By: Dennis Gruening
September 10th, 2021
In this four part-series we will focus on the role of the counselor by looking at four different words. Each word conveys an important concept that we as counselors should not only be generally familiar with but that we as counselors would carefully examine and think about how we live regarding these things.
Furthermore, these posts are written from counselor to counselor. This means, the goal is to draw in those who are caring for the souls of others through biblical counseling. My goal is to encourage us to think carefully about how we function in this world and as ministers of the gospel and ambassadors of Christ to the most hurting around us.
WORD #1: SELF CARE
“How many boxes do we think we will have? 200? 250?” “I’m not sure, but it’s going to be a lot of work.” Then, for the better part of 2 weeks, we gathered, sorted out, carefully packed and moved all our stuff into boxes to be put on a 40-foot container to be shipped across the Atlantic. Then, we cleaned, painted, and worked on all the necessary administrative things in order to “wrap up our lives in the US” and move to Germany. Underneath all the thinking, laboring, and praying, our souls were growing weary. Once in Germany, weeks and weeks of unpacking, organizing, and re-establishing our lives in a new place. Emotions ran high often (they still do as we are still transitioning – more about that in another post). Our minds were confused about where home was, and our souls were weary from the battle of daily living.
Can you relate? Have you had moments of being extremely busy in which you just felt like you had to keep going just a little longer? “Just another little prayer and maybe a Bible verse to sustain myself. I’ll be fine…” Sure real meals are great, but in times of busyness, it’s easier to eat whatever you have around. We’ve been eating a lot of not-so-healthy-stuff…
But let’s talk about ministry. Did you know that counselors can get weary? The work is slow and arduous. There are more people needing help than there are helpers. People demand our time and can be frustrated with us because we don’t tell them what they want to hear. I don’t know about you, but unfortunately, I often feel like a warplane that wants fueling-up high in the sky; I hope God will fill me on the way, so I don’t have to stop my good Christian service.
But that’s not the example Jesus left us with. The way Christ lived here on earth should serve as an example to us as believers – but how much do we follow the example? Our way of relating to and communing with God often looks more like a drive-through meal type of deal than a sit-down dinner. Sure, we pray, we read our Bible, we listen to sermons, and we participate in worship. Nevertheless, I don’t believe we examine ourselves carefully enough often enough. If we did, we would probably find that the example Jesus left us and the way we live are not as close as we would like them to be.
The way Christ lived here on earth should serve as an example to us as believers – but how much do we follow the example?
I am not saying that we are all completely disconnected, parched, close-to-losing-it Christians who fail completely in our lives and ministries; all I’m saying is that as servants of God our ministry cannot be built on our own experience, wisdom, and strength. We must care for our souls so we can care well for others.
Let’s get back to my initial example of getting weary in the throes and labors of living. There is a strong connection to how Christian ministry often works – and we as counselors are not exempt.
We all know life’s pace is often much faster than we would like. The pace of ministry is no different. We jump from one thing to the next wishing we had more time, especially for what matters most. Yet in the fray, we are prone to put off what is most important. We tell ourselves things like, “My experience will carry me.” or “The wisdom I gained over the years will suffice.” “My talent will be enough for this situation.” “It’s okay, God will give me what I need.”
Of course, there is some truth in those statements; God has certainly allowed us to gain experience and wisdom. He has given us the talents we have. He will always give us what we need as we serve him in Christian ministry, whether our battery is fully charged or running on reserve power. Yet, I ask myself, how introspective are we really? Do we regularly ask ourselves how we can better care for our self, our soul? The problem also isn’t that we have not been taught how to prepare for ministry (prayer, asking God for wisdom, acknowledging him as the giver of all that we need for our service, etc.). The problem is that in the depth of ministry, the deep end of the pool in which most counselors swim, it is imperative to take time to rest and refuel – or we are in danger of drowning.
Do we regularly ask ourselves how we can better care for our self, our soul?
I have seen this in my ministry, and I have seen it again lately in my personal life. When our three kids or my wife need me, it is extremely difficult to be patient, composed, and discerning when I’m running on fumes. If the busyness and pressures of life are greater than the God we serve, the results are not great. We must keep Christ at the center and run to him for refueling – and then stay there with him!
SELF-CARE – THE WHY
Think with me about current world events. Wildfires, floods, hurricanes, pandemics, wars, and droughts. We see videos of firemen, nurses, soldiers, doctors, and good Samaritans who try to help in those moments of crisis. They remove roadblocks, stuff sandbags, cook meals, bandage wounds, hand out fresh water, etc. The bigger the crisis of the moment, the more people show up.
Here’s the problem: while we sometimes even get to see the caretakers being cared for with food and water and the like, when we get a handle on the crisis, the need to care for caretakers is often forgotten.
One well-known example is burnout and the pastorate. There are lots of statistics about pastors leaving churches because they cannot keep going. They are overworked, overlooked, and people’s expectations for imperfect people are way too high. Books have been written and efforts are being made to help pastors persevere in ministry. I love that. But the more we prepare brothers and sisters for the work of ministry in biblical counseling, the more we should also think about how we care for one another!
