Counselling Biblically

I think it is so crucial that those who study psychology and counselling should remember that they are studying human beings, made in the image of the-all-complex God of the universe. 

Therefore human beings are complex themselves and can only be categorized and labelled so much before they stump their examiner. Just when a psychologist thinks she has figured out another human being, she is left in the dark by some unexplained behaviour.

However, Christian counsellors or psychologists have the capacity to not be thrown off by this. Instead, they can recognise that although their thoughts and ideas will always be changing and evolving, they still have a solid foundation. Why? Because their psychology will be based upon Scripture and thus they will understand the essence of what it means to be human. They will start with God first and build upon His unshakeable foundation theories and concepts to help encourage other human beings to discover their own uniqueness (individual) and yet their likeness (community) to the rest of humanity.

As if any of us – intricate human creatures that we are – could be easily categorized, compartmentalized, and comprehended.

Christian counsellors and psychologists can also believe tenaciously in the transforming power of the Holy Spirit to work in a person’s life – to change that which was ugly in one’s personality to that which is beautiful, to change that which was selfish to that which is gracious and life-giving.

They can counsel out of the understanding that no one person is “stuck.” There is more to a one’s life than “But this is just how [or who] I am.”  There is a God-given ability to move beyond one’s insecure self, to escape from the entrapment of letting his own personal struggles and difficult circumstances dictate who he is, to realize his full potential in light of the all-powerful God that made him. And thus give credence where it is due – to God Himself.

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A New Year’s Resolution Worth Keeping

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to make a New Year’s resolution and actually, for once, keep it? How many of us after eating our way through the holidays suddenly realize that that may not have been the best idea, after all?

Of course, this is done in conjunction with lazily sitting around while munching on sugar cookies and chocolates. It isn’t as if we ran a 10k and then sipped on only one holiday drink as a reward.

Feeling guilty, we immediately resolve to do something about it. However, three weeks into our new diet plan, we lose interest, we get busy, or we don’t see those results as quickly as expected. We become discouraged and just as speedily quit.

The issue with most New Year’s resolutions is that they are focused upon us. It is so often about us looking and feeling better. We miss what Christmas is all about.

Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year! It is a season of joyous celebration—an opportunity to gather together with friends and family, to rest and relax, and to be generous and kind. Most importantly, it is a time to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and His love He offers to each one of us.

There is no better New Year’s resolution than recognizing what Christmas truly is and then acting upon it. What do I mean? Well, instead of thinking about how we can best please ourselves, why don’t we make a resolution to be kinder, more generous, more loving, more patient to others in the New Year? Why not let that be our resolution, instead of yet another failed diet plan? (Don’t get me wrong: I very much believe in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.)

In fact, this is what Jesus Christ, the One we celebrate, did for us. He came to save that which was lost. He came to bring peace when only strife existed. He came to right that which was wrong. He came to save sinners and bring joy and gladness to the world! He selflessly gave of Himself so that we could live lives in service to Him and others.

In the Bible, Jesus says, “He [the Lord] has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19).

I encourage all of us to think differently about New Year resolutions. May we submit ourselves to the One we celebrate and seek to live out our lives the way He did—lives of kindness, of generosity, of goodwill to our fellow human beings. Now, that would be a resolution worth keeping.

 

The Mysterious “They”

Have you ever wondered who the “mysterious they” are, when reading a blog entry, article, paper, or book, possibly even an academic one? “They say this” and “They say that” clearly does not say much at all. “They” seem important as supposed authorities on a certain subject; “they” even likely have something important to say. For example, they say that consuming too much sugar will cause a person to put on weight. Nonetheless, who really are “they”? I do not know. Do you?

Of course, I too have been caught using the “mysterious they” in my own writing. I recall being admonished by one of my professors to state exactly who “they” are. I recently just corrected one of my own students on this as well. Thus, the more specific we are in our writing, the better writers we will be. We want to communicate as clearly as possible to our readers.

For those writing academic material, if “they” cannot be backed up by citing real scholars or authorities in our respective fields, then we need to overhaul our manuscripts. We must show we have done our research and can confidently present our arguments/ideas/concepts, to stand up to rigorous academic scrutiny.

For those writing non-academic works or even fictional pieces, if “they” as a pronoun does not have an antecedent, then our readers are puzzled as to who “they” are. Sometimes, we become lazy, tired, or we subconsciously think the reader can read our thoughts because we ourselves can. We write disjointed sentences, so that our readers cannot figure out who said what.

Again, clarity is key. It gives a greater voice to our thoughts and needs to be something we are constantly striving for as writers. But it takes practice. Be patient. You are on your way to becoming a better writer!

