Julie sat in my office, weeping softly. Finally the words began to come out, "If my friends knew what I've done, no one would even talk to me. I'm so ashamed of myself." She was so choked with emotion that her words were difficult to understand.
My heart ached for her. She was a sweet-faced girl, married, with a little boy. "Can you tell me what's wrong?" I inquired.
"It's so hard . . . okay. Here goes. I was engaged when I was nineteen and my fiance said that since we were almost married anyway why not have sex. We slept together, and I got pregnant and I had an abortion. I have not had a moment of peace for thirteen years. I feel like there is a wall between me and God, and I can't serve Him."
She just sat there weeping. "I had another child eighteen months ago, and I realized all over again how awful, how horrible the thing I did was. Vickie, I can't bear it."
Julie was so ashamed. She was also suffering from terrible self-esteem, as well as having an assortment of physical symptoms that required constant care. Her problem was affecting every aspect of her life. She had been to secular psychologists, but they had been of no help whatsoever.
I tried to help her examine her perspective on the problem. Essentially, she felt that she was unworthy to be used by God because her sin was so great—too great to be forgiven. She seemed to believe that she had to make up for the things she'd done wrong and that she deserved unhappiness.
Julie needed some teaching from the Word of God, which is what I proceeded to give her. First, I explained that the death of Christ was for all sins, and there was no sin He did not pay for. I pointed out that God had removed all her sin far from her, as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12).
Then I said, "Do you realize that your baby is in heaven?" She looked at me in astonishment. "Really?"
"Julie, do you remember David's great sin, when he took Bathsheba for himself and had her husband killed? As a punishment, God told David that the baby was going to die. David fasted and wept while the baby was sick, but after it died he resumed his normal activities. David said, 'While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, Who knows? Maybe the Lord will be gracious and let the child live. But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him but he will not return to me.' David wrote in Psalm 23 that he would dwell in the house of the Lord forever, and that's where he expected to find his baby. Julie, your child is in heaven waiting for you, too."
Hope seemed to flicker across Julie's face. She wiped her eyes.
I continued, "Do you believe that God will forgive and has forgiven and does forget?"
She nodded silently.
"Okay, Julie. Here's what I want you to do. For the very last time, confess the abortion to God and accept His forgiveness. You must accept His forgiveness with an act of your will!"
Julie bowed her head and prayed, "I confess the immorality; I confess the murder." She didn't say "abortion"; she said ((murder." "I thank You that Christ died for that, and I accept Your forgiveness."
When she was finished, I said, "Now I am going to suggest something to you. What do you think about writing a letter to your baby?"
Julie smiled, "I'd love to do that."
"Just tell the baby everything you've been wanting to say. Once you've put it all on paper, tear it up. It's finished, Julie. Leave it behind you!"
She got up immediately and said, "I'm going out now and write that letter. You know, Vickie, this is the first time in thirteen years I've had peace. How can I thank you for your help and encouragement?"
Larry Crabb said, "Encouragement is the kind of expression that makes someone want to be a better Christian, even when life is rough." Don't you long for an encouraging word now and then? I know I do. In fact, all people long to be encouraged. And when we consider this yearning in light of the Titus 2 command for women to minister to women, we can see how God planned for this need to be met. Women especially need other women to encourage them.
But what resources do we have for the encouragement of others? Many times I find that women lack confidence because they feel they aren't qualified to counsel someone else. Perhaps you have those feelings too. If so, I want to remind you of the greatest resource of all wisdom and loving counsel—the Lord Jesus Christ.
When we put our faith in Jesus Christ, He gives us eternal, spiritual life. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, we learn that by our faith in Christ we became a new creation—everything is new. And along with that new life come new privileges and new responsibilities.
Jesus is the great healer. He will abundantly heal today, and He promises perfect healing when we are finally in His presence. We can participate in His healing ministry by being instruments in His hands. Fortunately, as we learn from Paul's letter to the Christians at Colosse, He has supernaturally equipped us for the task.
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.
First of all, the Lord has given us a new world-view. We should perceive all of life from an eternal perspective. This entails a new value system and a new focus. The past is dead and we have a glorious future.
For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.
We also have a new source of life—Christ is now our life. His Holy Spirit dwells in us to produce in us the character of Jesus Christ.
Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.
This should result in a new goal for life. Instead of pleasing ourselves, our goal should be to please God.
Obviously this will involve new choices. God wants our will to cooperate with His will. He will not use us the way a master puppeteer manipulates a lifeless puppet. He wants mature sons and daughters who have gotten rid of old behavior patterns and have chosen, instead, obedience to His revealed truth—Holy Scripture. This appeal to the will is very important as we minister to others.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.
