When I started looking for a therapist, I knew that I was not interested in seeing a Christian counselor. There were things that I needed to talk about that I couldn’t share with other people, things that were just too ugly to say to anyone I considered a friend. Things that might be too sinful for me to admit to someone who had Christian as part of their job description.
I knew that I couldn’t do the standard Christian remedies. I didn’t want to hear to pray more, to read my Bible more, to repent more. My relationship with God at the time was firmly in the “It’s Complicated” category, and dealing with a list of “shoulds” about that relationship when I was trying to get a handle on accepting a mountain of loss felt like a poor use of my time and finances. If I felt like I had certain religious expectations that I needed to meet, I was afraid that I wasn’t going to be as honest as I needed to be in my sessions.
I knew that it was the right decision for me, but that didn’t stop me from feeling guilt about it. Granted, guilt was the handiest piece of garb in my emotional closet at that time, so adding one more level of shame seemed about right. More than one person heard detailed explanations about why I chose not to see a Christian counselor. When you’re busy judging yourself for everything you’ve done wrong, it becomes easy to expect others to judge you for every decision that you make, regardless of how they actually feel.
These days I feel less concerned with what people think. Not entirely so, but I’m getting better on that front. My therapist is a great fit for me, and she is helping me work through a lot of my issues with guilt and shame. One of the things we have spent a fair bit of time addressing is my need to carry the weight of others’ emotions.
Overall, I’ve agreed with her, and have taken some small steps to correct this kind of thinking. But there has still been a part of me that has wondered, “Is this the advice I’d be getting from a Christian counselor?”
For years I heard, “Consider others as better than yourself!” and “JOY = Jesus, Others, then You.” As I sat in my therapist’s office, and I hear that I can let go of what other’s think, it feels like it is at odds with what I’ve learned. How can I consider others better than myself if I’m choosing not to allow their emotional hang-ups to interfere with my healing? Even as I worked on this, this thought would float through my mind.
And then on Sunday, I was listening to my pastor talk about loving our enemies. I settled down to hear more of what I expect – that the changes that I was making to my life were at odds with the Scripture and I was embracing a selfish worldview.
Instead, he pointed to Romans 12:18 – “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”
“As much as depends on you.”
My eyes filled with tears almost immediately. Yes, I should try to live at peace with all of the people in my life. But, as my therapist has been telling me, I am not responsible for how others react to that. My responsibility ends with my efforts to create peace. Paul recognized that peace would not always come, and it was okay not to carry burdens that are not ours.
I don’t have this down completely. I still struggle with pleasing others and trying to make them feel a particular way, when it’s not my job to do that. But as much as it depends on me, I’m going to embrace truth no matter how it is presented to me.