One of my responsibilities is to counsel people. The topics range from marital issues to depression. At times, it is informal when someone asks me after church, “What should I do with this particular job situation?” Or, there are other times, where it is a sit down situation because a couple is on the verge of separation. In each case, I ask God for wisdom. I do not know all the specifics about a person. Therefore, I tread lightly when giving counsel. I feel the weight of that responsibility. I want to guide them appropriately not recklessly.
One issue that occurs regardless of the situation is the presence of what I call real, reactionary, and imaginary issues. Whenever we face a difficulty, there is a real issue. It might be a financial problem, conflict with a boss, or health concern. Connected to the real issue, there oftentimes emerges a reactionary issue. Because we are having financial problems, we get frustrated at our spouse or co-worker. It is not the real issue but a reaction to it. Or, we might begin to control things in life due to a health concern. We can’t control our heart problems (real issue) but we can control family decisions (reactionary issue). Lastly, we experience imaginary issues. I see this frequently in marriage conflicts. There is stress at work (real issue) therefore the husband begins to withdraw from the family (reactionary). The wife interprets this withdrawal as a lack of concern for the family (imaginary) when in reality it is related to something at work. Or, a woman senses shortness from her boss (real). In response, she begins to panic (reactionary) leading to a conclusion that the boss is getting ready to fire her (imaginary). To be honest, my mind goes down these trails as well.
Unfortunately, these layers simply complicate the issue. Our emotions shift all over the place. We find ourselves frustrated at numerous things. And, it becomes very hard to see the real problem. One of my first tasks in counseling is to help the person sort through the real, reactionary, and imaginary issue. It is amazing to see the confusion and anxiety decrease as the person begins to see how the reactionary and imaginary issues are unprofitable and unnecessary. When I find myself in the same situation of getting frustrated at non-real issues, I take time to ask God to clean out the junk in my head so I can see life clearly. I usually then ask Him several things.
First, I ask God to calm my emotions. I have found that my emotions distort my thinking. Emotions are like thick fog that prevents you from seeing objects clearly. God has been so good to dispense these emotions or at least soften them so I can begin to process life appropriately.
Second, I write down what the issues are. I find that when I put it on paper it begins to make more sense. When it stays in my head, it becomes jumbled. I oftentimes ask this of people who are confused about some decision. Write down what the issue is, how you might be responding to it, and what are you imagining about the situation that might not be true. It makes the decision-making process easier.
Third, I ask God to give me wisdom on the real issue. How should I respond to my health issue? Should I get more information from a doctor? Should I bring the anxiety to prayer? Or, if there is a conflict at work, should you go and talk to your boss about it? Rather than imagine the worst, get some clarification. Ask God to give you the right questions about the situation. If it is a relational issue, how should you biblically approach it? Denial is not the solution; however, dealing with it immediately might not be good either. God can give you wisdom about timing.
Truthfully, these tips don’t resolve every situation. However, I do believe it clarifies things in our life. Rather than chasing emotional rabbit trails, we are able to deal with the source of the frustration straight up. And, more importantly, it draws us closer to God who knows our lives intimately, emotions and all.