This passage describes a new identity and unity. We are God's chosen people. We are members of God's family. That's why these verses tell us how to act toward one another.
If we are going to minister to people, the first thing we need to communicate is that we genuinely care for them. Even though they understand that you won't compromise God's truth about right and wrong, it's important for them to realize that you'll still love them—no matter what. If you come into a relationship acting as if you have it all together and the other woman doesn't, your words and actions are going to have no effect upon her.
On the other hand, as we clothe ourselves with compassion, our spiritual garb will make us approachable, sympathetic, humble, grateful, discerning, and usable.
God wants us to let His peace be the umpire in all decisions. When women come to me for help in making a decision, unless they are faced with a clear moral choice, chances are I don't know what God's will is for them. So, when they ask, "Should I do it or shouldn't I?" I'll usually say to them, "Make the choice, and let God's peace be the umpire. If you have His peace, go ahead. If you don't have His peace, chances are you're on the wrong track."
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
How do we minister to each other? "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." That is the command. The word dwell means "to be permanently at home." The word of Christ is to inhabit our character as part of our personality.
When you read "word of Christ," what does that mean to you? Does that refer only to the red letters in your Bible and the actual words Jesus said? No, the "word of Christ" means all of Scripture.
And how is God's Word going to dwell in you? By your familiarity with it. You should know some of it by memory. Know its broad principles.
Know the meaning of the stories.
Know how to communicate its message of salvation. Know how to exhort others with its message.
God's Word must dwell in you in abundance. And your knowledge of His Word will be disclosed in three ways—as you teach, as you admonish, and as you sing. The word "teach" means to give instruction and to involve the intellect.
The word "admonish" means to warn and to encourage and involves both the emotions and the will.
"Singing" expresses a joyful attitude of thankfulness and praise. Since these activities involve the intellect, the emotions, and the will, we are able to reach the total person.
God wants us to teach and admonish with every kind of wisdom—wisdom that is consistent with the Word of God. Sometimes you will read a Christian book and find ideas that are based on the Word of God. In fact those ideas may make biblical principles clearer. Do, however, be very careful about secular books. There is truth to be found in many of them, but sometimes it is mixed with error, and the reasoning is structured upon faulty foundational assertions. When we utilize secular material we have to be very discerning so we won't be misled.
As you encourage women, you will soon hear about their dreams, their aspirations, and their yearnings. Remember that there are two legitimate longings in all of our hearts—longings for security and for significance.
Unfortunately, instead of finding security and significance in God, people often seek for them in material goods, in sex, in power, and in relationships. And our goal, instead of pleasing God, becomes pleasing ourselves. Ultimately, we never find security and significance because we are looking for them in all the wrong places, using the wrong strategies.
A woman is likely to say to you, "I want to be married," or "I want to have companionship," or "I want to have a child."
Don't correct her by saying, "Well, you shouldn't be wanting those things." She is expressing legitimate longings. "Wrongness" only enters the picture if the woman is seeking them in her own way instead of waiting for God's provision and timing. When you can make that distinction for a person it is very helpful.
We also need to realize that, at the bottom of our hearts, we are all afraid of relationships. We are afraid of reaching out to others because we dread their rejection. The core emotion is fear; the core threat is exposure which could lead to rejection. And so we hide behind masks. If we want to minister, however, we're going to have to admit that we're less than perfect ourselves.
Women want to know.
"Have you ever experienced anything like this? "
"Have you ever had any problems in your marriage?"
"Have you ever had a rebellious child?"
"Have you been tempted?"
"Have you ever failed to obey God?"
Please—don't hide behind a pious front, pretending you've never done anything wrong. Be transparent. You will have much more credibility if you admit that you've gone through some difficulties of your own. That is one of the reasons God allows us to confront problems, so that we can let others know how He has met our needs.
When women are sharing their hopes, dreams, and aspirations with you, remember that there is a big difference between a goal and a desire. I learned this wonderful lesson from Larry Crabb, and I hope you profit from it too. By arbitrary definition he calls a goal "anything we need to validate our personal worth." A goal is what gives our lives fulfillment, so if a goal validates you as a person, then it is necessary, and it can't be blocked by someone else. All of us must have some goal in life that gives us meaning and significance.
Now, just for the sake of definition, let's call the other good things we'd like to have in life "desires." A desire is not necessary for our personal fulfillment. And a desire can be blocked by someone else.