Frugal Living Can Equal Environmentally-Friendly Living

I am convinced that living a frugal lifestyle can translate into also living an environmentally-friendly one. My parents and I were recently discussing how in more ways than one, we do actually live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle. The more we thought about it, the more we realised the reason for this is that we try to live frugally. Here are some ways that we personally do this:

  1. We drink tap water. Yes, we do. None of us really care for bottled water. Plus, I find it quite difficult to justify buying water when so many people around the world have access only to contaminated, disease-infested water sources. With our water treatment plants costing millions of dollars to build and operate, water flowing out of our taps is expensive stuff. Why not just drink it?    

Environmentally-friendly bonus: We do not throw out large numbers of plastic bottles into our recycling.

  1. We cook from scratch. My parents and I eat little prepared and pre-packaged foods. We do this to be both economical and healthy. We bake our own breads, cookies, cakes, muffins, granola, hamburger buns, etc. We can pickles and jams. We cook a variety of homemade meals from spaghetti to taco salad to dal. We always stock up on fresh fruits and vegetables. And further, we rarely eat out.    

Environmentally-friendly bonus: We do not have to put out our garbage and recycling at each scheduled time. Because we produce very little of it, we can often wait two or three weeks. 

  1. We buy clothes from thrift stores (and Kijiji). I have no shame in telling this. I know some people will not wear second-hand clothing because they think it is unsanitary or somehow lowers them on the socio-economic bracket. I remember receiving hand-me downs from our neighbours/best friends who had 4 girls. I never cared where the clothes came from–they were new to me! Of course, we also buy brand-new clothes too. However, when we are ready to get rid of clothes from our closets, we gather them up and any other items, for that matter, and head straight to the Salvation Army thrift store, our favourite place to bring our recyclable items.

Environmentally-friendly bonus: We wear recycled clothes and recycle all of our items, that are not worn out, broken, or damaged. This idea of tossing perfectly good items in the garbage when they can be brought to a local thrift store or charitable organisation is simply out of the question. What an incredible waste!  

  1. We clean with either homemade or gentle household cleaners and laundry detergents. Since my Mom and I are both allergic to scents, and my Mom suffers from eczema and has read the Canadian Cancer Society’ warnings about out how harmful many household cleaners can be, we use only the gentlest and simplest of products. We readily reach for the vinegar and baking soda, two extremely inexpensive go-to cleaners. We stack fragrance-free laundry detergents and goat’s milk soap on our shelves. We also use all these items sparingly. Most people pour way too much detergent in their washing machines and spray/squeeze copious amounts of their cleaning products onto their surfaces.    

Environmentally-friendly bonus: We release few toxic and irritating substances into our household air. No perfumes, nor strong cleaners or soaps.   

  1. We try to continuously cut down on energy costs. When I was only a toddler, my Mom labelled my Dad “The Fluorescent Man.” Our house featured the most energy-efficient lighting system my Dad could install. This was 20 plus years ago, when there was not a big push to cut down on energy costs. My Dad has also installed a heat pump and even a flow control gadget on our shower head, that decreases the water flow, hence saving on water costs.

Environmentally-friendly bonus: We conserve energy, thus helping to maintain our natural resources.    

  1. We keep our things for a long time, making certain they last. I was raised in a home where everything had to last. We had to take especial care of furniture: couches, chairs, beds, tables, and desks. And even our toys, clothes, books, music, and just about any other item in our house had to receive lots of TLC. No careless, clumsy living permitted here. In addition, my parents and I tend to invest in quality over quantity. (Of course, at inexpensive prices.) For example, when my parents bought their Italian leather couch and loveseat at a going-out-of-business furniture store, my Mom asked a leather furniture expert: “Will this couch and loveseat last for at least 50 years?!”

Environmentally-friendly bonus: We do not wish to add more “stuff” to our landfills. Instead, we would rather keep our things, for years.      

That being said, my parents and I do not live a minimalist lifestyle, nor do we necessarily meet all the requirements for living environmentally-friendly. However, we do try to be frugal, use our resources wisely, and take care of God’s world. What are ways that you do? I would love to know what they are.  

 

Conversation with a Fashion Designer

Once, as a teenager, I met a fashion designer. A real one, mind you. Not an aspiring wanna-be but a woman who had hobnobbed in some of the most elite fashion circles. Well, at least Canadian ones, that I know of.

It was one of the most delightful moments of my life—meeting this lady. I can’t recall her name: I’m not even sure if I even knew it at the time. But I get overly excited when I meet a fascinating person, and this woman met my description of said individual. Fortunately, due to my love of conversation with just about anyone, I’ve met a few such persons over the years.

We had made a shopping expedition to the village of Merrickville, the main tourist attraction of the region. The town has become almost famous for its local craftspeople and artists. Its main street, lined with all kinds of shops, was a wonderful place of discovery for art, foods, and fashion.

