Monday, August 30, 2010

Are you a Mr. Fix-it?

The heartbeat of our culture today seems to be fixed on solving problems and moving on to accomplish more. It is not the process, but the result that matters. Unfortunately, this sometimes becomes the mode of operation for relationships and even for ministry. It is tempting to offer solutions or advice, but it does not best serve the one who is hurting. The essential element to open the door to healing is validation. This simple, but critical element assures the helpee that you hear them and understand what they are telling you. It also builds a foundation of trust. People need to identify and state their pain to begin the process of restoration. Validating the helpee’s feelings shows that you want to truly walk alongside them to find healing and peace.

Do not skip this step and jump to advice (i.e., “I think you should just give it to God and move on. . .”). This indicates to the helpee that what you have to say is more important than their feelings. By validating their pain, the door is opened to the path that will lead to healing.

Examples of validation include statements like, “I can see that you feel hurt when you think about it” or “It sounds like you have been in a lot of pain over this” or “I can’t imagine what you have been through. I can see you are hurting.” You do not need to have all of the answers, but simply “be quick to listen and slow to speak” (James 1:19b).

I experienced a powerful example of the effects of validating a couple of years ago when I was helping an older lady. She had talked continually about her hurt and anger for over 45 minutes without seeming to take a breath. Her thirty years of hurt in her marriage had been bottled up, and it seemed as though she was releasing her anger on me. As I was listening I knew only God could intervene. No one could give her back the thirty years she felt she had lost. I realized it could be a very long afternoon so I finally interrupted her, which I rarely do. “I can see you have been through unbelievable pain and many years of hardship. Nothing can ever make up for that,” I said. Amazingly, her face softened, tears rolled down her cheeks and her countenance changed. Did that heal her? Is it that simple? A fool-proof formula? No, of course not, but it was a beginning. No one had ever acknowledged her pain. They had listened but not verbally acknowledged that they really heard her pain.

As a professor of counseling, I have found the most difficult thing for students to remember is to reflect the helpee’s pain by verbally validating before asking the next question. Even worse is skipping validation because the helper feels the need to give a quick fix. Validation is essential for healing.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The value of being a warm, genuine person

Your demeanor of acceptance and respect goes a long way toward providing an emotionally safe place for people. The hurting one needs a warm environment to speak out of their heart. If we, the church, cannot be safe and non-judgmental, where will they go? A psychiatrist upon his return from an overseas ministry trip among missionaries, expressed this idea best when he said, “The only army that shoots its wounded is the Christian army.”

He summed up the philosophy of the group he worked with:

1. We don’t have emotional problems. If any emotional difficulties appear to arise, simply deny having them.

2. If we fail to achieve this first ideal and can’t ignore a problem, strive to keep it from family members and never breathe a word of it outside the family.

3. If both of the first two steps fail, still don’t seek professional help.

“I have been a Christian for 50 years, a physician for 29, and a psychiatrist for 15. Over this time I have observed these same attitudes throughout the church --among lay leaders, pastors, priests, charismatic’s, fundamentalists, and evangelicals alike. I have also found that many not only deny their problems but are intolerant of those with emotional difficulties. Many judge that others’ emotional problems are the direct result of personal sin. This is a harmful view. At any one time, up to 15 percent of our population is experiencing significant emotional problems. For them our churches need to be sanctuaries of healing, not places where they must hide their wounds.”

Dwight L. Carlson, M.D. 1

Although I think that Christians on the whole have improved this picture tremendously, we still need to be aware of our attitudes, our judgments, and our words. Sometimes the best thing we can do is just listen, care and pray. God is the ultimate healer, not us.

1 Carlson, Dwight L., M.D. Christianity Today, Feb 9, 1998; Vol. 42, #2, page 48.