I am a therapist, writer, and a Christian pastor—in my eyes, that comprises the trifecta of a “brooder”!
But I have noticed something in many of my clients; clients who have typically been extremely secular-minded, humanistic, or just plain atheistic. All of a sudden, they are giving God a serious second look.
In just the past two weeks I have had multiple uncharacteristic conversations from clients who have never shown an interest in spiritual things. Now, just to be clear, I have, over the years, had a great many clients who consider themselves as “spiritual”, but these are not those clients.
Now, as a therapist, my first goal is to support, address, explore, and encourage my clients’ existential questions; questions that are not, surprisingly, causing them anxiety and chaos in their internal psychic life—but the total opposite: questions that are based in considering belief in God as something—or more specifically, Someone who brings them peace and order from all the anxiety and fear and chaos happening in their world.
As both a therapist and as a pastor I have had numerous conversations about the goodness and fairness of God and the existence of evil, pain, and suffering in the world. Conversations that start with: “if God is so good, why would he allow…” Each of these conversations is crucial for people to wrestle with and are riddled with personal pain, confusion, and anger at God.
But these conversations are different.
These conversations all have one thing in common: they focus on having a relationship with God as an effective and healthy coping skill; something that will help them, not only survive this Coronavirus crisis but more importantly, to thrive in the midst of it! This is mind-blowing to me because each of the clients I have had these conversations with has an extensive history of chronic mental health issues (either in length or severity—or both), and the majority of them also have co-occurring issues with substance abuse (drugs, alcohol—or both). Which means that in their past, they have attempted to deal with their problems using negative coping skills (co-dependency, anxiety, depression, faulty thoughts, substance abuse, etc.) but all of a sudden each of them is not turning to any of these past coping skills, and instead seriously considering God as their chief coping skill!
Now, let me be clear: as their therapist, I am both legally and ethically prohibited from sharing my own personal opinions, and directly trying to get them to come over to my “Christian” side of the fence. And to be honest with you, even if it weren’t against the law or best clinical practices, I still wouldn’t do it, simply because no one wants to be emotionally manipulated during a time of intense emotional and existential crisis. And the bottom line is this: choosing to become a Christian as a result of that kind of manipulation will not last. All one has to do is remember the many instances of tragedies like Jim Jones and Jonestown or David Koresh and Waco. All of those, and many more, are ultimately relationships built upon a lie…and although they may not end in “crashing and burning” so-to-speak, the results upon one’s life will still be the same. Their faith will be immature, superficial, and built upon the foundation of a lie.
Now, speaking as a Christian pastor, of course, I would love for all my clients—and the entire world, for that matter, to be converted to Christianity, but I am excited and truly happy and excited for my clients taking this first step into asking some tough questions about what part God plays in their lives. To be honest with you, everyone comes to God through tiny, successive steps. I’ve never met an honest Christian who told me that they were able to swallow the “God-pill” in one fell swoop. That’s just not the way it works. Even for people (like me) who were raised as Christians, we all had to come to a point where we had to square the cognitive dissonance of placing our total trust and belief in Someone we can’t see, hear, or touch. And to have a belief like that (aka “faith”) takes honesty, time, and energy. Because all of us—yes, Christians included—don’t check our brains at the door, whenever we have to deal with the complexities and relationships of life.
I am not a prophet and I can’t begin to claim to know all of what God thinks or feels, but I do know this: He is happy and excited…much more than I am, that my clients have begun this journey. And whatever my clients decide to do with God in the future, I know they will be better off for beginning the process of considering faith in God. And as their therapist, I am honored and amazed to be a part of this deeply personal and sensitive struggle and search.