I have to write something about going from working as a counselor at a Community Mental Health Nonprofit in a rural area to working as a counselor at a Private Practice in a generally wealthy suburb.
If I don’t write it down, I’m afraid I will forget it.
Towards the end of my stint working for the non-profit a friend of mine stopped by my office when I wasn’t there. She remarked that the office and the people there were scary, and I should get out of there as fast as I could. I felt simultaneously vindicated and hurt by this statement. I felt vindicated that someone saw the chaos and grit of the place and people I worked with. I was hurt for these people because I knew their stories and that many of them already felt the judgment of those with more education, more money, more sanity than they had. Let me also clarify that I felt no ill-will toward this friend who was only being honest, and that if I am honest too my first exposure to working in that office carried with it very similar thoughts.
Now, instead of having an office waiting room that reeks of stale smoke, I walk into a cozy office with soft lighting, expensive rugs, and thoughtful artwork. Instead of seeing people in their pajamas or stained tee-shirts I see them in designer jeans and Uggs carrying Coach purses. Instead of seeing people who can’t read, I’m seeing people who have college degrees.
And of course, these are generalizations- in both offices I saw a spectrum of people with a variety of diagnoses and social economic statuses. I am thankful that even in my private practice I am able to see people who cannot afford services themselves, but have found help through our flexibility or outside help. But I am speaking here to the majority of who I have seen in each office.
The interesting thing, though, is that even though the incomes and locations change, a lot of what I see is the same. The heart issues are the same:
The desire to love and be loved, to heal from past hurts, to find a way to be real about who they are.
The difference I feel going forward is not so much in the clientele, as it is in my heart.
I used to leave Pathways feeling so grateful that I had a car to drive in. I used to thank God daily for a home and hot water and electricity that hadn’t been shut off as many of my clients’ had. I constantly felt blessed for having been raised in a healthy home by two loving and supportive parents. I was very aware of how much I had and how wealthy I was just to be living in an apartment and to have a job.
Working at Centennial I feel different. I feel like my clothes aren’t good enough. I walk to my car hoping no one will notice how old or how loud it is. I start to feel jaded that I can’t afford a home yet or even cable TV.
My heart has become less grateful.
And these are silly things. I know better. I know that the people who know me and love me are not going to judge the car I drive or the size of my home, and the people who do don’t matter. I know that regardless of where I’m living, I am extremely wealthy and blessed to have a home and a car and heat- especially during these cold winter months. I know that the love of God is more powerful and more penetrating than any difference in the amount of money I have or the car I drive.
But my heart is like that.
My heart will betray me if I am not intentional.
If I do not pay attention, my heart starts to want what society tells it to want, rather than what God says I should want. My heart starts to want what everyone else has, rather than what I know is good and true and worthy. My heart starts to want that which is sick and twisted and decaying, rather than what is light and life giving.
And I want what is light and life giving. I want humility and holiness and perseverance to characterize my life- not greed and materialism.
But even if I achieve these things, they are empty without the knowledge of what Christ did for me on the cross.
In order for me to guard my heart, I must focus on that- God gave his only son to die for my sins (sins of action and of the heart), and I don’t deserve it. My heart is protected only when I remember God’s sacrifice and his incredible love for me which outweighs all else that this world has to offer. Then, and only then, is my heart right.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. Proverbs 4:23