Vehicles for Change

by Beverly Sargent

If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you. Matthew 17:20

You might have heard the radio announcements asking people to donate their vehicles to a non-profit organization.  The donated vehicles are meant to help make life easier for those with financial, mental, developmental and/or behavioral health challenges.

What does it mean to make life easier? Really, the recipient of the gift can best
express its meaning. Also, the meaning may change from day to day, week to week and month to month.  The change a vehicle can bring may be minimal to those in the organization but monumental to the family who receives it.

As Pastoral Counselors, we, too, hope to be vehicles of change. In a way, we give of ourselves as we study, write treatment plans, and share knowledge and compassion with our clients.  It is a relationship in which we give and we hope for change. To us, the change may appear minuscule; but, to our clients, it may have taken years of struggle to experience positive change.  The minuscule can be monumental!  The hope of being a vehicle of change is sort of like faith.

It’s not about the mountain. It’s about the mustard seed.

“I have a mustard seed; and I’m not afraid to use it!”

~Joseph Ratzinger: Salt of the Earth (Pope Benedict XVI)

 

Christmas: The Season for Meaning Making

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ
the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

This season is all about meaning making. Whatever one might believe, this month calls forth our need to have meaning and celebration in our lives.

As stores report record sales, and malls extend their shopping hours to accommodate the crowds, my pastor, for the second year, provided lawn signs that read “findtheperfectgift.org.” That perfect gift, as the website explains, is the sense of peace that we get from Jesus Christ, who came into this world to shine his light on our lives. It does not negate our earthly custom of exchanging gifts, for even the magi presented baby Jesus with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but it goes beyond the material acts. For me, the reason for the season is Jesus. As I celebrate the birth of our savior, what makes meaning in my life at Christmas, is experiencing the God-given gifts of peace and joy, and the love of family and friends.

Christmas occurs at the height of summer in South Africa. Children return home from school, it’s 100 degrees outside, and the day is often celebrated with a BBQ (braai) after church. There may be a few gifts exchanged, but the festivities center on families gathering together to share a meal with friends and neighbors. In the aftermath of Apartheid and many lives lost and shattered, coming together to celebrate God-with-us seems just right, even without an evergreen tree or snow on the ground. God’s loss is our gain and God celebrates that gift with us. Sharing this love together in the face of the world’s brokenness is the best—and most meaning-filled way—to experience God’s arrival on Earth. Blessings of Peace, Joy and Love to all!

During Advent we make our hearts ready to receive Him. Forgiveness, healing, conversion, and charity are even more important now. We pray for those most in need reaching out to them. I am touched by the outpouring of love and care I have seen in support of those encountering atrocities that no one need ever confront. We light an Advent wreath, keep a Jesse Tree, and read Scripture/pray. We view Christmas lights, bake/cook, and appreciate our blessings. Creating homemade goodies gives me joy – a part of God’s creative process. The magic of Christmas to me is the miracle of LOVE. Have a blessed Christmas. I wish love and peace to you and yours this day and always.

Not all of us feel like celebrating. It is difficult to find meaning in the aftermath of Sandy Hook Elementary. How can I be happy when those families have an immediate black hole in their lives that will never ever be filled? All over the world are people suffering, grieving, hurting, crying, and . . . hoping. Hope is where I make my meaning in Christmas. Christians celebrate the promise born on this symbolic day. My hope is the promise that my life and the lives of the 28 who died in Newtown, Connecticut, are eternal, that our lives here continue to make meaning in the lives of others, and we find the capacity to forgive and never forget.

Peace and blessings to all our readers from your Meaning Making bloggers.

Glenda Janie JoAnn Barbara

Shining a light in the darkness of despair: Holding hope for the client until (s)he is ready to receive it

The holiday season is live and the malls are crowded with shoppers. Beautifully decorated stores lure customers through their doors with a promise of exclusive sales. Names placed on lists are checked off as patrons load gifts into their shopping carts. Churches welcome their flock and extend an invitation to those who have strayed, to “come home for Christmas.” Brightly lit homes greet holiday guests, and scrumptious dinners are planned for families who travel by plane, train, bus, and car to spend Christmas with their loved ones. Everywhere the atmosphere is electrified with joy and excitement, as Christians and non-Christians alike prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christmas is considered by many to be the most wonderful time of the year. It commemorates the birth of our Savior. But for those who are submerged in the darkness of despair, it is a difficult time. Consider the wife who is celebrating Christmas without her husband for the first time; the daughter whose mother died before they could reconcile after an argument; the mother with no money to buy gifts for her children; the children whose mother can’t find her way home after a night of drugs and alcohol; the old man who is all alone simply because he has no one left. For them, Christmas is a time of want; a depressing reminder of what they have lost, or never had. As pastoral counselors we are tasked to make a difference for those who are in despair and to offer them a sense of hope.

Hope is what Jesus’ incarnation is about, and why He is the light of the world. In John 12:46, Jesus said “I have come as Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in me will not remain in darkness.” During the Christmas season there are many people in darkness. Pastoral counselors are uniquely qualified to help shine a light into their world.  As psychospiritual healers, integrating psychology with spirituality, we are often called upon to compassionately hold hope for our clients until they are ready to receive it themselves. What a beautiful gift that one can receive at Christmas – the gift of hope.

As I serve my clients during this blessed Christmas season, I know that I cannot undo their past, but I can try to soften the impact as I prepare them to face life as it unfolds.  Christmas is much more than the commercial trappings that are propagated by businesses. Jesus came on earth to shine a light so that no one will remain in darkness as long as they believe in him.  He came to give us hope. Pastoral counselors have an opportunity to help our clients claim that hope and escape from the darkness of despair.  This is such a significant and honorable role for us, and one that I accept with gratitude and humility.

Experiencing God’s Grace One Client at a Time

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. Matthew 25:40

It might have been my first year in the Pastoral Counseling program at Loyola University Maryland, when a professor asked what type of client we would not want to treat. I thought for a moment, and then proceeded to conjure up the most depraved type I could imagine. Several of us raised our hands to share our opinions. I do not recall any answers being validated, and as the class progressed, it occurred to me that it was a trick question. As counselors we are called to be healers, and it is not our role to determine who might be worthy of counseling. What a valuable lesson I learned that day.

Many other lessons were learned since, some tangible, and some not. Among them was the manifestation of God’s grace in the counseling environment. As a pastoral counselor, I have the added benefit of incorporating spirituality in my work. This is not an alien concept, especially since many clients have a spiritual foundation, even if they are not actively involved in a faith community. In my experience, incorporating spirituality in my work enhances the healing process. It also allows me to experience God’s grace through my clients.

Even as I offer the thought of experiencing God’s grace, I realize the intangible nature of this statement. Grace is a gift that is freely given by God. We cannot earn it, and we cannot claim to deserve it. We also cannot touch it or present it concretely. It manifests as awareness, and I have found it to be present in the therapeutic environment. Each client has her own special manifestation of grace. It might be the hope she feels at the end of a particularly intense session, or it can be a feeling of peace that accompanies sacred silence during counseling. Each manifestation is unique.

I have wondered who benefits from God’s grace during therapy, and I realize that both client and counselor do. God provides what is needed when we acknowledge Him in the counseling environment. He supplies the counselor tools to facilitate healing, and offers the client the ability to receive and integrate the treatment. Loyola’s Pastoral Counseling program encourages and expects its graduates to invite God into the therapy room. In so doing, we should have no reservations about treating all clients with respect and compassion, regardless of who they are, and what their circumstance is.