Christian cliches make you cringe, don’t they? Here are 5 Christians cliche identified by today’s guest writer Marie Notcheva, a featured counselor in Heart2Heart Counselor Directory. A certified counselor and author, Marie specializes in helping women and girls who have eating disorders, which she overcame through biblical counseling. Her article appeared first here on her website and is used with permission.
In biblical counseling, as in all forms of Christian ministry, we are called to exhort and encourage; listen and learn; love and give hope. Sometimes, however, words can hurt rather than heal. Although a counselor, friend, small-group leader or pastor may say something with the best of intentions, falling back on platitudes or Christian clichés can sometimes cause more harm than good to the listener.
Based on my experience as a biblical counselor and conversations with other women, I have identified five of the most damaging Christian cliches that have made their way into the counseling room. Over the years, I have heard all of these used, and while I understand the intent behind them, they make me cringe.
1. “In order to feel good, you must DO good.”
This is an old maxim of biblical counseling, often said to depressed counselees who find themselves in a rut. The problem is that it’s often not true, and usually adds to the counselee’s guilt and self-recrimination.
A better approach? Get to the source of her depression.
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A woman who is depressed because of a verbally abusive husband will not be helped by this phrase. She very likely is already “doing good things” to the point of burnout, to no avail. Is the counselee depressed because of a death? Telling her to get her act together and wash the dishes will not help.
The phrase implies that laziness is partially responsible for the depression, which is a dangerous assumption to make.
2. “How can I/we come alongside you?”
This is a Christian cliché that is so vague it is usually impossible to answer. Say what you mean. Perhaps make a suggestion: “I’ll show up at your place at 11 a.m., do your laundry, and take you out to lunch. You could use a break!”
Or, “Now that I know your family is struggling financially, let’s talk to the elders about getting a scholarship for your son to go to youth
camp. By the way, there’s a fund in place to help pay heating bills for folks going through a rough patch.”
The “coming alongside” offer can also be a thinly veiled but heavy-handed way of saying, “I’m going to interfere in this very private matter you’ve divulged to me, whether you consent or not.” Don’t spiritualize your offer of involvement. Spell it out, and respectfully ask the counselee, friend, or parishioner for permission.
3. “You have a very low view of Scripture (or Christ, or God).”
This is usually a callous way of dismissing what the other person is saying, simply because you don’t agree with it. It is presumptuous in the extreme to assume you know her heart on such matters, and it is lazy counseling.
If a counselee or member is attending an evangelical church of any stripe, and especially if she is seeking out counseling, it is safe to take her at her word that she believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. It is doubtful that she has a low view of Christ, and to tell her this is confusing and hurtful.
One woman I counseled several years ago had been told at her prior church that she had a low view of God, because she had taken a tough-love approach to her son’s drug addiction. Although I don’t know the woman’s pastor, I have counseled addicts enough to know that she took appropriate steps – and indeed had a very high view of God.
If you don’t agree that the individual’s conclusion is biblical, do some research. It’s probably a matter of interpretation and you, as the biblical counselor, probably have the benefit of exegetical training. Engage the question; look at different angles and commentaries; reason together.
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Never dismiss her by telling her she has a low view of Scripture/God/Christ. Such sweeping statements are designed to be conversation-stoppers, and have no place in the counseling room.
4. “Stop carrying around a root of bitterness/bitter spirit.”
This one is tricky, because it’s clearly a biblical warning. Bitterness is a sin, which ultimately destroys a person spiritually. The author of Hebrews cautions against letting such a spirit grow up within the Body, because it “corrupts many” (Hebrews 12:15). We see this all the time in the fallout of church splits, in the gossip and hard feelings that are left in its wake.
The problem here is being careful not to lump every angry emotion into this category, and gloss over it with this verse. This approach is what has given nouthetic counselors the reputation of “throwing the Bible at people” or a “take one verse and call me in the morning” attitude.
Having hurt feelings or struggling to forgive someone who has seriously wronged you is not bitterness. Often, counselors and pastors make the mistake of rebuking wounded believers for “bitterness” before they’ve even had a chance to start healing.
