In seminary, I took the scenic route (code for the long road). Students were coming back to get a second masters degree. Surprisingly, I wasn’t the only one.
I can remember being in classes with M.Div. students and then being in other classes later with some of the same students. They were now counseling students.
i. I would always ask why they were coming back
More than once I heard that they were in ministry positions after their M.Div., but nobody was coming to the altar with deep life changing concerns about how to parse the Greek.
So in the spirit of applying a little counseling, healing salve I’m going to share a brief model I’ve applied in many settings (counseling and ministerially). There are two examples and a brief theory discussion. You can certainly find more information online.
ii. the monk, the sin, and Jesus in the room
I had the honor of enjoying some conversations with a well-known psychologist, spiritual-director, conference speaker, and author. At the time, he was speaking to the larger crowd primarily about Christian practices.
We shared some other points of conversation, one of them being the counseling of ministers. He said he was working with a monk who was caught in some type of habit of sin. He didn’t reveal what the particular sin was and I didn’t ask.
At first, he was working with the monk, asking the monk to turn to the Lord immediately after the sin, or as soon as possible. For those who don’t know what it’s like to be a monk, a minister, a seminarian, etc., it is often very difficult to sin. The minister is often too cognizant of the activity to actually enjoy it the way someone else might indulge.
After working with the monk awhile, the spiritual director asked him to picture Jesus in the room with him while he sinned. It was at that point that there was a breakthrough allowing the monk to regain some mastery, after seemingly losing control to this sin for quite some time.
iii. the seminarian and the strip club
At another point, in an educational setting, we were discussing sins that seem to be tremendously difficult to overcome. The facilitator of the dialogue said she was working with someone who was going to the strip club every night, and who was a seminarian! You could almost hear the breath being sucked out of the room as the silence set in.
She said she knows her approach is not popular, maybe even controversial. Instead of telling the seminarian to stop, she asked the seminarian to go to the strip club just one less time this week, before their next session next week. Again, there was absolute silence as we wondered if that was even Biblical, ministerial, or Christian.
After the agreement was struck, the facilitator waited until their next session in a week. When the seminarian returned, there was a marked changed. The seminarian had not visited a strip club one time in the whole week.
We were all flabbergasted until the facilitator explained the principle. The seminarian’s perception was that there was no control. By regaining to the ability to stay away from the strip club just one night, the seminarian regained a sense of control.
For the record, I’m not quite sure I can endorse either method. However, the results are mesmerizing.
iv. locus of control
What I’m talking about could be claimed by a number of psychological camps. I personally like the small, personality theory contribution of Julian Rotter called the Locus of Control.
The locus is some type of line or curve between to points. In effect, the person is on one side and the out of control issue is on the other end. The control is a point that shifts back and forth between the person and the perceived problem issue (or another person, system, etc.).
Some say people are born with less or more of a locus of control. Others say they learn it (innate vs. learned). That question is beyond this brief article.
v. in our examples, let’s apply the locus of control
The monk had to turn from his sin, find Jesus, and repent. He continued to struggle. However, when he allowed Jesus to enter the room while he sinned, the locus of control shifted. He was closer to Jesus and perhaps perceived himself as stronger. There was a breakthrough and real change happened.
The seminarian thought there was nothing else to do other than go to the strip club every night. There seemed to be no end to the madness. When an agreement was struck, a simple agreement with someone the seminarian trusted – to attend the strip club one less time – something unexpected happened. The seminarian regained a sense of control and quit going there.