A critical element in pastoral counseling is helping people accept who they are and what they are made of, and to stop trying to change things that don’t need changing.
It’s an art, a moral art form that yields precious little to any kind of scientific approach. There’s just no way to encompass the vast range of human frailty with any kind of precision. If you are actually paying attention, you end up using your observations of people’s maladjustments as meta-data. It’s more instructive in terms of what’s possible than it is what’s likely. Only by collating with the context of culture do you have any hope of estimating where to find a path they can actually walk out of their sorrows.
Most cultures arise from multi-generational experiences of life and the struggles within a given ecology. We include in that mixture the mythology or imagery by which people develop a range of expectations and norms to answer the question of what we can expect life to throw at us. But cultures are generally living things in themselves, and they drift. If the education in norms and mythology isn’t that good, then the transfer of culture is insufficient. Crowding large numbers of people together in groups of age peers fosters a whole range of departures from culture, innovations that seldom take into account the broader cultural environment. It leads to maladaptation on a massive scale, as it is utterly artificial to spend your whole day among the company of only age peers. It never happens outside of the school building.
Yet, that’s where America is today. The current cultural milieu is a multitude of subcultures that have departed significantly from the foundation on which everything in America is built, and we have had several generations of people desperately ignorant of the foundation. I am amazed at the mythology for dealing with the material infrastructure based on the now forgotten American culture. Worse, it was a really bad culture in the first place, so that current generations suffer multiple layers of neuroses and psychoses and most of the population is just barely hanging on to life. They aren’t even aware of just how messed up they are, so they blame everything and everyone around them.
This makes the task of pastoral guidance monumental for even the smallest issues. Showing someone just a slender glimpse, a bare outline, of the truth as God revealed it is asking them to become radically alienated from their own world, because it’s a world utterly alien to who and what God intended they be. Anyone who feels led to the mission of pastoral counseling often finds it necessary to address some fundamental issues at large, often by writing books or recording videos.
This is where I find myself. It’s hardly the whole story, but it gives a sample of where my writing comes from. Of course, teaching is just an extension of that; I’m actually a pastoral counselor for the most part. There is also a heavy calling to prophecy to help fire the preaching and writing, but if I were doing what I really felt called to do, most of my time would be consumed in pastoral counseling sessions. And I do some of that, mostly via email, because the parish to which I give counsel is geographically remote.
That makes it very hard to offer meaningful guidance, because I cannot possibly see first hand what people are facing. If they can’t give me an honest report of what they experience, my counsel will of necessity be somewhat missing the mark. It’s very hard to be internally peaceful knowing that.
So I’m always wondering if I’m getting anywhere. I get very little feedback, so I want to encourage more of you to comment, even if you don’t like what I write. Speak up once in a while. How can I know if I’m coming across? Only if you tell me.