At that point, what hurting people need is to be listened to; have their experience validated; have the wrong of what was done to them validated. Then you can begin to help them work through the process of forgiveness. Bitterness is a heart attitude that comes about when one sees all others as enemies; deliberately refuses to forgive; and usually is a result of a non-existent prayer life.
Please do not forget that in some serious circumstances (such as sexual abuse, fraud, injury or murder of one’s relative), forgiveness may be a long, extremely painful process. Be very careful of bringing out the “root of bitterness” trump card.
5. “Thank you for sharing your heart.”
Usually said with the best of intentions, this is the single most meaningless, cringe-worthy, condescending, cliché-sounding phrase in the ecclesiastical lexicon, according to women I’ve spoken to.
It is meaningless because it is a non-answer, offering no resolve. It is condescending because it dismisses whatever the counselee (or parishioner) has said to the level of emotionalism. It is insensitive at best; insulting at worst. And rank-and-file church members know that.
One woman told me that this sounded like a pat-phrase taught in biblical counseling courses as a buffer; something to pull out when one doesn’t know what else to say. I know of another incident where a woman carefully documented details of incidents – with dates, names, witnesses and details – to give credence to a serious situation of abuse she had brought to her pastor’s attention. She was thanked for sharing her heart.
“My heart had nothing to do with it,” she said. “They wanted facts? I gave them very specific facts. I’ve never felt so dismissed and unheard in my life.”
A better alternative to “thank you for sharing your heart” might be to thank the person for the trust they demonstrate in you by sharing this information with you, and then ask what action steps she would like you to take.
This not only validates that the issue they’re addressing is important; it puts feet to the faith we profess to have. Faith and love both lead to action – there’s usually a reason they’re telling you something, and unless it’s over a coffee in Starbucks, it’s rarely just for the sake of sharing their heart.
Choose Words Wisely
As Christians, whether in the counseling room or out in the world, we’re called to be quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Although certainly none of us does this perfectly, thinking about how to make our words more meaningful (and edifying) might mean changing some of the ways we phrase things.
Always try to consider how the listener will receive what you say, in her personal experience and situation. Frame your words accordingly, and in this way you will be demonstrating the love of Christ.
Friend, are you sick of Christian cliches? Would you consid effective, “cliche-free,” and caring biblical counseling?
Please contact me and we can set up a free 15-minute free consultation. We can “meet” by Skype, in person, or over the phone. Just the other day, a woman from Germany had a free consult with me, and now we’re counseling, looking to Jesus and the Bible for answers to life’s troubles.
Sharing Hope with Your Heart,
When you hurt someone’s feelings, is it enough to say “I’m sorry”?
Or do these words fall flat when spoken without godly sorrow (2 Corinthians 7:10)? Is there a preferred alternative? Is so, what?
Years ago these questions swirled in my mind when one of my children called her sibling a name, snatched an item without permission, or smacked her on the head.
In this short article, I’ll share. . .
- an experiment that flopped
- the change that made the difference.
The main point: Don’t raise a little pharisee who knows the right words to say.
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Instead, train up a child to who desires to please the Lord.
The ‘I’m Sorry’ Method
Several Christian moms at my church, Bible study, and MOPS swore by a method to change their dear children’s behavior after a skirmish.
Picture this scenario: Carrie tiptoes into older sister Mary’s closet and snags a super cool top to wear. Later Mary sees Carrie at school in her top and pointed words fly like daggers. Later at home their mom learns of the problem and tells the swiper to return the top and say “I’m sorry” followed by “I forgive you” from the other sister, then they hug. She requires both girls to say “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you” for the mean words, and they hug again.
The mom in the scenario truly believes she’s getting to the root of the problem and that the girls learned a valuable lesson about taking without asking first and using hateful words. Have you found yourself in a similar situation? How did you discipline your kids?
Sort of hopeful (but not confident) this method would work, I tried a week-long experiment with my three children. I clued in my husband. A united front, right?