My Mom and I were strolling down the sidewalk, glancing into various shops. We had just passed a shop with mannequins in the windows, dressed in the most gorgeous of outfits. Not your usual trendy stuff but different, unusual, one-of-a-kind pieces. My eyes immediately lit up. But the shop looked so chic, so fine, so fancy. We were dressed in casual shorts and tops with running shoes on our feet. I felt shy but yet so inquisitive.

We weren’t sure it was even open. But Mom insisted we backtrack and try the door. I was hesitant, but my Mom, as per usual, wasn’t. We turned the handle and went in.

We entered a world of the loveliest finery. The shop was filled with dresses. Stuffed full, in ways. It was actually rather crowded. Nonetheless, my heart skipped a beat as I quickly soaked in all the beauty surrounding me. Each dress was unique. The reason for this was that each piece was designed (and made) by the lady of the shop—a true Canadian fashion designer.

I still remember what this lady of fashionable refinement looked like. She had a tall, striking figure. Not beautiful but very noticeable. She was dressed in black—from head to toe—in a skirt and jacket ensemble. Her outfit was accented by diamond-studded black jewellery, both matching earrings and ring. Her hair was pushed up into a messy up-do of sorts. She wore reddish-brown lipstick, slightly smeared on her lips, as if she hastily applied it while rushing out the door.  

She was friendly and talkative: exactly the kind of person I like. She was willing to tell us about herself. Even better. She explained that she’d been in the fashion industry for years. Had designed many a runway show. But somehow she preferred to remain in tiny, insignificant Merrickville and set up shop there.

She owned a horse farm too, and I think she enjoyed that more than the fashion industry. Because she had been in that line of work for so many years, she used her horses as her means of getting away from it all.

She explained to my Mom and me that she had been up between five and six o’clock that morning, feeding the horses and mucking out their stalls. She also spoke of sitting with fashion elites, in the most posh settings. I say that she mucked out horses’ stalls by morning and sipped champagne and nibbled on cucumber sandwiches (with the crusts cut off, of course) by evening.

She custom-designed formal dresses, particularly wedding dresses. She didn’t have any wedding dresses on display there in the shop, but I had the chance to flip through a photo album of wedding dresses she had designed. All I know is that I dreamed of her designing and making my own wedding dress, many months after I left her shop. To say the dresses were gorgeous would’ve been an understatement.

She spoke of leading the local women’s Red Hat Society. She had these women parade up and down the streets of Merrickville showing off their finest red hats, that would’ve made even Queen Elizabeth sit up and take notice.     

This woman oozed creativity, combined with confidence and boldness. She wasn’t timid about chatting about her accomplishments. She was a businesswoman, through and through.

Before we left this oh-so-amazing place, she offered us this bit of wisdom that has stuck with me through the years. Not that I’ve necessarily followed this advice, but it has certainly made me smile. I paraphrase her words here:

NEVER put together an outfit that looks too perfect. Bad idea. You don’t want to show that you’ve put that much thought into it. No! It takes away from the creativity, the spontaneity of the moment. Instead, you want it to appear as if you threw on your outfit, as you ran out the door. Yet somehow in the midst of your mayhem, it all managed to come together. You look stunning, gorgeous, beautiful. And you did it all in 5 minutes or less!  

Of course, I don’t think I’ve quite followed this advice, over the years. I love to think out my outfits too much. Plus, I haven’t entered her fashionable world where I could put her words into practice, with utter abandon. I live too much in a world of casualness and even at times, grunginess. Not often by choice but by circumstance.

I have moments of weakness, though, where I wish I could. I long to attend a fashion show and walk through a design studio, while wearing the classiest and chicest of outfits I could possibly “throw together.”

Maybe one day I’ll have the chance. But for now, I cling to that memory of this unusual meeting. I remember this lady of fashion. I think about her lovely creations. I appreciate that I was able to gawk at her displays of art. Because really, that is what it was–she was an artist who had designed the most artistic of pieces—for me, for my enjoyment. It was an afternoon of firsts that I will always remember.

        

 

 

What It Means to Be Human

What does it mean to be human? In today’s society, we teach that being human means being ourselves and that of course, is rather vague and fuzzy and can be defined as just about anything. We can be whoever or whatever we want to be.

However, God has set clear laws in place that define for us what it means to be human. We can twist and distort our understanding of His laws, but we can’t rid ourselves of the law of humanness found even within ourselves, no matter how hard we try. Truth always exists. It may be hidden, ignored, snubbed, trampled upon, ridiculed, and pushed aside, but it cannot be destroyed. If we as human beings were able to destroy the truth, then we as the creature could destroy the Creator, the Author of truth. That simply is and never will be possible.