If we do not learn to care for our own souls, we cannot maintain healthy ministry. We need careful and accurate self-assessments and we need a community approach to counseling in which counselors can talk with honesty about ministry, encourage each other with compassion and challenge one another to make changes wherever necessary.
If we do not learn to care for our own souls, we cannot maintain healthy ministry.
Let’s be counselors committed to living ourselves what we so often exhort our counselees to do.
SELF-CARE – THE WHAT
Because I’ve been in a season of transition, being very busy with relocating my family and helping them to adapt to new things (new language, new culture, new town, new home, new friends, new school, new church, etc.), I’ve felt the drag that busyness can be. The constancy of demands, especially physically and emotionally, can take their toll. Getting yourself re-aligned not only to a normal routine, but to finding solace and strength in your routine is not easy. That’s why this topic has been so much on my heart.
What then is self-care? Self-care is a purposeful assessment of our self and ministry and an intentional refocusing on Jesus Christ who is sufficient to bear fruit in and through us.
In other words, I must take time to carefully look at how my soul is doing, where and how much it draws strength, what hinders vibrant faith, and what stifles authentic service?
Self-care is a purposeful assessment of our self and ministry and an intentional refocusing on Jesus Christ who is sufficient to bear fruit in and through us.
Refocusing means adjusting whatever is necessary so Christ can first work on me so that I can be ready for him to work through me.
SELF-CARE – THE HOW
When it comes to Christian living, especially the disciplines of the faith, a lot of things have been written. Christian disciplines are vital to a healthy soul. What is not healthy is rigid, mechanical, or merely habitual execution of principles meant to be life-giving. More importantly, the breath of life that refuels our souls and ministries lies not in any particular mode of living out these disciplines. Rather, only in regular, deep, humble, and desperate surrender to and communion with God will we find vibrant faith that heals and strengthens our souls to be ready for fruitful service.
Again, no Christian soul can endure without consistent and frequent Bible reading, prayer, and worship – there are no more fundamental parts to the Christian life than these. But sometimes we need to take a step back and evaluate not just our “habitual actions” but ask ourselves what the state of our heart and mind really say about what we truly believe and how we function in daily life. God does not want mechanical and legalistic obedience, he wants vibrant, passionate, devotion to him. That’s where the Christian soul and ministry truly thrives.
Again, no Christian soul can endure without consistent and frequent Bible reading, prayer, and worship – there are no more fundamental parts to the Christian life than these.
The following questions are meant to be carefully reviewed and answered in your time with the Lord. We all need these kinds of evaluations regularly if we want to have healthy souls and enduring ministries. I pray the following 20 questions will help strengthen your soul and ministry.
Questions related to self:
How would I describe the health of my soul (unadulterated in 5-7 sentences)?
My answer to the previous question would lead me to think that on a scale of 1-5, five being deeply and firmly rooted in Christ and one being like the reed in the wind that is about to snap, I’d be a __.
If not already touched on in the first question, which circumstances from the last 90 days would lead me to make this kind of assessment of myself?
Which deeply rooted desires or fears that I carry in my heart are connected to how these circumstances are influencing me?
Which false things have I repeated to myself too often lately so that they have influenced how I think, feel, and act?
In what ways have I rationalized or even justified my feelings, thoughts, and actions to myself and before God?
Do I see a relationship between the desires and fears of my heart and the things I might have forgotten, particularly about God and myself?
Which biblical truths may I have forgotten about God, self, and others in this season that would steady my stance and help me raise my gaze?
Which specific Scriptures would I draw upon to substantiate those truths?
Reviewing all my answers from the previous questions, what specific three steps can I take in the two weeks to get myself turned in the right direction and begin walking toward a healthier self.
Questions related to my ministry:
Which three things about you as a counselor may need to change?
How do the most difficult and draining cases affect me as a counselor? What are the results of those effects?
How frequently and how deeply are the problems of other people affecting my mood, my thinking, my attitude? Ask your spouse, a good friend, or a partner in ministry how they would assess this about you.
How much are the needs of my ministry hindering or overriding my engagement of the needs of my family?
How frequently do I celebrate and pray prayers of praise for what God has done through me in ministry? Am I sharing these God at work stories with others regularly?
How much do I think about my ministry, my skills, and my impact as compared to another counselor or servant of Christ? How much is that assessment affecting my ability to minister joyfully?
What habits for healthy and God-dependent ministry do I need to reinforce? Which habits that hinder healthy ministry do I need to stop?
What aspects of my ministry am frustrated with or fearful about? Who can I share those things with? Will I share those things?
What community of biblical counselors am I part of and in which I can talk honestly about myself and my ministry, be encouraged with compassion, and be challenged about my constraints and need for change?
Of the previous nine questions, which part deserves your immediate attention for change? What will you do about it this week?