The plan: When one child was mean in some way to another, the offending kid had to say, “I’m sorry” whether or not she felt sorry. The offended kid had to say, “I forgive you” whether or not she truly forgave her — and they hugged.
The goal: to instill a humble, contrite spirit leading to true repentance. But did it work?
Laura called Julia a name, said “I’m sorry” while rolling her eyes, and Julia said “I forgive you” with great enthusiasm, bless her heart. Their hug resembled a vice grip you might witness on WWE. Within minutes John hit Julia in the face with a bouncy ball. It was an accident.
“I forgive you.”
Those two began throwing things at each other just to get to the vice-grip hug. Laura was “like whatever” and escaped to her bedroom.
When a lamp crashed and a cat flew out of the way, I stopped the experiment. I could not handle another six days!
The experiment flopped.
My children said the right words without an inkling of repentance. I was raising vice-grip loving, little Pharisees!
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Change That Makes the Difference
The real point behind genuine sorrow is repentance. Wordly sorrow is fakery; it’s death.
Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death (2 Corninthians 7:10).
“Sorrow,” in this context, refers to sorrow that is according to the will of God and produced by the Holy Spirit, says pastor John MacArthur whose Grace to You media ministry reaches millions. True repentance is impossible apart from genuine sorrow over one’s sin.
This was my problem and my kids’ problem: The “I’m sorry” were just words, not genuine sorrow.
Worldly sorrow has no redeeming value. This type of “I’m sorry” results from getting caught in a sin or from wounded pride, and leads to shame, despair, self-pity, and even death (see Mattew 27:3 for the account of Judas’ hanging).
Genuine repentance is at the very heart of one’s salvation. Believers repent of their sin continually as they turn from loveless thoughts, words, behaviors, and motivations and turn to God.
A person who is truly repentant experiences change in the inner person. Consider this:
But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. (Matthew 15:18-19, NIV)
The Pharisees were experts in “good” behavior–as my children became adept at saying “I’m sorry” and vice-grip hugs–and missed heart change. True repentance cuts to the heart.
Are your kids (young or older) driving you nuts? Do you need encouragment and godly counsel? Consider scheduling a free 15-minute phone call with me; contact me and we’ll set it up.
Sharing Hope with Your Heart,
Abortion stories are very rarely shared in most churches today.
Christian women are far more likely to admit depression or anxiety, a rebellious kid, or a troubled marriage.
Last year’s undercover videos of Planned Parenthood got everyone talking about the horrific selling baby parts after abortion. It set social media on fire. My heart hurt as I heard of the sale of livers and kidneys and craniums.
And my heart hurts. . .for the women and girls who’ve had abortions.
I am privileged to know Tiffany Stuart, a blogger and a wonderful women who shares her abortion story at Tea with Tiffany. God is using her ministry to educate women and to bring healing to those who’ve ended their pregnancies and feel horrible, empty, numb, angry, depressed, and unforgivable. Her voice offers healing words.
It Could Happen to Anyone
Lynn was just 17. College bound. A steady boyfriend. And a missed period, then another.
Did you know that every year in the U.S., there are roughly 1 million abortions? 1.5 percent of abortions are pregnancies from rape or incest. Lynn’s boyfriend drove her to the clinic and paid for the abortion.
“I’m so scared,” she confided to me. (Names have been changed.)
We were close friends, Lynn and me. After “it” was over, we never spoke of her abortion. Like it never happened. Back then I had believed the “right to choose” propaganda, and if an abortion was right for Lynn, then fine. Just get it over with and move on right? Right?
If it were that easy, why did we never speak of it again? Ever. Were we. . .
I didn’t know then what I know now: Women who have abortions are in desperate need of emotional and spiritual healing.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)
Honestly, if I had known the devastation to women, I would not have helped my friend get an abortion. In fact, I would have yelled, screamed, laid down in front of her car, anything but stay silent.
The workers at Planned Parenthood had told Lynn that her unborn baby was a blob of tissue.
They are wrong. She was wrong. I was wrong. We know better now, don’t we?
