Saturday, May 20, 2017

A Wise Man Listens to Counsel

"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel." Proverbs 12:15 (NASB)

When my first marriage started really going badly, and there was talk of moving out and other problems that should have been obvious before were all just bursting into the light, at least for me, I was a wreck for a while. I had been trying to lose weight before that, because I had gotten really big, but right after my now ex-wife moved out, I went from a plateau where I didn't think it was possible to lose any more weight to losing just over 30 pounds in one month. I was just not eating and starting to actually look skinny, and not in a good way. People were amazed at my commitment and results and asked how I was doing it, but since I was so depressed and ashamed of my situation, at first, I didn't tell a soul - at work, at church, or even my own parents - that I was living on my own now with my two kids. So whenever someone would ask how I was losing that weight so effectively, I would just smile the best I could and say something like, "You don't want to know," or "It's really difficult, not for everyone."

It was in that state that I started looking up marriage and family counselors, not because I wanted to, or because I thought it was the right thing to do, or even because I thought it would help. I went to counseling because, when it was all over, whether my marriage worked out or was torn apart, I wanted to be able to look my children in the eyes and tell them that their father did absolutely everything he could to spare them this pain and preserve a whole and loving home for them. I knew someday they would ask about what really went down in those days, and I definitely didn't want to tell them "Well, I did almost everything. There was this one thing I could have done, but it was difficult and embarrassing, and I wasn't sure that I could afford it." So I found a great counselor in Hollywood named Martin Murphy, and he helped me get some insight into the situation, gave me advice on how to deal not only with my then wife, but with my children as well. When it looked like I was going to be coming to these sessions by myself, I asked if I could bring the children, especially because I was starting to feel that this was bringing about positive change for me, and that they could benefit from it as well. Ultimately, there just was no saving the marriage, but I'm not sure where I or my kids would be today if I hadn't made that choice to seek help.

The thing about blended families that we always talk about is that there is so much love and so many different ways to include everyone in a loving home. The thing we don't talk about is that every one of our blended families is born out of pain and failure. Our blended families are built on failed marriages, lost loved ones, deep griefs, and psychological damage. They are fragile. They are tenuous. And, like any fragile but valuable possession, they require constant care and attention.

When I started going to counseling myself, I had already had some negative experiences with therapy and family counseling as a child - nothing so traumatic, but enough to put me off of the idea. In addition, as a Christian, I was waiting for God to deliver my miracle, waiting for the story that I would be telling in testimony time. But when I got desperate enough, none of that mattered. I was already talking to my sister and my pastor, the only two people who know that I was going through this, but the more I talked to them, the more I realized that what I needed was professional, expert help. If my leg were broken, I wouldn't pray about it and call my pastor for advice, because, as wise as he was, he's not trained to deal with broken bones. And unless your pastor is trained to deal with broken marriages, broken homes, and broken hearts, you need to go elsewhere and seek help. Maybe you're thinking that the Bible has every answer for every situation, and that the church is the only place where Christians should go with these problems. If your church has professionally trained family counselors on staff, then definitely take advantage of that, because it's the cheapest and closest help that you're going to find. If they don't, then look elsewhere, and seek professional family counseling, Christian counseling, if you can find it.

I'm not saying that you shouldn't pray about it, and I'm not saying that you shouldn't include your church leadership in the process, but look at it this way:

Your children are suffering.

Think about that fact, because this is your reality now. Your children are suffering and you are on your knees praying about it and seeking help from well-meaning and wise people with no real experience in the specific nature of your children's pain. If your child were choking to death on the floor in your home, you wouldn't drop to your knees or call your pastor. You would tend to your child and call the paramedics, because they, and only they, are trained to deal with this.

Your children are hurt and need professional care.

You are hurt and need professional care.

