I went into our group counseling session on Tuesday expecting another mediocre class exercise that was supposed to teach me the foundations of effective counseling. We would take turns counseling and being counseled about real issues, and then we would leave and analyze our performance in a paper. The assignment this week was to simply reflect the client’s feelings without asking questions or leading the conversation in any direction. Pretty straightforward. Except the fact that this Tuesday wrecked me irrevocably.
It started when I didn’t give my usual surface-level response to the, “So, what would you like to talk about today?” question. Instead of talking about how I want to graduate with straights As, I took a risk and brought up my tumultuous emotional state regarding romantic relationships. He listened, nodded, and effectively reflected the explicit emotions in my responses. We were doing pretty well. Until he took a step past the explicit emotions and told me that the underlying emotion he was hearing was that my frustrations with relationships [or a lack thereof] stemmed from my desire to maintain control and my aversion to being dependent on others.
Well, damn. My immediate response was the nervous laughter characteristic of discomfort, and eventually, I curled up into a ball on the couch and said, “I’m ready to not talk about this anymore.” I certainly wasn’t expecting my classmate, who has received the same seemingly inconsequential amount of training that I have, to be able to look into my soul and deconstruct my frustrations in one sentence. I’m still reeling.
So, I started asking my absolute favorite question. Why? (Side note: The best part about this profession is that it allows me to ask this question all the time, and even encourages it – as long as it’s phrased creatively. I’m fascinated by stories and uncovering why it is people act and think the way they do. If you aren’t excited about conversations about why serial killers exist, or why women tend to feel entitled to a man’s heroism, then we probably won’t end up being really great friends.)
Back to the topic, I sat down with my journal and asked myself why I was desperate for control in this area of my life. Why am I compulsively self-reliant when it comes to relationships? At first, the answer was because I didn’t trust that someone would actually show up. When the responsibility lies on me to show up and play my part, I trust myself to do it. I show up. I make things happen. I set goals and I work towards their achievement. Not so with other people.
And then I asked myself why I believed people were inherently unreliable. This answer was much easier to get to: there is no precedent for reliability. No man has ever shown up with intentionality, determined to make things happen. This dates back to an absent father and a severely troubled brother. How can I possibly believe in the dependability of the male species when my life’s experiences have taught me otherwise? Well, we’re getting close.
Next, I asked why I could relinquish control in other areas of my life that show no precedence for good yet struggle so terribly with this one. The answer to this question stole the breath from my chest and I collapsed on the table, unable to keep writing. I don’t trust that God is reliable with the protection of my heart. I don’t trust that God is reliable. I don’t trust God.
Me – the supposedly healthy, fresh-out-of-therapy girl who knows who she is and what she wants; the pastor’s kid who can speak Christianese like it’s her native tongue; the former-ministry leader at her old church. Apparently, amidst all that, I don’t trust God. It’s easy to psychoanalyze myself and come up with reasons for my distrust. I grew up around failed relationships – from divorced parents, to relationally incompetent family members, to watching abusive husbands wreck their wives. And in the midst of the mass chaos that is my dysfunctional family, it never seemed like God showed up. Or like he even cared that so many people were hurting, broken, desperate for redemption and healing. He never showed up in the way I expected the all-mighty, all-powerful God of the universe to. So why should I believe he’ll show up now that it’s my turn? Why should I depend on him? Why should I trust in his goodness when I’ve never experienced it in this particular area?
I didn’t know how to process it all, so my favorite ladies and I took to the foosball table and let out our frustrations on the innocent inanimate object. And after that didn’t seem sufficient, we sat around my coffee table for hours talking about expectations and relationships and gender roles. The blessing of being friends with other future therapists is that we’re all terrible at small talk, so our conversations always cut straight to the heart of the matter. It feels like we’re constantly in therapy even in our non-school-related conversations. Yet, even after all the words and laughter and encouragement and conviction of our appropriately dubbed “Therapy Tuesday”, I still feel overwhelmed.
I’m a goal-oriented person. I want to set “Trust God about relationships” as a goal, and then create five steps to get there. But while my head wants to race ahead to practicalities, my heart is stuck and sinking. I’m heartbroken because I know how much my distrust must break his heart. I’m heartbroken because I keep discovering that my brokenness is entrenched so deeply it sometimes feels like I will never be mended. I’m heartbroken because my beliefs about God are so influenced by my experiences in this messy world. If only my trust in God were separate from my development. But it isn’t. And I must wrestle with reconciling what I feel and what I know, what I’ve experienced and what I am promised. I don’t know how to do that yet. Who knows if I ever will. But I have learned to never underestimate the power of a silly class exercise when God is involved. He wrecks you in the most devastatingly beautiful way.