Don’t Just Tell Them…Show Them
Now that we’ve entered into the “nuts and bolts” phase of the marriage counseling class, a principle that I regularly emphasize is how important it is for husbands and wives to interact with one another during sessions and not just with the counselor. Counselors sometimes make the mistake of counseling couples the same way they counsel individuals, talking first to one spouse and then to the other, and spouses are never asked to directly interact with one another. While the counselor may have to mediate interactions to keep conflict from escalating out of control, couples should be able to interact more constructively as counseling progresses. In fact, if you never help couples put the principles that they are learning into practice during sessions you may be stunting their growth.
I think biblical counselors have a natural bent towards proclamation rather than training. After all, as Christians we’re “people of the Book”. We’re expected to assimilate truth through the reading and preaching of God’s word as a primary means of grace. And, besides, we’re eager to impart biblical wisdom as we meet with struggling couples. How else to impart it than just saying it? (That’s all really just a nice way of saying we’re better at talking about the Bible than teaching counselees how to apply it.) But it’s important to realize that experience can powerfully enhance understanding. The Bible itself shows us that God expects us to learn from experience as He leads His people through situations that prepare them to hear and absorb the truths he is teaching them. One such example is the way Jesus heals the man born blind from birth in John 9. Normally we expect change to follow a predictable pattern: proclamation of the gospel, followed by understanding and acceptance, followed by action and transformation. But in this story the blind man experiences the power and goodness of Christ first and only after trial and strife comes to fully realize who He is. It is a story of transformation that happens in reverse of what we normally expect.
Follow the sequence of events: Jesus and the disciples come upon the man born blind. He doesn’t seem to be a seeker; we aren’t told that he even asks for healing. But Jesus, wishing to reveal God’s glory in him, heals the man by applying spittle and mud to his eyes and directing him to wash in the pool of Siloam. His sight is restored, but now the debate begins. Who is this man that healed his eyes, and on the Sabbath at that! The Pharisees demand to know, questioning the man first, then his parents, and then the man again. Every step of the way, the man denies knowing anything other than Jesus’ name and the fruit of Jesus’ actions. Under cross-examination by Pharisees he can only respond, “He’s a prophet.” When the Pharisees declare Jesus a sinner he answers, “Whether he is a sinner or not I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Finally the man encounters Christ again. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks. The man answers, “Who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” The man who has experienced the power and love of Christ falls down and worships him.
It is a story that begins with physical and spiritual blindness and ends in a magnificent realization of who Jesus really is after tasting Christ’s blessings. Obviously, it is a rich passage whose principal purpose is not to teach counseling technique. But the fact remains, that God led this man to faith by first allowing him to taste his goodness and then explaining it to him, leading him into a full awareness of Jesus’ power and love. How often are we telling couples about Jesus’ power and love when what they really need in order to lay hold of this truth is a demonstration and experience of it?
As biblical counselors we have to recognize that sometimes the truth is easier to grasp when it is more than an idea, when it is something that they have begun to see, taste, and experience. So, don’t just tell them…show them. Rather than simply telling a couple that love is compassionate, ask them to show compassion to one another in front of you so that you can coach and guide them through it. Rather than simply tell them that it is wise to understand before speaking, help them speak and listen to one another while they are with you so that you are a ready help, guide, and encourager in Christ.