A good marriage is a desire, not a goal, because someone else can block it. The same is true of raising godly children. In either case, another person's will is involved, and that person is responsible for his (or her) choices. Pray that your desires will be met, but don't take upon yourself all the responsibility for the other person's fulfillment.
And as for goals? It's helpful to realize that there is only one goal in life that will really validate you. Only one goal will give you significance and the ability to go on no matter what is thrown at you. Do you know what it is?
Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.
1 Thessalonians 4:1 (emphasis added)
The only goal we need to be concerned with is the goal of pleasing God! And you can't imagine how comforting this is going to be for other women. Suppose a husband is straying. He is saying things to her like, "Well, I'm going to give it another three months and if you don't really straighten up, I am leaving."
Or, "I'm interested in someone else."
Or, worst of all, "I'm still trying to make a decision between you and her."
But suppose a woman simply says, "I am going to live to please God, .and no one else." What kind of wife is she going to be? She will meet her husband's needs but not his outrageous demands. And he will not be able to keep her under his unreasonable control.
It is always the person we try to please who controls us. When the women I counsel are in the midst of marital problems, I try to focus them on the possibility that they may be living just to please their husbands.
Sadly, there are some men (not to mention some women, including mothers and mothers-in-law) who keep people under their power by never being pleased. They will never give their approval. In response we work harder, try harder, and yet constantly feel, "I am not worth anything because I never get a compliment. I never even get, 'That was a good meal, Honey,' or 'You're looking good today." Some people deliberately withhold approval in order to retain control. Once we recognize that trait, we don't have to be slaves to their disapproval—it's their problem. Besides, our goal is to please God. We need to grasp this for ourselves, and then help others see it.
Wisdom should include not only knowing God's Word, but also knowing how things work. We're supposed to be realists, not idealists. We live in a fallen world, not a fair world. There is injustice and we cannot always make everything work out right.
Suppose something tragic happens in life—a death, a terminal illness, a child straying, a divorce. Because of this event, emotions may be ravaged. What causes this emotional response, the event or our response to the event? Is any event so devastating that we can't go on living?
Let's learn to say, and teach others to say, "Everything that has come into my life has been sifted through the hands of my loving Father. He is going to use it in my life for good, and I know I can trust Him." Once we get hold of this faith, our emotions will eventually change. When the will is set on trusting God, healthy feelings and actions will eventually follow.
Always try to encourage individuals to express willingness for God to change their minds. Pray with them, and ask them to tell Him out loud, "Lord, I want You to bring my mind into agreement with Yours." This single step, if sincerely taken, marks the beginning of a new attitude.
If someone is suffering from grief, don't reprimand her saying, "Now look! You've got to feel better! It's wrong for you to he so miserable." Grief is normal and right—Jesus wept. If weeping over the death of a friend or a loved one was a sin, He would never have wept at Lazarus' tomb. However, sustained anger at God, because He has allowed suffering, goes well beyond the boundaries of normal grief.
Sometimes, as you talk with a woman, you will see indications of sinful behavior in her life. It's important for you to be willing to point out those things. Don't jump in and say, "You did that wrong!" Instead, say, "How do you feel about the way you handled that?" Most women will be pretty honest. Then we can gently show them how their behavior differs from God's Word and His standards. And, by the way, it's necessary for us to treat believers and unbelievers differently when it comes to sin.
We need to remind believers of 1 John 1:9-2:1.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.
My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defense—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.
You've probably noticed that even when people confess their sins sometimes they still seem burdened with guilt. They can't forgive themselves. And, deep down inside, they really don't believe that God should forgive them either. Hebrews 9:14 tells us,
How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
You see, Christ not only died to pay for our sins, He died to cleanse our consciences.
Louise and I were walking together at a retreat. I could tell she had something weighing on her heart, so I'd suggested we take a stroll through the beautiful mountain scenery. After a few moments of small talk, she said, "I have to tell you something, Vickie. Ten years ago I committed adultery. I did it once and have never done it again. But I haven't had a moment's peace since."
"Does your husband know?"
"No, I've never told him. I couldn't tell anyone, because all my friends are pastors' wives or dedicated church people. Vickie, I'm so guilt ridden, so miserable."
"Do you ever intend to do it again?"
"No! Of course not—it is totally out of my life."
I had my Bible with me. "Let's sit down here for a minute," I said, turning to 1 John 1:9 and reading it to her.
"'If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.' He can do this because Jesus Christ has paid the penalty. Have you confessed your sin to the Lord?"
"Oh yes, hundreds of times."
