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When You Can't Pray the Pain Away

Why do so many Christians see counseling as a last resort?

I heard a joke once about a man who was drowning, but he had faith that God would rescue him.

A jet ski came by, but he declined, saying, "I’ve prayed, and God will rescue me!"

A rescue boat came by, but again he declined, saying, "No thanks, God will rescue me!"

A helicopter came by, but a third time he declined, saying, "God will rescue me!"

And finally, he drowned. When he awoke to heaven, he approached God and asked Him, "But Lord, you promised to save me." To which God replied, "I tried. I sent a jet ski and a rescue boat and a helicopter … but you never got on board!”

It might get you to crack a smile or even chuckle, but I have found there to be so much truth in this concept, particularly within the walls of the Church.

I recently met a young man who was praying for God to get him out of a really difficult situation. Praying, praying and praying. His life had been headed down a dangerous path, and he was waiting for Godto rescue him. He had done nothing to get himself to a better place. Hehad sought no accountability. He had made no plans and taken no actiontoward improvement.

He was just praying. 

I admire peopleof faith. It’s important to believe and to live as though what youbelieve is already true—to trust God completely, fully, recklessly.The problem comes when people exchange the guise of faith for the role of passivity and sink into a pattern that lacks action and takes noresponsibility. Faith without deeds can be paralyzing, particularly when we begin to expect God to live for us rather than looking for Him towork through us.  

As a licensed professional counselor who also happens to be a Christian, I run into people who don’t always believe in my line of work. They are firm believers that prayer is enough. They dismiss the value of counseling and therapy, considering it a man-made replacement for the power of God.   

I’m a firm believer in prayer and encourage many of my clients to pray, and sometimes I even pray with them. Prayer flings open the doors between heaven and Earth, inviting the power of God to invade our situation. But counseling doesn’t negate prayer; it complements prayer. It is a beautiful partnership that challenges us to match our faith with action. It calls us to give to God what we can’t control and to seek to change what we can.       

Maybe you are feeling stuck in feelings, behaviors or struggles you can’t seem to manage on your own. Maybe the pain of your past or the fears of your present paralyze you from living your life the way God has called you to live. If so, consider the following things as you contemplate whether or not counseling is right for you.

Are you dealing with a problem that has a daily effect on your life? Problems come and problems go; that’s the nature of humanity. But there are some seasons in life in which problems, negative feelings or destructive thoughts and habits start seeping into the day to day, becoming a part of our routine. These things can begin to take a toll on our lives, affecting our relationships, jobs and responsibilities. If you feel caught in a daily battle that doesn’t seem to be letting up, maybe it’s time to consider trying something new.     

Is this something you've been struggling with for over one month and can’t break free of on your own? Many times struggles begin small but eventually snowball into something that seems way beyond our control. It may be an innocent habit, a deficit in communication or a “small” sin that begins to take root in a way that you never imagined. When these seemingly insignificant seeds begin to take root, they can overtake your life and wreak havoc. Don’t give your struggles the opportunity to settle in and grow by letting one more day go by. If you’ve been struggling with something specific for over a month, it’s time to take seriously the prospect of counseling now. 

Is this something that's causing you to engage in self-destructive or harmful behavior or is hurting those around you? Some habits and struggles are subtle, secret and out of sight. Others are loud and clear, unable to be hidden from the eyes of others. Either way, both have the potential to do damage in the life of a believer. Whether it's in the form of an eating disorder, addiction or even a harmful relationship, these things can silently sneak into your life in so many different ways. If you are caught in a pattern of thinking or behaving that is causing pain or harm to your life or the lives of those around you, now is your opportunity to consider getting some help. 

You want to prevent struggles before they happen.  This is not something normally thought of when it comes to the arena of counseling, but it’s so crucial. The best way to tackle a problem is to deal with it before it begins. Working in the area of relationships, I see a lot of young men and women who are trying to get a head start on healthy relationships through counseling focused on premarital issues and marriage communication enhancement, and even singles wanting to make the best choices before they take the plunge into a relationship. From emotional management to addictions prevention, the list goes on and on—but the goal is always the same: to continue the lifelong process of healing and growth.

It’s time for Christians to stop talking about prayer and begin living a life that reflects our prayers, a life that puts deeds to our faith, a life that seeks to engage the avenues and opportunities that God has put in place for our healing and growth. He doesn’t grab our hand and lead us into this process by force. He simply asks us to stretch out our hand toward Him in faith—our weak, tired and powerless hand. And just like the paralytic in Matthew 12:13, when we begin to act in faith, we find that we are empowered and enabled to do exactly what He asks of us.

Perhaps for you, it’s time to “stretch out your hand” and begin your journey of healing. That may mean shutting off the Internet, getting rid of the alcohol, forgiving a relative or finally breaking up with that boyfriend or girlfriend. Or it may mean seeking accountability, admitting that you need help and confessing some hidden sins. No matter the size of your pit or how long you’ve been living in it, today is the day to start climbing out of it—even if it requires assistance.



LOLLY78990 commented…

How many times is too many to go to counseling? I have been going to counseling for the past year almost weekly sometimes twice a month.I feel guilty for going to counseling so many times like I am wasting my money, but I do have a lot of anxiety, depression, and unresloved family issues that I let fester over a long period of time instead of dealing with them.


AJ commented…

speaking as a counsellor who also loves Jesus, but also encourages clients to do a lot of self care and self reflection things to help them live their daily lives, I also understand that when it comes down to it, there are medical things about mental health that we cannot control. I have had clients that had fears of nothing working and didn't want to take medication, but if you had cancer would you refuse treatments that were afforded to you? Mental health can be a disease and can be due to a lot more then what we see on the outside. There is no need to feel guilty about seeing a doctor. I encourage clients to get assessed for something further, and then sometimes it makes it easier for them to come and speak with me, and use the tools and coping skills I suggest to them more effectively. I have had clients that have just needed extra help from medication for example if only for a brief period of time in their lives. It simply depends on your medical condition. Don't give up though. Counselling takes a lot of time, and it can get discouraging at times, but it's important to just know that you have to work hard to make the changes. But I realize for some people it is hard to find that energy. Talk to your counsellor and be honest that you don't think this is working and perhaps they will help you find further help.



courtney commented…

Counseling was the best thing I could do as a Christian. Living with depression for years and praying that it would one day just disappear wasn't the solution for me. You seek help out of strength and humility, not out of weakness or shame. God has the power and ability to heal instantly but you can't live in that slim chance that He will, He empowers us to draw near to Him. I believed that I was weak for seeking help, but first off thats a lie the enemy told me so that he would continue to have control over certain areas of my life and second isn't that when Jesus says His strength is perfected, in our weakness? I suggest seeking faith/christian counseling though, but please do not live in the lies of the enemy instead step into the truth of our Savior.


deenasafari commented…

Great topic! I've always wondered this, too! Psychiatry definitely has a bad rap in the Christian community. For example, my brother-in-law has been ill for 6 years and has had every test under the sun. All they've found is a few ulcers in his stomach, but when they suggested a psychiatrist, my sister was adamant that he did not need counseling. I guess she felt like they were suggesting it was all in his head.

PC Walker


PC Walker commented…

Great article! Thank you for this. I have been tiptoeing around my need to counseling in my life...not for any of these reasons, but more because of my apathy. This is a good reminder to get after it.

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