Saving One Another in the Here and Now

IMG_2058“Your mom saved me!” That’s what the man told me at Mom’s recent memorial service. He didn’t explain. He just added that she was a wonderful person and that he was sorry for my loss and then drifted away into the crowd. It was a little startling, as I hadn’t really seen my mother as someone who was out there “saving” people. However, over the next hour I heard a few similar statements, all of which included the word “saved.” For example, “Your mother saved our marriage,” “Your mom saved our family,” and the like. I’ve been thinking about that ever since.

My mother was a Christian counselor, a field she entered in mid-life after years as a full-time mom. I think we all recognize that counselors, therapists and psychologists help many people, but how often do we identify that with “saving” them? Usually, at least in the medical field, I think the idea of saving people is more associated with cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, ER doctors, cancer specialists and others who provide dramatic physical or technical interventions at the time of a health crisis. But our emotional crises are just as real and just as important.

Everyone has difficulty with painful or problematic emotions, and our inner emotional lives often involve true suffering. Although you may not agree, I imagine that the majority of all human suffering might be emotional rather than physical. In any event, emotional struggles are common, and our emotions drive our behavior, for better or for worse. We would need a lot less physical saving in healthcare if we had more emotional and spiritual saving going on. Counselors do save people as the mourners reminded me that day.

The service was held at the church where Mom practiced for many years, and a group of Mom’s friends helped me with the logistics. It was the same group that had assisted her with Dad’s service two years before. They jokingly call themselves “the church ladies” (referencing the SNL sketches of Dana Carvey). These longtime friends had been a great joy to Mom over the years and had been invaluable in helping her work through her own emotions, especially her grief at the loss of Dad. Even counselors need counseling.

Talking with one of them, I asked how she came to be Mom’s friend. “I was her client. We all [the church ladies] were her clients” was the reply, and I was startled again. It seemed to me to be a very unusual situation – a group of counseling clients had become close friends with their counselor and each other, and they were open about having had (and come together as a group through) counseling. My thoughts at the time were, Hmm… Interesting… What about professional boundaries? What about confidentiality? but also, How wonderful is that! Sounds like the Holy Spirit at work!

I’ve been thinking about this ever since too. The more I think about it, the more I like it! I’m not sure if this kind of situation is happening in other churches, but I’m taking it as a model of how we are to help one another in love. Certainly boundaries are important, but your therapist should be a lot like a friend (see this article), and your true friends in Christ should be helping you to confront and work through painful realities in addition to providing encouragement and support.

We are called to be “saving” one another in daily life. Our churches should be communities where we are living out this calling. My own church is looking at how to help its members care for one another in practical ways, and I’m excited to get involved in that, to help and be helped.

Who is saving you? Who are you saving?

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Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Gal 6:1-3  NLT