Neurosis is always a substitute for legitimate suffering.
Philosophy of Treatment
C. S. Lewis once wrote that pain is God's megaphone in our lives, rousing us from deafness. It would seem that if Lewis is right, then there is a cacophony all around us. Pain is everywhere. Discordant relational struggles fairly rule the day. One does not have to look very far or dig very deep to find those places in life where suffering has sway over the very core of our lives.
The pain of our lives might be the white hot fury that sometimes accompanies that one commitment where we vowed to love the deepest and sacrifice the most - marriage. Or it may be an unnamed dull ache deep in our souls for which we have no clue how to begin to identify, much less openly deal with. Often, this ache is accompanied by a generous portion of shame - we believe that we ought to be happy, but we are not. So we simply go on, trying to keep our heads above the water so that others don't see how unsettled we feel.
This reality is exacerbated by the fact that when we are in pain, we instinctively seek relief. We desperately want to lessen whatever is making us suffer. We are attracted to a kind of mastery over our lives which will dispel the mystery of why suffering and pain are even our visitors in the first place.
Often, psychotherapy or counseling (interchangeable terms) is seen as a means of seeking only that which will repair whatever seems broken in a person's life at the moment. Fixing the "problem," therefore, usually amounts to little more than finding a way to rearrange external realities so that discomfort is reduced and feelings change. The appeal of the self-help industry is a strong pull when you are in pain. But what if realized pain is more of a sign that a deeper look is in order? Looking at the "inside of the cup" and contending with one's deepest desires, fears, anger, and doubts are where conversation with another who is specifically gifted in discernment can begin to unravel the knots of our lives, and can bring clarity to the struggle we face in a fallen world as we seek to love those around us. In many ways psychotherapy begins as a means of naming the obscurity, identifying what is really wrong.
Through counseling, the question can become: how do we change, not just superficially or behaviorally, but from the depths of our hearts, where God seeks to do his most intrusive, most healing work?
Entering a Conversation
Jesus warned that those who seek to change only on the outside badly miss the point that change is only valid when it happens from the inside first. Engaging in this type of work involves the type of listening required in good conversation.
This work, this conversation, needs to be deep and subtle, aimed at the core of our fears and hopes - the very stuff of our deepest hearts. Suffering really can be thought about in a way which begins to free us from our compulsive ways of relating (often seen in addictive behaviors) and leads us more significantly toward being the men and women of dignity, courage and freedom.
Quick fixes, while so very attractive in their allure to end pain, promise something thin, deceitful and unbecoming of the history of how we got to where we are now. The way out requires strength, courage, and a commitment to hope more deeply than we could have thought possible. To come to a place in life where we know that we can no longer settle for "coping skills" but have a desire to change deeply - this is a sacred space where seriousness, hope, and a certain discontent are required. When a person comes to a place where she is saying, "I cannot go on," real work toward healing, movement and purpose can begin.
We all are men and women of incredible power, promise, and dignity. Our long-practiced movement against this design leads to a kind of tragedy which, when finally confronted, arouses a discontent which can lead us more deeply into life, love, and purpose.
This work, this conversation, needs to be deep and subtle, aimed at the core of our fears and hopes - the very stuff of our deepest hearts.
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