"Now I think, with me as your witness, you should confess to God for the last time, and then accept His forgiveness with an act of your will."
Louise confessed her immorality out loud, weeping as she spoke. She finally said, "Lord, I accept your forgiveness."
I then said, "Now listen, don't ever talk to God about this again, because He says He has removed it from you and forgotten it."
I turned in my Bible to Psalms 103:12 and read aloud, "'As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us."
I also showed her in Hebrews 7:12 that the Scripture says, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
"Now, Louise," I continued, "if God has taken away your sin and forgotten it, then He no longer holds you accountable."
Louise sighed and shook her head. "I guess I had to have a human being tell me I was forgiven. You know, Vickie, I never knew women could minister to women like this."
People everywhere suffer with guilt and confusion. Sometimes our guilt, like Louise's, is based on a sin for which we've failed to appropriate God's forgiveness. Other times we have false guilt. We feel guilty because a child has run off or a husband has strayed. We blame ourselves, even when we aren't at fault. It is helpful for us to teach women to recognize the other person's responsibility, and then to leave that circumstance between him and God.
And as for unbelievers? When we are faced with their sin, we need to give them the gospel! We have to show them that they are unable to change their behavior without God's indwelling Spirit. These people have to face up to the destructive effects of sin on their lives. Dealing with sin in the life of an unbeliever is a golden opportunity—their confrontation with personal unworthiness can bring them to the Savior.
Linda asked to see me privately when I spoke at a retreat some time ago. She was obviously pregnant, and her face was streaked with tears. When I asked what was wrong she said, "My baby is due in two months and I'm afraid that my husband Bryan won't be there with me."
"Has he said he won't be there?"
"Not really, but his job requires a lot of traveling, and I'm just afraid he won't be able to make it."
I studied her face thoughtfully for a moment, sensing there was something more. "Is anything else bothering you?"
She looked away, took a deep breath and all but whispered, "I'm afraid there might be something wrong with the baby."
As gently as possible, I reassured Linda that every woman experiences that fear when she's pregnant. Then I asked her, "What is the worst thing you can think of happening when your baby comes?"
The tears overflowed as she said, "Not having Bryan there, and having something wrong with the baby."
I took her hands in mine, looked directly into her eyes and said, "If those things happened—and I don't think they will—but if they did, do you think God is big enough to get you through them?"
I heard a very faint yes.
"Linda, fear of the future can make us miserable and take away our joy if we let our imaginations run riot. God wants you to act with your will, no matter what your emotions are. Psalm 53:6 gives us the answer: When I am afraid I will trust in You. Fear is an emotion. Trust in God is an act of the will. Are you willing to tell the Lord that you trust Him to take care of you and the baby, whether Bryan is there or not?"
Linda nodded her head.
"Why don't you tell that to the Lord right now ?"
She bowed her head, tears streaming down her cheeks, and prayed very simply, "Lord, I don't want to be afraid anymore. I trust you to take care of me and the baby. I want Bryan there, but if he's not, I believe You will take me through it."
Then I prayed for her as well.
I received a birth announcement about two months later. On it was a little note:
"Jonathan is a perfectly healthy little baby. Bryan was here with me, praise the Lord. But I want you to know that I did not have a moment's fear since the day we prayed."
God gives us His peace when we give Him our fears. Not only is this a vital truth for our own walk with Him, but what a gift it is to share with the women we counsel.
As Alan McGinnis says in his book The Friendship Factor, "Life is to be fortified by many friendships. To love and be loved is the greatest happiness in all existence. People with no friends usually have a diminished capacity for sustaining any kind of love."
The Bible supports this need for friends. The Book of Proverbs says,
A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity.
Wounds from a friend can be trusted,
but an enemy multiplies kisses.
An honest answer
is like a kiss on the lips.
As iron sharpens iron,
so one man sharpens another.
Friends are lovingly honest because they want the very best for the one they love. Have you ever tried to sharpen a knife? You take the file in one hand and the knife in the other and you start to scrape. Does it make a pretty sound? Not at all. But it depicts what we're supposed to do for each other. Refine the imperfections. Smooth the rough places. Sharpen the cutting edge. That's not always nice is it? And it's much safer to always be nice. Nevertheless, we need to sharpen each other, challenge each other to reach beyond where we are. That's what friends are supposed to do.
When my first son was small, he was a somewhat difficult child. And as a young and inexperienced mother, I was frustrated and short-tempered with him. I often found myself yelling at him and confronting his belligerence with my own strong-willed anger.