Breaking the Silence in Churches
If you want to help make your church a safe place to share painful secrets of abortion, start with prayer. Ask God to bring a hurting woman into your life. If you’ve had an abortion, ask God to send you a compassionate woman whom you can trust.
Here are warm words for compassionate friends and hurting women.
Dear compassionate friend, the hurting woman won’t tell you her pain at first. She needs to know she can trust you. She needs to know you won’t condemn her.
The Bible says,
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NIV)
Dear hurting woman, are you afraid to tell a friend about your abortion? If you haven’t experienced healing, you need to reach out. Do you feel nervous or angry around babies and children? Sorrowful? This sorrow may show up as uncharacteristic silence. These are signs you need healing.
Dear compassionate friend, offer her hope. She must learn that nothing can separate her from God’s love. Show her this verse in the Bible:
“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39, NIV)
Dear hurting woman, you’ll find peace when you reconcile with God, with yourself and with others. If you haven’t already, talk with God and agree with him that you made a bad decision. Ask for his forgiveness. He will give it to you. At Calvary Jesus paid for all of your sins–past, present and future. However, you do not need to forgive yourself. No where in Scripture are we commanded to do this. God’s forgiveness is all that matters.
Dear compassionate friend, help the hurting woman reconcile with others when possible by speaking the truth in love to people who had a role in the abortion. They may have sinned against her, or she against them. Guide her in these difficult conversations.
Dear hurting woman, do you need a healing way to remember your loss? If you desire, write a poem or draw or sculpt, or memorize a scripture verse, to remember God’s loving-kindness toward you.
If anyone reading these words had an abortion, may you wrap yourself is the truth that God loves you and is for you. Why not talk with him? He’s waiting with open, gentle arms.
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Sharing Hope with Your Heart,
Forgiveness is often tough, isn’t it? When you forgive someone who has hurt you, it may feel like you are letting the other person off the hook. (You aren’t.)
What’s worse than not forgiving someone? Holding on to unforgiveness!
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Dr. David Jeremiah says, “Someone has described unforgiveness as the accumulation of unexpressed anger Because it is denied, it can often be ignored, while all the time it is building and growing like an invisible tumor.”
Unforgiveness becomes bitterness. You don’t want bitterness to take root: it entangles you and suffocates you like a giant boa constrictor. The apostle Paul encouraged:
Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:31-32, ESV)
“Forgiveness is not a method to be learned as much as a truth to be lived,” writes Nancy Leigh DeMoss in Choosing Forgiveness, Your Journey to Freedom (Moody Publishers, 2008).
Unfaithful spouses. Gossiping friends. Wayward kids. Nasty neighbors. Unfair teacher, employers, coworkers. This world gives you and me many opportunities to grant forgiveness. Did you know many women who seek counseling also need to extend and accept forgiveness? It’s a huge issue.
If you’ve lived in unforgiveness — a dark, uncomfortable place where you’ve hidden your heart — isn’t it time to step into light and experience freedom through Christ?
12 Things to You Must Know
1. Forgiveness is both a choice and a process.
2. Make a decision to give up anger.
3. Pray to be made willing to forgive.
4. Feel your feelings in a safe place, with a safe person.
5. To say, “I forgive,” but never feel your pain denies the truth.
6. To feel your pain, anger, and sadness but never choose forgiveness hurts you.
7. Ask for grace both to feel and to forgive.
8. Read Jesus’ words on forgiveness. To get you started, check out Matthew 9:2, Matthew 12:31, Mark 3:29, Luke 23:34, John 20:23,
9. To forgive is not to condone
10. To forgive is not to excuse.
11. To forgive doesn’t mean you don’t matter.
12. Trust God for justice.
When you forgive, you let go of your supposed right to get even. Why not let go of the hurt after you share your pain with Jesus. . .and be free?
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Sharing Hope with Your Heart,
Anger: Some women bottle it up; others let it blow. The important question: What’s the best way to handle anger?
