To the Well-Meaning Counselor and Minister: Beware.
To the well-meaning counselor and minister: Beware the anxious bid that doth pull at your savior-complex heart strings.
Today is Valentine’s Day, and I guess it should have come as no surprise to me that the Bible app prompted me with the following verses of the day: 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. - 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
How often have we heard this verse repeated at weddings, or seen it scripted on a Hallmark card? In turn, how does one in a helping profession like ministry or counseling make sense of the phrase, “[Love] does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking…”? There are obvious ways of dishonoring others - abuse, manipulation, cheating, lying, stealing, mockery, gossip, envy, coveting, and of course murder. The target of this blog post is a less obvious kind of dishonor, a most subtle and pernicious form of dishonoring another that can easily intoxicate the well-meaning minister or the counselor.
This form of dishonor looks bold and brave and noble many-a-time. It is often considered the “good Christian” thing to do. We in the helping professions typically have compassion for others, which has something to do with our chosen career path. We have normally attended countless seminars and conferences with warnings to avoid situations that would put us in a position of being morally or ethically compromised. We tend to be high performers, and that is exactly what can lead us to dishonor another. The sin that is being called out in the first two clauses of 1 Corinthians 13:5 can flow out of a heart that really wants to help and do good.
I am referring to the sin of doing for another what they can do for themselves. I call this out as a sin because I believe it dishonors the image of God in another person and their calling. Every human has a vocation to “have dominion over the earth…. Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.” In Genesis, God gave man the authority over the flora and fauna, charging man to be like Him in creating, ordering, and nurturing. In the New Testament, the epistles echo our original vocation. As followers of Christ, we are called to “let your reasonableness be made known to others” (Philippians 4:5 ESV) and walk by the Spirit which produces the fruit we long to bear (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; Galatians 5:22 ESV). We are to keep our behavior excellent so that others may observe and give glory to God (1 Peter 2:12). These exhortations reinforce the blueprint for living our best lives as image bearers of God: having dominion over the earth, being fruitful and multiplying, and replenishing the earth.
One of the greatest privileges in the particular vocation of a minister or counselor is to encourage someone to live out of their status as an image bearer and lean into their calling to have dominion, be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth. We have all experienced a season when “having dominion” over ourselves, let alone our families or our resources, is a steep challenge. We know all too well that sometimes just surviving is the goal, and “being fruitful and multiplying” feels like a pipe dream. And replenishing the earth? Many people end up across from their minister or counselor because their souls are in need of replenishing.
Sometimes the state they are in when they come through our doors is one of such exhaustion, depletion, and despair that you are about ready to jump out of your skin to fix their problem and send them on their way. When you feel this internal urge, remember that this person across from you has the same creator and redeemer that made the lame walk and the mute speak. They have the same power at work in them as the one that transformed Peter from an anxious denier of Jesus to a powerful orator of the gospel.
When we look at the example of Jesus in the gospels, he never dishonored another by doing for them what they could do for themselves. He never gave in to the helplessness of another, never robbed them of their self-efficacy and agency. When faced with the crippled man who gave many excuses for why he couldn’t walk, Jesus simply asked, “Do you want to be well?” (John 5:6). Imagine the self-control that question required, to have all the healing power of the world at your fingertips and yet you engage another with their desire to be healed.
Jesus allowed himself to be revealed as the savior of the world, and he did not argue with anyone or prove himself as the savior before it was his time to die and be risen from the dead. As healers under the Great Healer (counselors, ministers, and all of those in a helping profession), we too must harness the power of the spirit to restrain ourselves from rescuing the “helpless” person in front of us. To give in to their anxious bid for our over-functioning is a dishonor to their dignity as a human made in God’s image.
Mary Carlisle Crehore
Graduate Student Intern
Supervised by Angelia Hirsch, LPC #78101