“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Romans 12:2a
“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
“It’s a lot of hard work but it’s worth it,” Paul stresses to me as we sit down to a cup of hot tea last Wednesday. “I had a pretty good day today. But I’m still struggling a lot.” I’m surprised to hear this and shift uncomfortably in my seat. We’re meeting to talk about Paul’s journey through Woodland’s Renovation Lay Counseling ministry, and I’m looking for the quick sell here. The “lay counseling changed my life and healed all my wounds” story. I realize that’s not what I’m going to get with Paul. What I’m going to get is the truth. I open up my notebook and start writing.
Paul draws me a graph of his life that looks kind of like this:
It’s like the one step forward, two steps back mindset, he explains, but better because when you step back and look at the whole thing you’re still going up. “You get through something and it makes room for the next thing you have to deal with.”
Paul doesn’t give me a lot of specific details about his journey. About five years ago, his close friend group dissolved. It was his “church” at the time, and the betrayal, anger, hurt and shame he felt from it pushed him into the dark place he had spent years working his way out of. He recognized his need for encouragement from the Body and didn’t know where exactly to receive it. “You need counseling but you don’t know where to go.” Affordable, Christ-centered counseling is a tall order today and too often you just get placed on a wait-list. Paul was told about Woodland’s year-long Ultimate Journey class and after a year in that ministry, he connected with his lay counselor.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.” 1 Thessalonians 5:11
The Renovation Lay Counseling Ministry started from a desire to concretely help people take charge of how they experience reality so they could actually overcome their struggles with habitual sin, thought patterns, damaged emotions, and phobias. In other words do the “hard work” that Paul mentioned to me at the start of our interview. That initial idea turned into a class, “theo-synergistic neuro transformation” (and yes, that is what it was called, and yes, Greg Boyd came up with that impossible name), that kicked-off in 2001. That class turned into a ministry that has been thriving ever since, taking passionate and gifted lay people through a 150+ hour training program so they can, in turn, offer Christ-centered counseling to people at a low, or no, cost.
Working with a lay counselor gave Paul a chance to realize the woundings from his childhood that he had been carrying with him since he was a child. “It’s taken my whole life to pull the plug on that tape,” he informs me. He was neglected and abused as a child, made to feel worthless and incompetent. He worked hard to please people to earn the love and respect he wasn’t receiving at home. When his marriage ended thirty years ago, he was thrown back down into a place of feeling utter worthlessness. He tried church, small groups and even other counselors before he ended up at Woodland.
“I was always expecting someone to lay guilt trips on me. [My lay counselor] never expressed any condemnation, judgment or shame. His acceptance helped me to accept myself. His grace helped me give myself grace.” I ask him if that was a life-changing experience for him, still hoping that I might get the wow story I had set out to get. Instead, Paul says, “It isn’t magic but it helped me get through a tough thing. I’m learning to be more comfortable with myself, respect, love, to believe in myself—that God says I have worth and purpose and I’m competent and I’m more than just a no good sinner. I have something to offer the world—love, compassion and understanding because I know what it is not to have those things.”
As he says this, I am more struck by Paul’s story than I thought I would be. It’s my story. Choosing Jesus as Lord isn’t magic. That’s right. It doesn’t make life easy, or simple, or instantly take away all of our problems. Our struggle to transform into the children God made us to be is a messy reality, and maybe one that will never impress the crowd. It is one that shows God’s outrageous patience and grace, and the Spirit’s willingness to remain with us even as the line graph plunges back into the negatives.
As we wrap up our time together, Paul tells me that he’s just now starting to peek out of a new hole he recently dug for himself. He’s finally starting to see some light. “It’s hard work. But it’s worth it. Make sure you put that in there,” he stresses. “That’s the most important part.”
by Julie Thoreen