Often in the counseling room I notice when a client will use words like, “happy”, “easy”, “fun”, and “quick”, in clumps, and also frequently. When these words appear so frequently, and together so often, I begin looking and listening for references to addiction, to frequent shut-downs in growth, and to excessive complaints about other people around them. These connections do often show up. It is not that I object to happiness, ease, fun, or quickness in life, but I believe that when someone insists on these things being primary and predominant characteristics in life, they will concurrently refuse the acceptance of life’s difficulty, and its risks. In that refusal, they find that their “life muscles” don’t sufficiently develop.
Ken Chafin, a dear friend of long ago, and a mentor I didn’t get to be around near as much as I had wished, once told of a relative of his who joked on his way out of church one Sunday, “I am thinking of never coming back here… every time I hear you preach, I learn something for my life, and I’m not sure we are supposed to do that at church.” In our modern times and modern churches our worship experiences are more sensual than they were years ago, and they are not as growth provoking as they should be, and I am not sure they were always growth provoking years ago, at least not so in many locations. But, sometimes, a situation, in church or in everyday life, is not growth provoking largely because that is not what someone is shopping for.
I see the challenge in counseling, also. As powerful as the moments in counseling may be for transforming life… there are limits. During a discussion of the transformative effects of therapy, Seth Bernstein, an excellent therapist in Corvallis, Oregon, said, “Life is our greatest teacher, not psychotherapy.” But, what happens if we don’t want to learn from life? What happens if avoiding life’s difficulties is the main thing someone wants? Counseling can help someone get unstuck, then provide encouragement and guidance in learning from life, but it can’t work when we won’t take life on with a purpose in mind.
Those of us in Christian counseling will take Bernstein’s reminder a step further. We will say, “Christ— and Life in Christ– is our greatest teacher.” One of the greatest misunderstandings of the Christian life is the misunderstanding of the Union with Christ. (Romans 6:8-11)
Someone once said that the Christian life was not meant to be difficult, it was meant to be dangerous. That is true, I believe. We see our new identity, we see that sin no longer works (if it ever really did), we see that the new power in our life is the rule of Grace , and we discover that this means our life is going to involve sacrifice, growth, change, I guess if someone considers that to be hard, then the answer to the question, “Is it easy?”, has to be answered with a “No”. But, if we understand the true nature of the transformation that is ours in Christ— the questions about “ease, fun, quick, and happy” all get left behind. The Joy of the Lord is ours, even when life is difficult, and life cannot really be about Avoidance, anymore. The mature and active disciple is no longer a glutton for ease.