"Let us then pursue the things that make for peace and build up the common life." ~ Romans 14:19
I attended seminary during a time when our classes in pastoral counseling included a heavy emphasis on current psychological theories and therapeutic methods. Hanging out a shingle as a licensed therapist requires additional years of study and practice beyond the eight years of college and seminary, so we seminarians joked among ourselves that we were learning just enough psychology to be dangerous. I’m glad to report that we also learned the value and frequent necessity of referring parishioners to those licensed healers, recognizing the point at which – although one continues to walk with the parishioner as pastor – a more studied knowledge of mental health and the healing of relationships is called for.
So, as is necessary in all callings and occupations, I know the limits of my training and abilities. However, as I look back over thirty-five years of ministry, I have discovered that some of those “Counseling 101” methods and techniques have actually been helpful and have stood me in good stead as I’ve sought – certainly imperfectly – to apply the communication arts as a husband, father, pastor, and friend.
In a series of posts to this web journal, I’m going to reflect on a number of these methods. (This is not just an academic exercise for me. I think these really work in everyday life, and I’m happy to endorse them.)
I. CAN WE TALK?
“If you are having a personal conflict with someone, and you go directly to that person and talk it out, it will never make the situation any worse, and it will probably make it better.”
I’ve put that sentence in quotes because it is exactly the way in which one of my mentors stated it to a group of young seminarians and college students. You might want to read it again. I think I have remembered it verbatim because I’ve applied it often through the years, and have always found it to be true.
True, yes, but not easy. It never really gets any easier to approach someone with, “I wonder if we could talk about what has happened between us…” (or some variation on that request). But the only thing harder than having an honest conversation about a problem in a relationship is not having the conversation. Although I don’t want to give the impression that my life is peppered with these difficult occasions, I have found nine-and-a-half times out of ten that I have come away from such a session with a lighter heart and an easier mind – and a healed relationship. (The content of such conversations is, in part, what the rest of this series will be about.)
As with all of the tips in this series, this one assumes a basic level of mental health at work in both parties. As St. Paul advises, “If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18). Sometimes it may not be possible. But, “so far as it depends on you,” I recommend heartily this direct approach to reconciliation.