My friend Dr. Mike Dittman offers a profoundly refreshing new approach to “counseling.” This is so applicable to friendship, marriage, and parenting:
“People have often asked me to help them figure something out or fix something in their lives. They want answers to their questions and affirmation in their struggles, but not to learn how to pray. My goal is no longer to solve their problems or soothe their pain. Rather than fixing their lives to make them feel happier, my aim is to help them find God in the midst of their challenges.”
What if, instead of having an “answer” for our spouse or kids or friends, we said, “Let’s figure out how you can hear God’s heart on this matter?” This response takes the pressure off us to be the wise sage and humbly invites the wisdom of God into the situation. We’re not the source, but we’re the friend walking with them as they connect to the source.
Imagine how this could impact our relationship with our kids: we’d literally be training them to turn to God as we turn to God with them. If a kid heard their parent say, “I don’t know what the answer is, but let’s seek God together about it” and God eventually provided an answer, don’t you think that would be even better for our children than a “Father/Mother Knows Best” speech? It’s the spiritual application of that old cliché, teaching someone to fish instead of providing a fish.
Mike confesses that, early on in his ministry, this wasn’t his approach. He tried to be the professional “answer man.” “After several years of using my counseling and teaching gifts as a pastor and a professor, I came to realize that I was educating their minds and encouraging their hearts, but not really leading them to Jesus. I pointed people to Jesus, I told them to spend time with Jesus, and I nudged them to make Jesus the center of their lives. All that was good, but they weren’t asking me to teach them to pray.”
This is particularly true if you’re married to a new believer. Your temptation might be to immediately offer the “answer,” but in doing that, you could be shortchanging their growth in learning how to get the answer on their own. You’ll need patience—few things are as excruciating as being sure of the right response and waiting for a spouse (or child) to arrive at the same conclusion.
The new way we evaluate our “fruitfulness” is by asking two simple questions:
- Do people ask me to teach them to pray?
- Does my life make people wonder how I get my peace, joy, strength, and wisdom?
Isn’t that the question we want our children to ask us? The hard part of this is that our relationship with Jesus has to be so real and so life-giving that it becomes compelling. Our closest family members will notice a difference and they will want that presence for themselves. Otherwise, what happens is that our spouse and/or our children see only what we give up for God (things they think are “fun”) without seeing the benefit of a whole new way of life.
Make this the new goal: “I want the conversations I’m having and the small groups I’m leading or participating in to entice people to pray and draw close to Jesus.”
It’s not having all the answers for your spouse or kids, but making them want to go to Jesus to get their answers. I think this could be revolutionary for a lot of us, don’t you?