Gnawing Feeling

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Ever get that gnawing feeling in the pit of your stomach that, “Something is not right here,” despite being told that, “Everything is okay. There is no problem here?” I do sometimes.

I get it when I am conducting couple’s counseling in which one partner is behaving foolishly, and the other partner is behaving wisely. I don’t know the character of the clients I am dealing with until we get into the hard work of counseling. This is when foolish and wise choices and behavior show themselves.

I use the terms “foolish” and “wise” as they are described in the books of Proverbs, Psalms and Ecclesiastes. Wise people take the resources given to them and use them in ways that bring life to themselves and others. Foolish people take the resources given to them and waste or use the resources against others. An interesting way to grow in wisdom is to read through the Proverbs, and ask God to help you apply what is taught in your own life. You will find many descriptions of foolish behavior and the consequence of choosing foolishness in the Proverbs.  Did you know that Proverbs has 31 chapters? That is just perfect for reading one chapter per day. If you continue this pattern for 3-4 months, and apply what you are learning, you can grow in wisdom. Here is an audio Bible study on Fools and Foolishness by Dr. Jim Wilder. I respect his wisdom. http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/ejameswilderphd  But, I digress…

One of my greatest joys as a therapist is to work with clients who are wise in character. When both members of a couple are wise, corrections and repairs are breathtakingly beautiful to watch. The marriage and each individual becomes more alive. Out of dead places new life is resurrected. I get to see the beauty of the indomitable human spirit heal, be restored and flourish, even. Wise people listen to instruction and grow and change for the better. Hebrews 12:11 says, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” NIV

When I am working with two people behaving foolishly, quarrels abound and the problems are the fault of the partner…..both partners tell me this. Work with couples behaving foolishly rarely lasts longer than 1-2 sessions. This is sad because they will remain stuck in that state until each partner takes responsibility for personal choices, attitudes and actions. Waiting for another person to change so your life will improve is futile.

When one partner is wise and the other partner is behaving foolishly, this is when the gnawing in the pit of my stomach gets activated. Here is the thing: when I teach this couple how to use communication skills or any other intervention, the foolish one will take the new skills and use the skills against the partner, which is abusive and counter-productive. This is frustrating and sad. Like any resource, people can use it for great good or for destructive purposes. Think: Internet.

So, I am learning that the gnawing feeling is a signal to assess the character traits of my clients. I change my strategy and teach when behaviors are life-giving and when they are harmful in sessions. However, if a person persists in foolish behavior, my instruction will be used for —you guessed it— destructive purposes. In that case, I must stop the couple’s counseling, because I do not want verbal and emotional abuse happening in the counseling setting. If the foolish partner is willing to take responsibility for their hurtful behavior, then I can work with the partner individually on repairing what went wrong and learning healthy participation in the relationship. However, if the foolish person refuses to take responsibility for his or her action, then that person is stuck and the relationship will not get better.

One reason this is sad for me is my heart has a great desire to see people have a “good heart” toward one another. A heart that is “for” their spouse and desires to live in a life-giving way. I like the ideal that Colossians 3:12-17 calls us to:

12Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

I believe learning to live like this is a way to grow in wisdom, and I particularly love that we can ask God to help us learn to live like this. I am hoping that you join me in growing in wisdom.

April Linville


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