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Member Question: Will you help me with something? As a counselor, I find it difficult to terminate a counseling session. There are several reasons for this. Part of it is because of my harshness toward others in the past. Also, my hope something will eventually get through (even though I do not see much change or even see evidence of a willingness to change). And the fact that at the very least the presence of this kind of counselee reminds me to pray for them.
At the same time, I cannot help feeling that in a situation like this that I am wasting both my time and possibly theirs. Do you have any thoughts on this?
Your dilemma falls under the umbrella of a “wisdom issue” that the Bible does not directly address, though we see different aspects of your concern with the life of Jesus. There were times when Jesus persevered with someone, even when it seemed the person was not changing (Peter). There were other times when he seemed slow to react or to respond to someone who needed help (Lazarus).
And there were other times when He would not reach out and help someone but suggested they continue in what they had determined to do (Judas). (See also John 2:18-25)
It is vital for you to know that there are no absolute right and wrong or black and white answers to your dilemma. It indeed is a wisdom issue.
The key is for you to make sure you are walking in the Spirit, accessing the Spirit, and responding to the Spirit because the Spirit of God is the primary Counselor in any counseling situation.
You are not the counselor, but merely the mouthpiece, which should release you from any artificial or self-induced pressure to bring change to someone. Whether you’re a spouse, parent, friend, or counselor, it’s all the same: the Spirit of God is the change agent in stubborn lives.
You must become comfortable as God’s water boy (or girl) (1 Corinthians 3:6). You must guard your heart against the “mini-Messiah complex,” which can ratchet-up your emotional involvement in a situation like this.
Sphere of Responsibility – Sphere of Concern
There are two primary reasons a person does not change; they are not born again or sin has captured them. Neither of these reasons is because of you. Sometimes people can think that change is about them, because of them, or generated by them.
At times, the best thing you can do is let them go. In my line-of-work, many people are pressing in on me asking for help. I cannot help them all. My general working rule-of-thumb is to help those who put forth a measurable effort. If they are not willing to put forth the effort, I will move on to the person who wants to change, as evidenced by their observable work ethic.
If you try to help every person who comes to you without any requirement on them, you will soon burn out while becoming cynical and angry.
You mentioned four possible concerns in your note. I will address each one of them now: your past harshness, lack of faith, praying for them, and wasting time.
Past Harshness – You do not need someone to remind you of your previous failure. What you’re talking about is guilt-motivated counseling. Your motives, in this case, are not right. God is gracious, and He has forgiven you. It is unwise to create contexts to remind yourself of your past failures.
There are possible motives of self-atonement in your thinking. Ongoing regret is the unnecessary lingering reminder of your humanity, and that is not pleasing to God.
No Faith for Change – You do not need to meet with them in hopes something may sink into their brain. The Spirit of God will do the sinking in, not you. Remember: you are not the Messiah or the change agent. The Lord changes people.
God can remind them of your words many years later, even after you are dead. You may discontinue counseling with them, but there is no place in the world for them to go to get away from the Lord (Psalm 139:7).
Prayer List – You can add them to a prayer list rather than spend hours with them to be reminded to pray for them. That sounds like a torturous way to remember to pray for somebody.
Time Wasting – Though you may not perceive the results you hoped for, you are never wasting your time. God is a multitasker, who is always doing something, even if it is only to work on you. And it is possible that the purpose of this counseling session is for God to mature you.
Some of my most difficult counselees have been gifts from the Lord to help me work on me. Every person that I meet is an opportunity for careful (not punitive) reflection that allows me to mature in Christ. Be sure that you’re learning the things the Lord wants you to know through this challenging relationship.
Nobody can tell you when to end a counseling session, other than the Spirit of God. I would recommend you read my article, How to decide anything. That will help you to discern the Lord’s desires for this person.
If you believe it is time to end a counseling session, I appeal to you to say the most important things you would want them to remember in that meeting. Make your last session your most memorable and instructive.
The average person is not able to remember the second, third, or fourth time they met with you, but they will remember the last one. You need to leverage this to their benefit.
The night before you meet with them, pray through some of the takeaways you want them to retain. These things may be hard things, so do not give in to the fear of man.
Speak the truth in love, but make sure it is the clearest truth you can communicate, the facts that will give them an accurate picture of your overall assessment of them. Should they come to a place of repentance, they will recall your final words to them.