You’ve experienced anger, haven’t you? We all have. The reasons for anger outnumber summer dandelions. Like a dandelion, it has a root. Just as weeding can rid dandelions from your yard, you can learn the best way to let go of your anger.
In this article, you’ll get these two practical helps to grow hope in your soul:
- Identify 3 main reasons for anger.
- Discover the how to zap anger at its root.
The last thing you want is a place for the devil. The word devil come from the Greek diabolos, which means “one who makes malicious false statements; a false accuser; a slanderer.” It is the a title for Satan.
His main goal is to deceive people, including Christians. He wants to convince you to reject the truth and believe lies.
‘In your anger do not sin.’ Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. (Ephesians 4:26-27, NIV)
3 Main Reasons for Anger
Hurt: Tami’s husband is MIA — “in the worst way,” she says. “He’s here but not here. I’m so hurt I could scream.” After dinner, he disappears into his man cave, where he reclines in a La-Z-Boy and flips cable channels. He has next-to-know conversation with Tami or their two young school-aged children during the evening. She cleans up after dinner, helps with homework, and gets them ready for bed — and seethes.
A normal response to a hurt is anger. When hurt, do you stuff your anger? Do you yell or slam doors?
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Lack of control. When your life gets squirmy, you may feel out of control and angry.
“What are you? Stupid?” Suzanne yelled into her cell. Her teenage son had forgotten to pick up his little brothers from soccer practice. A single mom, she depends on her eldest for help. Her mocking putdown reveals her feelings of lack of control. She didn’t get what she wanted so she got angry.
Can you think something you got that you didn’t want? Perhaps a parking ticket? A poor performance review? A snub from a friend? What was your emotion?
Godly indignation. Sometimes — but not often, if we’re honest — you and I feel anger when we hate what God hates. God hates hypocrisy. He hates evil. God hates the trafficking of children. God experiences anger yet never sins. His anger is holy.
Here’s a scene in the Bible where Jesus displays anger:
Jesus goes into the synagogue on a Sabbath where there were Pharisees and a man with a withered hand and “looked around at them [the Pharisees] in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus” (Mark 5:6).
What’s something you hate that God hates? Does it make you angry? This is godly indignation.
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How to Kill Anger
Hold on to your godly indignation and let it propel you to good — this is holy anger. My husband and I hate the suffering of families in poverty. Our anger has led us to support a child through World Vision and to organize a food drive to stock a local food pantry. But. . .
Uproot ungodly anger. It ends up hurting you and the people around you.
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It also grieves the Spirit (Ephesians 4:30).
Unresolved anger can become bitterness that poisons your relationships and you. The sure “cure” for anger is forgiveness. Let’s look at forgiveness from two angles.
When you’ve been wronged, you can become angry and sin. Or you can choose forgiveness. Forgiveness isn’t easy. It costs you. It cost God (Colossians 3:13). When you forgive someone, you no longer hold the person’s sin against them. Forgiving doesn’t excuse their behavior or pretends the wrong never happened. However, you choose to let it go.
Your also deal with your hurt in a godly manner. It is wise for Tami and Suzanne to seek God’s perspective and determine to obey the Word in spite of how they feel. Both women need to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) to their family members.
Tami could let her husband know how his disappearing act hurts her and the family. She can be confident that God will work in her husband’s heart, convicting him of his need to ask forgiveness (2 Timothy 3:16). Suzanne could lovingly remind her son that she counts on him to help out and if he’s unable to follow through on his commitment than he needs to let her know so she can make alternate arrangements.
In addition, Tami needs to ask her husband’s forgiveness. She has anger toward her husband that she need to confess. Suzanne needs to ask her son’s forgiveness too. Angry words cut like a knife.
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. (James 1:19)
Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. (Colossians 3:13)
3 Parts of a Message
Did you know that the words you say are just one part of your communication? Your body language and your tone of voice make up a far larger part of your message than your words. Would you believe that they account for more than 90 percent of your message?
This is an essential you need to know — that I need to remember too — in all of our relationships. My next post focuses on the three parts of the messages to give — and how to say what you really mean.
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Sharing hope with your heart,