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,
Idolatry is making a god of something or someone who is NOT the God. All of us are tempted to cozy up to idols. Guest writer Ellen Castillo, one of the counselors in Heart2Heart Counselor Directory, reveals her go-to idol and how she–and you–can learn to say “no” and flee. Her article appeared first here on her website and is used with permission.
What do you run to? What should you run from?
Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:15
It’s humbling to admit this. For many years my go-to idol has been. . .food. Sin is always humbling, isn’t it? And it can be embarrassing and even humiliating, except that the Gospel takes care of that kind of self-focus and self-condemnation.
I’ll take the humbling, because that is what keeps me from turning back to idolatry. I’ll keep purposing to reject the embarrassment and humiliation, because I know that my sins are forgiven. To try to pretend that I am not the worst of sinners is just silly because it’s written all over me. And you.
Let’s remember this: we have a Savior.
Idolatry today comes wrapped in a lot of different packages. Food, alcohol, drugs, prescription meds, sex, materialism, shopping, anger, status, playing the victim, seeking approval and attention, relationships, celebrities, pride of all kinds, and so many more.
There is no end, really, to what we allow to become idols in our hearts. Whatever we put before God, wherever our treasure is, whatever we worship, those are our idols.
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There is a reason these idols are called “false gods.” They are counterfeits. They ultimately fail us. We actually “become like them” and that is, to put it bluntly, disgusting.
The psalmist wrote:
The idols of the nations are silver and gold, the work of human hands. They have mouths, but do not speak; they have eyes, but do not see; they have ears, but do not hear, nor is there any breath in their mouths. Those who make them become like them, so do all who trust in them! Psalm 135:15-18
This disgust gripped me a few months ago when I got a serious medical diagnosis that is worsened by my idolatry. I realized I had “eyes, but did not see, ears, but did not hear, and there was no breath in my mouth.”
I won’t say my idol is entirely gone now, but I am seeing consistent victories along the way. Praise God, it is His work in me, not my own. I am too weak apart from His strength. I have a long ways to go, but I am daily choosing to go toward Christ rather than my toward my false god.
Where are you going?
The Gospel Ensures Victory
One of the beautiful things about Jesus’s Gospel is that we do not need to strive for victory.
Yes, there is a part we must engage by obedience, but when (not if) we fail at times, we can praise God because He does not see what we see. Even if my hand gets caught in the cookie jar, I am forgiven.
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That does not excuse my behavior nor does it give me the green light to worship my idols. It does offer me grace to get back up again and press on in obedience because of the indwelling Spirit in me. I need to know that God’s love for me does not change (nor does my eternal security) when I fail at times, and I do fail. But by God’s grace you and I can experience more victories and fewer setbacks as long as we are not relying on our own strength.
How does God deal with our idolatry? How are we to be rid of it? We see in Scripture that His dealings with His people were consistent and blatant. We see the same kind of dealings with our current culture (just view the news or your Facebook feed and you will see it.)
The Word Reveals Our Need
The commands are clear: we are to have no other gods before Him. God is a jealous God.
You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments. Exodus 20:3-6
In our personal lives, if you have a personal relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus, God deals with us and our sin of idolatry very individually and specifically. For example, my conviction came as a result of that scary medical diagnosis that requires a change of habits if I want to be healthy and live to know my grandkids, Lord willing.
We fashion our idols and enjoy them for awhile, until God reveals to us the thoughts, beliefs, and desires that lie at the core of our hearts. Those are the things that mold and transform in to our idols.
Out of that core of our hearts flow the things we worship, and we must remember that those things are not going to satisfy ultimately because:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9
God’s Word is clear. When God reveals our idols to us, we are then responsible to flee them.
Ephesians 4 instructs us to put off the old man, and put on the new. Through the conviction, empowering, and enabling of the Holy Spirit, we can do this. We can say no.
Titus 2:12 reminds us that grace actually teaches us to say no.
Grace. The Gospel. Spirit indwelling. SAY NO. Flee!
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,
A path with a beautiful destination is one way to picture the process of biblical counseling.
Biblical counseling has at least three important distinctives. Says Dr. Rob Green, pastor of counseling ministries at Faith Church:
Biblical counselors believe that the Bible is authoritative for life.
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It is not relegated to good advice that one can accept or dismiss depending on the circumstances. Instead, the Bible governs life. As a result, Biblical counselors use open Bibles in their conversations.
Biblical counselors believe that God changes people.
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God brings persons to the point of repentance. The Spirit of God brings conviction, encouragement, and comfort. While a person has the responsibility to participate in the process, God works in people’s lives.
Biblical counseling believes that the purpose of all counseling is Christlikeness.
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The goal at the end of the counseling is that the person is more like Jesus than when they began. Thus, sanctification is a crucial word and concept for all biblical counselors.
The path of biblical counseling twists and turns. It cuts through a meadow, dips into a river, and slices through the valley of the shadow of death where you fear not. You’re content, peace-filled, free.
Your map is the Bible. Your guide, Jesus.
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The Destructive Path
There’s another path, a tumultuous path. When you walk it, you hit every kind of difficulty. It tangles with lies, godless philosophies, cultural shifts, and confusion. The map? Well, it changes by the minute. Your guide is whomever you choose to follow. . .into difficulty.