If we truly desire to be as human as we can possibly become, then serving, obeying, and worshipping our Creator is how we can do this. Christians should then be the most normal people on the planet, striving to be solely and utterly human. It is the essence of our existence. The Spirit breathed into man and woman both the breath of life. We are living on His breath, by His command, in accordance to His plan. Thus, human life has the greatest value and the greatest purpose of any creature on the planet.

(Yes, nature too is commanded to worship the Creator, but no book was written especially for the plants and animals on how to worship the Lord. Neither were plants and animals specifically commanded to name themselves or govern themselves. Nor are animals and plants spiritual beings made in the image of the Creator.)

Thus, every breath that we breathe should be an utterance of praise and thanksgiving to the Creator. Every thought that we think should be purposed to glorify the Creator. Every feeling that we feel should be our soaking in of the Creator. Our rationale and our emotions should be expressing and essentially mimicking the Creator’s, in a creaturely manner. The intents of our hearts and minds should be in submission to the Lord’s. This again is the essence of humanness.

Being human is not being one with nature or our fellow human beings. That simply leads into pantheism and humanism. Neither nature nor humanity is to be glorified. However, if we recognize and acknowledge that we must worship the Lord, then we will care for nature and honour our fellow human beings, since we have placed the Creator above us. He rules, while we are His subjects, tending and caring for the earth and for each other, following His bidding. Again, this is our essence. Truth triumphs falsehood. Beauty triumphs ugliness. Action triumphs apathy. Purpose triumphs hopelessness. Clarity triumphs obscurity.    

For the Lord is great and greatly to be praised;

He is to be feared above all gods.

For all the gods of the peoples are idols,

But the Lord made the heavens.

Honor and majesty are before Him;

Strength and beauty are in His sanctuary.

Give to the Lord, O families of the peoples,

Give to the Lord glory and strength.

Give to the Lord the glory due His name;

Bring an offering, and come into His courts.

Oh, worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness!

Tremble before Him, all the earth.–Psalm 96:4-9 (NKJV)

Divine Passibility: God as Sufferer

It may be safe to say that very few Christians today believe in divine impassibility. Most, in fact, believe that God does possesses emotions and can suffer and be grieved. However, in our understanding of this divine passibility, we often focus upon the fact that God suffers with us and grieves with us. We forget that God also grieves because of us.

No doubt we can be greatly comforted by the fact that God in all of His trascendence (He is outside of, beyond, and infinitely greater than us.) stoops down to love and care for us, to comfort us in our afflictions and pain. We can thus say that God is both transcedent and immanent (He is also present with us.). But sometimes, we focus so much upon God’s immanency seen within divine passibility, that we miss the fact that God in all of His purity, holiness, and majesty is far above and over us.

God is a pure and holy Lord. He wishes that we, His followers, servants, and friends, would serve Him wholeheartedly, with willing hearts and minds. He desires that we be in tune with Him and His workings of goodness, mercy, justice, and love. Hence, to say that God suffers with us–only–bypasses the point that God suffers because of us.

If more of us could recognise that God is grieved when we sin, when we do wrong, when we choose to disobey Him, then how much more would we seek to live lives that please and honour Him? The Christian life isn’t about me, easy grace, and a wishy-washy relationship with an all-loving, do-as-you-please Jesus. If that is so, then my life is quite selfish, bland, and basic.

Nor is it to be a life filled with continual condemnatin, guilt, and unhealthy fear in the sight of the almighty, all-powerful God. We cannot forever be tallying up our many sins. Neither should be our Christian disposition. Instead, we should recognise that when we do sin, if there is truly repetenance (a turning away from our wrongdoing, to run toward the righteousness of God), then the Lord in His mercy forgives us.

At the same time, due to our sinful natures rebelling against God’s perfectly good laws set in place, we know that we will experience consequences for our sin. That is only “natural”: It isn’t as if God is up there scheming or conjuring up some consequences for us (Although, Scriptures certainly speaks of God disciplines those He loves.). Consequences already exist in and of ourselves and are realised when we sin.

Yet the forgiveness, the grace, the mercy, and the goodness of our Lord overcomes, overwhelms, and moves us beyond our sinful actions. That is the beauty and wonder of our relationship with the triune God. He grieves with us when we sin, wants us to change and grow, and seeks to offer us a life of beauty, pleasure, and goodness found within Him. He extends His hand of love and compassion to us.

So yes, God certainly does feel our pain and cares for us, but as part of His immanency and hence, passibility, grieves when our pain is the result of our own willfulness. He desires that we be holy as He is holy. This is the essence of the Christian life and we (including me) would do well to remember it.