I have always loved the section in the Hallelujah chorus that quotes Isaiah 9:6b “And His name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Almighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.” The way in which it is sung suggests that “wonderful” and “counselor” are two different names, but as one reads the punctuation of the text in the New American Standard Version, there is no comma and so it is read “Wonderful Counselor”.
I had framed a small prayer and put it on my desk when I began in counseling a couple of years ago. It beseeches the Counselor to be present in the words that one offers. This week I have several reasons to be continually lifting that prayer.
Anyone who has worked a twelve step program knows how challenging a thorough searching moral inventory can be. It can take a week to a month or more to plow through all the junk in our emotional briar patches. When a student/sponsee has worked through all the questions and outlined the details of her life, there remains an even more challenging part…..sharing that moral inventory with a trusted person.
I have three students who have been working through their respective fourth steps for several weeks. This week it’s time for step five. I have come to appreciate how powerful this step is….how potentially liberating, how very difficult, how sincerely humbling, and how absolutely necessary.
A phrase I have heard often since entering recovery work is, “We are only as sick as our secrets.” My awakening to the value of confession came as a result of my own confessions thirteen years ago, spewed out like projectiles in the midst of psychosis, and the counseling that followed. Now I realize that the confessions would have been better accomplished, with less pain to all involved, had counseling occurred before, during, and after instead of only afterward. But, if I’d been in my right mind I probably would never have gotten them out. And I’m not sure any counselor would have ever advised me to go forward with what I did. In fact, one pastor had already told me that it would probably be best if I didn’t. As much as I respected and valued him, I think he was wrong. God knew my secret sins should and, in fact, would come out.
Later, while studying Beth Moore’s “Breaking Free”, I was introduced to 2 Corinthians 4:2, in which the Apostle Paul disavows and advises against all things secret, shameful, deceptive, or distortive of Scripture for those who are in Christ. Moore calls such things “the fingerprints of satan”.
Indeed, I have known the relief and freedom of getting secrets out of my heart and head where satan had used them to condemn and control. I’ve seen others liberated by the same process. And while I know and affirm the value, I have to take care to not approach the process with an assumptive or cavalier attitude that everyone is going to do it thoroughly and well. Also, I have to be careful and prayerful in my approach to hearing another’s confession. I have to listen carefully…..not just to the student but, more importantly, to the whisper of the Holy Spirit in the conversation.
These times demand mercy, encouragement, and wisdom……none of which comes easily to me. I am prone to judgment and directive advising. I am aware of the tendencies and have to pray all the more to be constrained in my flesh and to rely entirely upon God.
This week’s cases are each very different. I have to be ready for each one. It is likely to be an exhausting process. In that respect, I don’t relish the thought. But in terms of the potential benefit to the women with whom I’ll be walking this part of the path , it quite literally could be the difference between life and death – spiritually, relationally, even physically.
I am reminded of the “Footprints” poem. In this case one could pencil in a third set of footprints….mine…..walking alongside the student and Christ, (like the two disciples walking with Christ on the road to Emmaus). And, when the picture shifts to the single set of footprints, as in the poem, I, too, will be in His arms, along with the student, as we are both carried by Him through this difficult passage.
(I had just completed this post and gone to my email, where I found the June 21 devotional from Ravi Zacharias Ministries www.rzim.org/resources/read/asliceofinfinity/todaysslice.aspx entitled “The Hidden” which references the ways in which we hide from God and ourselves, intentionally or unintentionally. But when we are ready to see, God reveals the truth, even about ourselves to ourselves, and to those whom He’s chosen to be with us in the midst of it!)
THE HIDDEN: (from RZIM)
I am of the mindset that Sunday afternoons are meant for wandering. At least for me it is a hallowed task. There seems nothing more appropriate on the first day of the week than exploring for the sake of exploration, and I am content to do so by car or on foot, in a busy mall or in my mind. On Sunday, the journey is not the means but the end—and it changes my perspective completely.
One Sunday on my way home from church something different caught my eye, though it was on a road I use daily. It was a small cemetery, contained by a fence that was deteriorating, and concealed by a tiny forest spared by contractors. The cemetery was old; the grave stones were toppled or badly weathered, some dating as far back as the 1800’s. The place seemed like it had been forgotten—or perhaps like someone was hoping it would be forgotten. It was a lost plot of history hidden inconspicuously between large hotels and office buildings.
Christian theologians speak both of the omnipresent character of God and of humanity’s attempts to hide, and it was these attributes that struck me as I walked among the stones of this hidden cemetery. “He is Lord of both the dead and the living,” writes the apostle. For God there is no forgotten grave or child lost; there is no place we can flee from his presence. Whether we are running from his voice or crying out from the depths, our frames are never hidden from the one who formed them.
It was a striking contrast: I had driven past this cemetery a thousand times and never seen it. But God knew each one buried there by name.
Yet as I walked away, I was seized by the thought that my oversight was not accidental. It was a plot of land that had been concealed on purpose and then hidden by my own expectation of what belonged there. Contractor, consumer, or neighbor—we don’t want to see cemeteries beside our hotels, gravestones beside our office parking lots, or as we stand in line for lunch. The cemetery was “lost” because we had hidden it from ourselves. It was forgotten by our own doing.
I wonder how often I behave similarly with life, drawing fences around questions that haunt or convictions I don’t want to see, hiding sin or sorrow until it is forgotten. How often am I the cause of my own blindness, the hands that work to conceal the thing I need most to see? The human way is one so easily misled by our own distractions, lost by our own intentions—while our truest thoughts are like hidden cemeteries in the great worlds we build for ourselves.
For centuries, God has been calling us out of these hidden worlds and lost ways. Since Eden, God has been positing the question to people hiding behind trees: “Where are you?” As with Adam, it is not for God’s sake that God inquires—it is you and I who need to be asked. The Father knows precisely where we are, and yet the Father seeks the lost, longing to gather them unto Himself like a hen gathers her chicks. To those who are hiding from themselves and from Him, God calls them to love with all their hearts, souls, and minds. To those who have forgotten, God urges them to remember. To those who do not see, God moves them to sight. And to those who are lost, the Father sends the Son to save. “For the Son of Man was sent to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10).
Our inability to flee from the presence of God is not a diminishment of humanity, but a promise of God’s faithfulness. “‘Am I only a God nearby,’ declares the LORD, ‘and not a God far away? Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?’ declares the LORD. ‘Do I not fill heaven and earth?'” (Jeremiah 23:23-24). However disoriented or distanced from the Father we have become, it is not far for the one who longs to save. However lost we have managed to make ourselves, the Son has already found us. However thorough our attempts to hide or great the distance we have run, it is nothing to the one who never lets us out of his sight. Being found is only a matter of turning around.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.