Generally, the counseling that most of us think about and practice has to do with situations in an environment that is standard to much of life. We meet with someone in an office or quiet space. We have a set beginning and end-time to counseling. Counseling was just part of the routine of the day for the counselor and the counselee.
However, there are times and situations, whether as a counselor or pastor, that you will find yourself in situations where you are dealing with someone who is in crisis in that very moment. It might be dealing with death or injury. It might be dealing with the revelation of an affair or internet pornography. It might be some other tragedy that befalls a person you are trying to care for. The principles that guide that type of soul care are different than the principles that guide regular soul care. Let’s look at three principles that can help in moments of crisis.
Embrace your limitations as a creature
All of us have creaturely limitations; that is how God made us and why He made us the way that He did. We can’t even stay up for 24 hours straight and feel that we have our mental faculties about us. In times of crisis there may be a need to push through some of our creaturely limits, but many times that is not wise. Rather, in our weakness and limitations we should do two things: wait on the Lord and care for our bodies.
By waiting on the Lord, we are not only trusting in His good providence in a situation, we are embracing the Creator-creature relationship. We are not God. We do not have His power, His knowledge, or His wisdom. That often means we cannot move at the speed and pace that God does, nor can we work and not tire. Therefore, in crisis we need to be patient and wait on the Lord.
Many times, when crisis hits, we forget that our body has limits. We skip meals, we are not able (or willing) to sleep. We push our bodies to the extreme. In doing that, we often diminish our ability to reason and handle any more pressure that may be coming our way. While it may not seem natural, caring for the body is one of the first things that should be done.
As the counselor, take an assessment of any immediate creaturely needs of the counselee such as sleep, food, medicine, and so on. Then, get them to commit to handling any creaturely weaknesses first. As an embodied soul, there is a powerful psychosomatic connection that we dare not gloss over as counselors or let our counselees do so when they are in crisis.
Don’t focus on the future, focus on the next thing
In crisis, it can be a temptation for the counselees minds to look to the future. It is intuitive for folks to consider what the worst-case situation in the future could be, or to attempt to plan for a myriad of contingencies. By doing so they hope to be able to either minimize any future pain and suffering that might be in their path or control the events that are happening. Either way, God only promises enough grace for today (James 4:13-15, Prov. 27:1). He does not promise any grace for tomorrow’s problems. In seeking to plan, they try to handle tomorrow’s problems today and often neglect what needs to happen now.
Get your counselee to commit to not focusing on the future, on the variety of contingencies and plans. Rather, get them to focus on what needs to be done in the here and the now. Get them to see that God gives grace for today, for the next decision.
Commit to involving wise persons to shepherd the process
When pain and suffering are present, when we find counselees in times of crisis, many want to act. They want to do something, but often the ability to make decisions that are congruent with Biblical principles is not there. That inability to make decisions in a way that is pleasing to Christ is absent for a number of reasons, and so, in crisis encourage them to invite others to lead and guide them.
This starts first and foremost by choosing not to say or do anything until everyone agrees that this would be pleasing to Christ. Job asks God to put a guard over his mouth because he knows that in deep suffering, like the writer in Psalm 73, it is tempting to say something or do something that will bring shame to the name of Christ. In the moment of crisis and deep suffering, we all need folks to think for us, we all need folks to lead us, and we all need to trust that God will work through these godly brothers and sisters who have only our best interest at heart.
In crisis, ask your counselee to commit to not making decisions or speaking words until you and any other parties involved would agree are pleasing to Christ. This will require trust on their part and wisdom on yours, but God will work by His Spirit through the brother or sister in those moments.
When our counselees are in crisis, it can be hard to navigate the tricky waters that God is bringing us all through. But if we humble ourselves by acknowledging and functioning under our weaknesses, focusing on the hear and the now, and choosing our next steps carefully, both our counselees and those trying to help have a greater likelihood of walking in a manner that is worthy of our calling.