I remember a class in graduate school where we learned marketing skills. The instructor taught us that we should have a one or two sentence explanation of what we do. Though many people–some who have even had the audacity to tell me this–think that counselors just “sit and listen,” that is not quite how I would explain what I do.
Over the past three years, I have thought of numerous “slogans” to describe the counseling process. Lately, however, as I’ve sat across clients in their pain, a new image has come to mind. If I had to answer the question “What do you do?” today, my answer would go something like this:
I’m a professional wrestler. I invite people who are struggling through divorce, or the death of a loved one, or the loss of a child, or a relentless addiction, or a life marred with emotional or physical abuse, to wrestle with life’s tough questions- and I wrestle with them. I wrestle with them through questions of why God allowed them to be sexually abused. I wrestle with them through the pain of a marriage that seems more hopeless every day. I wrestle them through questions of how they can trust a God who allowed them to be raped. I wrestle with them through the helplessness they feel over their addictions, or their lack of will to live. I wrestle with them in the chaos of family dysfunction that has gone on for generations. I wrestle with them in loneliness and anxiety and the depression that haunts them. I wrestle with them in chronic losses that seem to have no end, and I wrestle with them in the sharp moments of shock and trauma they never saw coming. I wrestle with them through questions of why? and how long? and where is God? I wrestle with them in times of hopelessness and helplessness and loss of faith.
I didn’t know I would be a wrestler. When I entered my Master’s program I thought I’d be the coach, yelling encouragement to my clients from the sidelines- “you can do it!”, “nice work!”, “maybe a little more weight lifting next week…” But it is apparent that I can’t do that. I have to wrestle with the the questions, fears, hurts, and pain of each client. If I don’t, it becomes too easy to sit in a chair and say the hard things as if they’re simple. It becomes too easy to give advice, spew platitudes, or quote scripture.
When I wrestle with my clients, I wrestle with my God. I wrestle with my world. I wrestle with my soul. And if I don’t wrestle with my clients, I completely invalidate their pain, their experience, and their courageous attempts to find God, truth, or healing.
I have to continually wrestle with and answer each question for myself- why does God allow such devastating suffering? why are there so many unanswered prayers? where is God in my hurt? who really loves me? why is God so silent? what is my purpose? why doesn’t God take away this temptation that is ripping my life apart? who am I, really? – because they’re not easy answers. Anyone who tells you they are, is not really asking.