I was asked to describe a typical counseling session in a phone interview with a group of Christian undergraduate students who were studying different Christian counseling models. Their assignment was to interview a representative from one of these models. Somehow they ended up with me, which, by the end of our conversation, was probably a disappointment.
I think they were expecting something a bit churchy, with overtones of the predictable and trite. What they heard, I think, at least initially, seemed simplistic.
Here is my answer to their question: “Hmm. Let’s see. I talk with people.”
What I meant to say was something like this. “You might expect something formal, perhaps even formulaic, maybe something like a doctor and a patient, a list of questions, some predetermined Scripture readings, an amazing Jesus-like question that demonstrates word-of-knowledge insight, but it is not like that. It is better than that. It is both ordinary and wonderful.
“I usually jump right in to the matters that are on the person’s heart—I want to know what is most important to them. I hope my questions communicate that I am beginning to understand and I want to know the person better. I hope the conversation feels like a partnership that is heading toward a friendship. After all, the person has invited me to share joint custody of his or her soul.
“Meanwhile, I love to see the good in the person and point it out, without minimizing those things that are hard, or those things that are bad.
“I hope to never sound like a mere diagnostician. Instead, our time together might sound like two people collaborating on a song: one starts with a riff or a few chords, then the other brings a melody and some lyrics. The song takes shape. It goes somewhere. With more back-and-forth, it sounds like a real song. The process is hard work but enjoyable. It is hopeful as we see possibilities ahead. And it is far better than either of us could have created separately.
“The person and work of Jesus gives shape to our time together. Jesus is not the answer to some spiritual sector of our lives; he is life itself. Sometimes I borrow biblical images (e.g., “you are shining brighter than you think,” “the wilderness is such a hard place”). I offer echoes of different passages (e.g., “Have you ever had moments of comfort (2 Cor. 1:2-7)? Sometimes we talk about specific Scripture. Whatever we do, since Jesus is the beacon who is our guide and goal, everything should sound good—even talking about sin.
These conversations are flexible and adapt to the other person, but we hope that, together, we speak of Jesus more and more. What clearer evidence could we have of the Spirit’s presence?
“And I covet the time when I pray for the person. I take the role of priest and gather the important details of that person’s life together with the relevant promises of God, and join them together in a blessing.
“In short, I talk with a person.”