what is the right way to seek growth and healing?

Posted: December 8, 2015 in Uncategorized

As a kid, I always loved the idea of going to counseling.  My only exposure to it was TV and movies, but it looked like a sweet deal – you got to sit with another person and they would just listen to whatever you said, and the whole conversation would be all about you, you, you.  And they’d have answers to your problems!  I couldn’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to go to counseling, though it also seemed clear that you could only go if something was “wrong” in your life – so it was a special experience, set aside for only certain people, and unless I had a real reason, it wasn’t for me.

I didn’t experience counseling until I was an adult, and it was scarier and harder than kid me had ever imagined.  When I was 23 or so, there was a rough round that was a combination of struggling to figure out marriage, and regular PMS mood swings strong enough to make me somewhat scary to myself and others.  I saw a counselor weekly for a few months, had an appointment with my regular physician, read a good book on PMS prevention strategies (which I implemented – good books don’t help, if you don’t try their suggestions!), and took some meds for awhile (the meds scared me, so not much and not long).  I got through.  But I was surprised that the counseling wasn’t a place to go to be spoon fed answers – it was just a lot of questions, generally followed up with homework to help me find my own answers.

There was counseling at the end of that marriage, too.  First just crisis counseling for myself, as it felt like my world was ending and I needed someone to help me know I was going to make it.  After that, marriage counseling, which I expected to be the therapist choosing sides and saying who was right and who was wrong…but it turned out to be a lot more asking questions of us, and mostly learning that we were both wrong, and of course being given homework so we could find our own answers.  The marriage counseling didn’t save the marriage,  but I still count it as successful in that it helped me in the ways I most needed.  It wasn’t up to the counseling to save the marriage – it was up to us.

Years later, I went through another crisis period as I dealt with an addict in my life, and that sent me running for help of a different sort.  I found a Narcotics Anonymous support page on the internet, where I was able to talk at length with other people dealing with loved ones who also happened to be addicts.  I can remember saying in one of my opening conversations that I didn’t want to become an enabler or codependent- at the time, I was sure that I was neither.  I chuckle, looking back, and am grateful at how merciful the group was in not forcing me to see just what an enabling, codependent disaster I was right up front.  There was a perpetual argument on the support page about what level of seeking help was enough – what constituted doing it right.  Some felt seeking any level of help was helpful.  Some felt if you didn’t have sponsor, you were doing it wrong.  We had online meetings and “Big Book” studies, which I attended fairly regularly.  Some felt that was enough.  Others felt it didn’t count unless you went somewhere to sit in a room face-to-face.

I got an online sponsor.  The big gift she gave me was her insistence that I write a gratitude list daily, a process that saved my sanity and continues to change and shape me daily, all these years later, as I keep after it.  But the relationship with the sponsor didn’t last long – she was certain that I had a romantic interest in the addict, and seemed determined to force a confession of this from me.  Everything I felt for the addict was all  and only “mothering” and “fixing” stuff – the idea of a romantic interest was repulsive to me, in this case.  She kept pushing for the confession of feelings that I just didn’t have, and after about the third such discussion, I “fired’ her as my sponsor.  None of that cancels the truth that one good piece of advice from her has made more difference than I can measure.

I would come and go from the 12-step program in later years.  I attended OA (overeaters anonymous) meetings two or three times over a period of years, and maybe six to ten times I went to Nar-Anon meetings, which are for people with addicts of some sort in their lives.  I never got another official sponsor, but I did have a friend who painstakingly walked me (face-to-face) through the first 5 or so steps and was a wonderful resource clear through my amends process (step 8).  I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating:  working the steps was the single most healing thing I’ve ever done, though it was also by far one of the hardest.

Such official processes haven’t been the only places I’ve sought and found healing, though.  Adult Sunday School played a major role in my spiritual growth and discovery of healing and freedom – enough so that I miss it terribly, when I stop to think about it much.  Church small groups were crucial in the process.  I’ve had some major breakthroughs at various spiritual retreats, whether as an attender, as someone who served in the background, or as a speaker.  Meeting weekly with a prayer partner has made all the difference on some fronts.

Serving has been a crucial element for finding emotional and spiritual health, from my volunteer youth pastor gig, to being a youth Sunday School teacher and youth leader, to leading my church’s prayer team.  Each of these and many other serving opportunities grew me, changed me, fed me, and deepened my understanding of who God is and who I am to Him, and knowing Him more is ALWAYS a healing thing.

And then there is my own personal pursuit of healing and wholeness, which includes private prayer, personal Bible study, wide and varied reading, and aggressively seeking out a broad range of teaching via various writings and recordings, which later morphed to blogs and podcasts – the internet makes it possible for us to have hundreds of spiritual and emotional teachers, and I find more consistent truth in the varied perspectives than I do in hanging my spiritual hat all on only one.

I’ve been noticing lately how we tend to pick the thing that we think “works,” and then insist that everyone else should do it that way.  Some believe in therapy, while others thing therapy is BS.  Some see accountability and discipleship as one in the same, while others see them as different things, with one being great and the other not so much.  Some think small groups change the world, while others deem them useless.  Some think if you’re not in a meeting somewhere, you’re not really getting it.  Some think the 12 steps are the cornerstone of mental health, and others think that Sunday morning church meetings are the primary place from which God is changing people. Some hammer hard on the importance of personal “quiet time,” while others are more concerned with what is happening in interpersonal relationships.

If you’ve read me much or know me very well, you ready know I don’t land hard in any of these camps.  For myself, I am “greedy” when it comes to seeking spiritual growth and emotional healing.  I pursue it from many angles, and I don’t think they contradict one another, and I don’t need any of them to be perfect in order for them to be helpful.

I need church, both as a weekly meeting and as my extended set of relationships with folks from the wider church across my life and across the world.

I need my accountability/prayer partner.

I need my quiet time and the Word.

I need to write a gratitude list.  Always.

I need the 12 steps, though the meetings part of that, not so much.

I have needed counseling in the past, and I do believe in counseling.

I work hard to always be aware of who I can go to for spiritual counsel, since I know I’m always gonna need some more of that, and I’ve got pretty high standards on who I’ll take it from.

I need to serve – when I don’t, something is lost in my spiritual growth.

I need the writing process – often I don’t know what I know or even what I feel until I watch myself write it out.

I need massive amounts of teaching.  That is, I need to learn from many others on a constant basis and by various means, and I need to teach, since there are things you can’t know until you try to teach them.

I need transparency.  I need it from others, and even more, I need it in myself.  For me, growth can’t happen without transparency.  Maintaining any kind of image is, for me, a growth killer.

If you feel like there is one thing that does it all for you, and that’s working for you – awesome.  Do that.  I guess the thing I’d like to add to your conversation today is the idea that maybe something else works better for the guy sitting next to you.

Maybe there’s not so much one “right” way to do it.


  1. Cindy Maynard says:

    Agreed! For everyone is different, alas, different approaches and methods work differently for all. I just want people to be open to trying those different approaches/methods instead of sitting in their spot and accepting life without growth and learning. So many folks are stuck, and they are stuck in their own mud, without even looking for a hand to help them out of that mud. Thanks Karen for sharing!

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