But even though I believe that we should be counseling each other, challenging each other and encouraging each other in our marriages, I have also been convicted about the kind of advice I offer when it's my turn to speak.
Last year, while attending my first biblical counseling conference out in Lafayette, Indiana, I had a lightbulb moment. Every session I attended hammered home the gospel...the gospel...the gospel. Eventually, I had the thought, Gosh, I get it! Why are we still talking about the Gospel?? Can we move on now? Right in the middle of one of those thoughts, it occurred to me that I didn't get it! The Gospel was the whole point! I realized that the Gospel had become to me what author Elyse Fitzpatrick describes as "white noise". I had heard it so many times that I didn't even hear it anymore.
Ladies, when the gospel becomes white noise to you, when you stop thinking about the gospel as your central motivation for everything you do, you will cease to give gospel hope to people. You will simply hand out "to do" lists for solving every problem.
"To do" lists without the gospel as motivation are ultimately pointless and utterly hopeless.But listen to what one of my favorite authors, Kimm Crandall writes:
Listen, I'm pretty black and white. Sometimes, it is honestly a struggle to listen to a person's struggles and not think, "Well, just stop it!" I tend to think in concrete terms of how to fix a problem and to offer practical solutions for how to act or make things better.
We must stop talking and start listening, allowing the Holy Spirit to work through our conversations instead of giving each other advice that just adds more to the already crowded list of things to do. We are smothering each other with well-intended input when we often need to just listen and pray...the truly wise don't constantly trot out tips on how to better manage the chaos. They know how much our real need is simply for Christ. (Christ in the Chaos, p.89)Before anyone jumps on me and says, "Well, the Bible says we are to act a certain way and obey the word of God."...yes. Yes, we are supposed to obey. We are supposed to use our words wisely, respect our husbands, love our neighbors, practice hospitality, forgive, not get into debt, not get drunk, and stay pure. But, "if we do these apart from a deep understanding of God's love for us they merely fuel our efforts to sanctify ourselves" (Crandall, p.80).
Let me give you an example: your friend and her husband are acting and feeling distant from each other. They aren't talking or even noticing each other and this really bothers your friend. Because he doesn't notice her, your friend feels unloved and neglected. So your first advice is to start dressing in cute outfits instead of sweatpants, kissing him when he comes home from work and complimenting him regularly; that will help him notice her. Do, do, do. Is that advice bad? No, not necessarily. But a marriage isn't going to get fixed and a wife isn't going to cure her love "need" simply because she starts telling her husband he's awesome. If putting on a pair of jeans is her only hope, that's dismal.
Instead, let's think in gospel terms. Well, God loves her. God loved her so much that He gave up his only son, Jesus, to reconcile her to himself. She needs to know that no matter what her husband does or doesn't do, whether he notices her or not, Jesus loves her and Jesus notices her. And because Jesus loves her, she can remember that Jesus loves her husband. Once she truly appreciates God's love for her, her actions can overflow in love towards her husband. Maybe that won't make him notice her either, but it's still hope for her.
I am not saving that "to do" lists are wrong or unnecessary. You might be right that a friend needs a good smack upside the head and a stern reprimand for how she is behaving towards her husband or kids or whatever. You might be right that she needs to stop freaking out and having anxious meltdowns all the time. You might be right that she could be a little more organized around the house so that she wasn't constantly stressed out. But when you hand out advice, make sure you are also giving her what she really needs - give her Jesus.
Your friend's husband may never be kind to her - but Jesus will be kind to her.
Your friend's life may always be busy - but Jesus is always with her.
Your friend may be in tough, discouraging situations - but Jesus loves her.
Once you give Jesus and the hope of the gospel, you can use that as a springboard to come alongside her and help with some practical solutions. We need Jesus and we need "to do", but please don't give one without the other.
Counseling that neglects the Scriptures when seeking to answer these questions always eventuates in a bloated self-opinion and an enslaving and futile self-focus. Counseling that neglects what the gospel says about us will eventuate in works-righteousness and its ultimate and inescapable fruit, either pride or despair, or a vacillation between the two. Counseling that neglects the obligation forced on us by the gospel always eventuates in complacent laziness, excuse-making and loose living. (Counsel From the Cross, Elyse Fitzpatrick, p.92-93)