Maybe you still think that prayer is the answer, and it definitely is part of the answer, no doubt. Pray while you choose a family counselor that will help you heal your family. Pray on the way to each session that this time will be effective and that everyone will leave that room a little closer to healing and wholeness. Pray that you will have the wisdom and the will to follow through with whatever advice the counselor gives you. Pray all you can, but also mobilize your your troops, gather your resources, and get in the fight for your family.

It reminds me of the time that Joshua came back from a crushing loss in Ai. His army had been beaten for the first time, and they had sustained heavy losses. The truth is, it was a bloodbath for Israel, and Joshua didn't know what to do. He was dealing with failure for the first time. Joshua 7 tells us that Joshua, the commander of the army and leader of all of Israel, tore his clothes and fell face down in prayer before the ark of the Lord, and he stayed there praying until he heard God's voice directly. The irony is that when he heard God's voice, it wasn't saying, "Well done, just a few more hours of prayer should do it," or "You're almost there, just pray a little harder." What God said to that leader with his clothes torn and his head buried in prayer was "Stand up! What are you doing on your face?" God told Joshua that there was sin in his camp, that his people were suffering, and that it was his job to gather Israel together, to comfort them, and to use any means to find the problem and solve it, not to spend one more minute in prayer. There is a time for prayer and there is a time for action, and when your family is falling apart around you, your children are suffering, and your home is in jeopardy, it's time for action. It's time to use any means at your disposal to fix the problem, before it's too late.

So, do your research and find a counselor with a good reputation that suits your needs, Christian and otherwise. There are too many good Christian counselors out there who can help to stay home and try to fix it yourself. If you go to a session and don't feel like it's a good fit, then find another one, and another one, until you find the right one. Once you start counseling, give yourself over to wise counsel and follow their advice explicitly, like a student to a teacher. When I was in counseling, just about everything that man told me to do seemed counterintuitive to me, and sometimes, downright crazy. But before I even walked into his office for the first time, I committed myself in my heart to do every single thing he said, without arguing. I figured that if I was so smart and knew what to do, then I wouldn't be dragging my children through this mess in the first place. I can't tell you that everything he prescribed worked in the way I had hoped. My marriage ended, because sometimes they just can't be saved. But even so, I walked away with my sanity and my dignity intact, and the confidence that I really had done everything I could to fix the problem.

Even now, our family goes to counseling on a pretty regular basis. We don't go that often, but we also don't wait for a crisis to arrive before we make an appointment. Sometimes we all go together, sometimes it's just me and my wife, and sometimes one of the big kids might ask to talk to the counselor privately. In the latter cases, if there's anything we need to know as parents, which is usually every time, the counselor calls us in at the end to debrief. Actually, I think this is just an easier way for the kids to tell us certain things with a sort of buffer to protect them from the wrath they think might be coming their way. However it works out, we go, not so much to fix our marriage and family, but to maintain them, because, as God is my witness, I don't ever want to be in a situation like I was before, and I don't want my kids to suffer through that again. All it costs is an hour of our life and a copay that's less then what we spend for us all to eat at McDonald's. If the cost of therapy is keeping you from going, then check with your health care provider to see if you have coverage for mental health or family counseling, and you might be surprised by how little you have to come out of pocket to get the kind of help and expertise that other people are paying ten times as much to get. Failing that, there are plenty of organizations, especially Christian ones, in neighborhoods across the country, that provide affordable or even free counseling. It might take a little more research, or a little more money, but you can get what you need, and it's worth the price and the effort.

There is no shame is reaching out your hand for help when you're drowning. On the other hand, your children will ask you one day what you did to protect them, comfort them, and heal their family in the moment of crisis, and you will want to say that you did everything that you could. Your children will probably love you through all of this, despite their hurt and anger, but you have such a short window of opportunity to make your stand and heal their pain. Once they reach majority age, or leave your house for other reasons, your ability to seek help for them is mostly over. My prayer for all the blended families that I know, and the ones I don't as well, is that you use every tool available to you to fix and maintain your homes, for your sakes as well as for your children.

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