The difficulty lead to pain—emotional, relational, spiritual, even physical pain.
Pain motivates change, doesn’t it?
Pain—whether anxiety, unhappiness, a marriage in turmoil, a kid in trouble, addiction, abuse, a spiritual concern, or a host of other possibilities—brought you to counseling. You hope for relief. Who wouldn’t?
Relief from pain is a great motivator for change.
You want your counselor to listen to your problem and make things better. Perhaps you’ve tried this already with another counselor or a trusted friend. Maybe life got better for a while, maybe it didn’t. Now you’ve slipped back into the ditch.
Are you wondering if you’ll ever have real and lasting change? Yes! Begin with the first step.
Taking the First Step
As you begin biblical counseling, you’ll soon learn it’s a process of one step after another. The process began when you became a believer in Jesus Christ. It continues throughout your forward movement toward Christlike maturity until your heavenly Father takes you home to heaven.
You may be tempted to make you own way. Please don’t. You’ll trip into difficulty again. If you do misstep, Jesus will guide you back.
Would you like to find out if biblical counseling can give you lasting change? Contact me to set up a complimentary 15-minute phone call.
Sharing Hope with Your Heart,
A rebellious child is opposed to authority — yours! And his defiance hurts, doesn’t it? It causes you to question your effectiveness as a loving, godly mom. You may wonder if God has given you more than you can handle.
As a counselor I’ve heard from moms and dads who need help figuring out and responding to a rebellious child. My hope is to provide encouragement to you so you know. . .
This article is the last in a four-part series on teaching your children. The first one focused on younger kids, the second looked at teens, and the third considered young adult children. If you’re married, why not share these articles with your husband?
The goal: to encourage and equip you
with help and hope for your heart!
You Are Not Alone
Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
“My daughter met this new kid who introduced her to weed. Now she sneaks out of the house and lies. What happened?”
“I can’t get through to my 24 year old. Over and over I tell him he has to get a job. He says he’ll look for one ‘tomorrow’ but never does.”
“Joey won’t do anything I ask him — pick up his stuff, turn off the TV, do his spelling homework. I don’t know what to do.”
Your child’s problem may be backtalk or bullying, stealing or sneaking out, lying or laziness — or all of these. Even “good” kids might rebel. They just coverup better, like my high-achieving high school friend who hid vodka in her locker.
Rebellion is worsening! In We Cannot Be Silent, R. Albert Mohler Jr. writes, “We are facing nothing less than a comprehensive redefinition of life, love, liberty, and the very meaning of right and wrong.” Do you agree?
God’s Word Has Everything You Need
As you wrestle through the issues of parenting a rebellious child, have you found hope and comfort in the all-sufficient written Word?
Romans 8:28 has an encouraging message. Please do not let its familiarity blow by you.
We know that for those who love God all things work together for good for those who are called according to his purpose.
All things. Including the hard. Especially the hard.
The Lord promises:
I will never leave you or forsake you. So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me? Hebrews 13:5-6
May I encourage you to read the Bible daily? Like nothing else, God’s Word strengthens you and comforts you. It instructs and convicts. It is God speaking to YOU.
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Jot down important truths God impresses on you. Think on these truths (Philippians 4:8).
You Have an Identifiable Enemy
When your son blames you, when your daughter refuses to follow rules — know this: Yes, your rebellious child is reponsible for their own sin. However, Satan loves to rip apart a family any way he can. He tempts your children to hate you!
Mom, you are in a spiritual war. This war has an eternal significance. Satan is your enemy.
What you can do:
In addition to prayer and reading your Bible for strength, comfort, and insight:
- Discipline your rebellious child. Biblical discipline, say Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jim Newheiser in When Good Kids Make Bad Choices, is the process of setting clear standards for behavior based on the Bible, requiring immediate and respectful obedience, and then taking measured discipinary action when the rules are not obeyed. In a future post, I’ll spell out what this looks like in real life. Meanwhile, if you need help now, please contact me. I counsel by Skype and in person.
- Love your rebellious child. When your child–whether age 4 or age 24–acts like your enemy, choose to show them love (Matthew 5:44-45). Resist revenge. Do good. Forgive as you have been forgiven (Ephesians 4:32). Speak life-giving words.
Remind yourself that your rebellious child is NOT the real enemy.
God Gives You His Power to Persevere
Parenting a rebellious child affects you! You may experience anger, fear, and depression. Here are a few practical ideas for you to glorify God. Remember, you have God’s power to lead a godly life.
His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. 2 Peter 1:3
- Pray for your child with your husand if you’re married (and he’s a believer). Prayer demonstrates your reliance on God.
- Thank God for the trial. (Romans 5:3-5, James 1:2-4) Thanking God will lessen your anxiety and complaints.
- Ask God how you can change? Perhaps you are too permissive or authoritarian. Maybe spending more time with your child will improve communication.
- Ask your child for forgiveness. (Matthew 7:1-5) When you sin against your child, tell her you sinned, confess your wrongdoing, and repent. Your demonstration of true humility will have an effect for the good.
These godly responses toward a rebellious child may sound impossible.
Apart from Me you can do nothing. John 15:5
If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. John 15:7
Truly, on your own it is impossible be an effective, loving godly mom to a rebellious child, but in Christ you can persevere. You can have true joy in the journey.
Sharing Hope with Your Heart,