Discernment Practice: How Should Christians Respond to THIS?

Imagine you are a church leader, and one of the members of your congregation tells you this story:

“I never kept a journal, but over a ten-year period, I realized that Benjamin’s moods occurred in six-week cycles. It went like this: Explosive, violent raging that lasted from ten minutes to several hours, then Silence that lasted for two to five days, then Friendly/cheerful/affectionate behavior that would last three or four days. (When things were going well, Benjamin would apologize and even ask me to find out what might be causing his “crazy behavior.”) But then there would be a long deterioration that lasted four to ten weeks. Ben would become increasingly more critical, condemning, and short-tempered. He would deny his earlier apologetic remarks. Finally, there would be an angry explosion, and the cycle would repeat anew. Once I recognized the patterns, I knew what to expect. This made things feel more manageable for me.”

–From the book “Stop Walking on Eggshells”

This sounds like pretty obvious abuse, right?

But what if I told you this story was actually written by a man–about his wife, Barbara–and I changed the genders?

Does it feel a little weirder now, calling Barbara “abusive” when you don’t know her?  Are you wondering whether there is more to the story? (If Barbara has a different perspective on their marriage relationship, would it be difficult to decide who to trust?) 

These are just a few of the questions we should be asking ourselves as we strive to be discerning Christians and wise spiritual counselors.  

Oh, I know, we don’t always think about our role as counselors. We like to think it’s only a job for licensed professionals with nameplates on their door and paying clientele.

But, the truth is, every single person in the world has been called to give “advice” at one time or another, and we are even more regular Counselors with the people who are closest to us:  our spouses, our children, our sisters/brothers, and our best friends.

At some point, we all need to acknowledge how difficult it can be to know WHAT’S TRUE, when we’re faced with a He-Said/She-Said situation and being asked for our counsel.  

Here’s another case study–this time borrowed from the Biblical Counseling Coalition website.  It says:

“After listening to each girl express her thoughts and questions, I asked them: “What would you want to say to your mother?” One of the girls said she wanted to know why her mother was acting contrary to what she had taught them in the past. (The child referred to Mom as a “liar” a lot.) Then her sister, a precocious child who knew the Bible well, replied that she was pretty sure Leviticus had something to say about how wives should stay with their husbands. Inwardly, I was both surprised by her response and impressed with her biblical knowledge.

In my interactions with the girls that day and in the previous sessions, it was clear…the girls are confused by their mother’s actions, but they love her. It hurts them that Mommy claims not to love Daddy anymore. The girls feel confused because their mother has become a very different person from the person in their earlier memories. She used to tell the children that her marriage vows were important.

Throughout their earlier childhood, their mother would sing Bible songs and teach them Scripture verses. She was their care-giver and nurterer, but now she had deserted the family. Now, she still quotes Scripture, but uses texts to justify her sinful decisions… People who know this mother are shocked by what has happened, but it is a reminder that all of us are prone to wander. This woman’s wayward life could happen to anyone. It is by God’s grace that believers are in Christ (Eph 2:8, 1 Cor 15:10). People could try to make sense of the situation, learning what happened in this woman’s life, discovering what went wrong, but, in the end, sin never makes sense…”

Does this story seem even less reliable, or is that just my opinion?

How does it feel to hear two little girls talk critically about their mother?

Do you wonder whether they have been swayed or coached at all?

Would your impressions change if I told you I switched the genders on THIS story, too?…

Yes, if you click on that link above and read the original case study, it’s about a man who abandons his wife.  The girls repeatedly refer to him as a liar, and everyone in the community is shocked by the way his sin has transformed him from a Bible-quoting leader into a Bible-quoting monster.

Read it again.

Does it seem to make more sense when the man is doing the sinning and the woman is the one being abandoned?


Maybe your answers to these questions are different than mine.

This is just a little thought experiment to learn about ourselves and our own possible blind spots or biases.

Being an impartial judge is HARD. (It’s so hard, in fact, that only God Himself gets it exactly right all of the time.) 

But, may we all continue to strive toward impartiality, so that we can be wise servants of God and seekers of Truth.   Not if–but when–we are called upon to offer godly counsel, may we seek the help of the Holy Counselor, to help us sort out these messes.

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