippians 1:6). Don’t promise instant deliverance or fast growth. Healing and growth usually take a while but they will grow closer to God as they work through the struggle.
One of the most important Biblical concepts I speak about is the “One Percent Principle.” I teach others to make small steps of growth rather than making 100% goals, which are impossible to meet and create a sense of failure. When you advise steps of growth, make them small.
- Help in practical ways (Romans 12:13). If they need help, find someone or direct them to someone who can give them the assistance they need. Many times your counselee doesn’t have the emotional strength to follow through. Making a few phone calls on their behalf may be the difference between success and failure.
- Don’t grow weary (Hebrews 12:3). Growth does take a long time. Help them to sense that you aren’t impatiently waiting for them to become perfect.
- Pray with them (Philippians 1:4). It’s often effective to pray something like, “Heavenly Father, Suzie is really feeling depressed and desperate right now…” Bringing their pain before God’s throne will comfort and affirm them.
- Say too little rather than too much (James 1:19). It may be hard, but sometimes your silence is more supportive than lots of words. I remember a time when a woman shared a deep sin and I was speechless. Later she told me that my silence was encouraging and helped her move out of her struggle. I’d thought I’d been a failure to not have the right words, but God knew what she needed.
- Don’t compare their situation to someone else unless it has value (Galatians 1:4). Telling them about so-and-so who is also struggling with the same thing has no value unless there’s some practical point to it. Otherwise, they could feel like they are in competition with someone else to see who has the most pain.
- Find out their definition of support (Galatians 6:2,5). What exactly do they think will help them? Ask, rather than assume. Your questions will also direct them toward a point of action. Asking questions also helps them to think more clearly than if you just told them what they should do.
Appropriate Responses From Scripture
Scripture shows positive, godly counseling responses. For instance, we can learn from:
- Aquila and Priscilla as they counseled Apollos: they didn’t do it publicly but invited him to their home to discuss it privately.
- Jesus with Mary and Martha when Lazarus died: Jesus didn’t put them down for their grief but gently pointed them to the truth.
- Ruth’s response to Naomi: by Naomi’s own confession, she was deeply depressed; yet, Ruth was supportive and never told her she shouldn’t feel that way.
- Nathan confronted David about David’s sin by telling a story which involved David’s emotions, rather than just condemning him for his adultery.
I’m confident that these ideas will be helpful to assist you as a compassionate and competent counselor so that you can “strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble” (Hebrews 12:12).
Kathy Collard Miller (www.KathyCollardMiller.com) is a popular women’s conference speaker and the author of over 50 books including The Daughters of the King Bible study series: Choices of the Heart (women of the Bible) and Whispers of My Heart (prayer).