One day a friend was visiting our home, and she quietly observed my behavior during a couple of unpleasant incidents. "Vickie," she finally said, looking me straight in the eye, "you're handling him all wrong! You're completely out of control, and it's making him behave even worse."
He's my son, and I'll bring him up my way, I thought to myself, fuming inwardly. But somewhere deep in my heart I knew she was right.
Later on that evening, I was reading my Bible and came across Proverbs 18:21: "The tongue has the power of life and death . . .
I sensed in my spirit that God was confirming my friend's words, difficult as they were to receive. My tongue would have the power of life and death over the spirit of my son and our future relationship. I had to change. Gradually, and over the course of weeks and months, I was able to change my reactions to my son. My friend's courageous words made a big difference in our home.
Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart,
and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel.
Do not forsake your friend.
The wise in heart are called discerning
and pleasant words promote instruction.
A wise man's heart guides his mouth,
and his lips promote instruction.
Pleasant words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.
I'm sure if you thought a little you could think of someone who did this for you. Someone who called and just said the right thing on a really bad day. Someone who encouraged you that you were looking wonderful. Someone who reminded you that you're a terrific mother, a great wife, or a wonderful friend. Pleasant words really are sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Don't fail to give some away!
True friendship means love, loyalty, support, honesty, rebuke, instruction, counsel. There's a lot more involved here than just going to a movie and lunch together.
The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life,
but violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked.
Without a personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ there is no way for a friend to provide a godly perspective. That is the first thing we should offer those with whom we counsel. Without Christ there is no hope at all, and we have only our own human wisdom and strategies to fall back on.
We in God's family have so much more to offer.
We have His unchanging word.
We have the love He implants in our hearts for one another.
We have the powerful Holy Spirit dwelling in us, motivating and enabling us to do God's will.
So much of the suffering we encounter in our lives is entangled with the issue of human guilt. And secular psychology has no remedy for guilt. Many psychologists say, "You shouldn't feel guilty because there is no such thing as sin." Or they say, "Don't feel guilty about what you did. You have to take care of yourself."
But Christians have an antidote for guilt. Jesus Christ forgives our sins, and He cleanses our consciences from guilt when we trust Him as our Lord and Savior. We can present the women we counsel with God's love.
With His willingness to forgive.
With His plan for redemption.
With His provision for cleansing us from sin on a daily basis.
We don't have to give a theology lesson. We simply need to offer His love and grace to those who need it.
Maybe you are thinking, "No way! That's too much—that's just for somebody who has gone to Bible school or seminary." Well, that's not true. In fact, if we could reach people more quickly with God's wisdom and counsel and concern and prayer, some of their problems would never escalate to such critical stages.
Dr. Gary Collins is in charge of the psychology department at Trinity College. In his book How to Be a People Helper he asks this question, "Does friend-to-friend counseling work?" And here is his amazing answer. "When lay people with or without training were compared to professionals, it was discovered that the patients of lay counselors do as well as or better than the patients of professional counseling."
Dr. Larry Crabb agrees. I once heard him say, "Our obsession with professionalism prevents us from really ministering effectively to one another because we don't have the confidence in ourselves that we can do it."
That's not to say that there may not come a time when we must refer someone to a biblically committed professional counselor. But a large number of problems could be handled at a less critical level if we reached out caring hands a little sooner, a little more effectively.
Women all around us, in our communities, in our churches, and in our neighborhoods are crying out for friendships that are deep and life giving. Women need to be able to face their suffering in a loving and compassionate environment. As believers in Jesus Christ, we have that kind of friendship to offer—if we are willing to involve ourselves in the needs of others.
In John 15:13, Jesus said, "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." He did just that for you and me. He died for us while we were yet sinners—not friends, but enemies. And He has commissioned us to love each other, in the face of suffering and struggle, with that same kind of sacrificial love.
As we've considered women in light of God's design for them, we've come to realize that no one can be as helpful to a woman as another woman. It's His best intention for us that we befriend one another, meeting each other's needs in areas that the men in our lives simply cannot address. Although the information we've shared hasn't been exhaustive, it specifically addresses a number of the subjects older women are to teach younger women. It can help provide us with a biblical basis for our own lives, and for those we counsel.
God intended that this world be perfect, and that our interpersonal relationships be totally satisfying. But life on planet Earth is sadly imperfect, scarred by selfishness and evil. Women have somehow lost their identities amidst all the distortion, not only in male-female relations, but also in their relationships with God. Only the redemption of humankind through Jesus Christ's death and resurrection can bring both men and women to wholeness and health.
Within marriages, homes, and families, the twisting of God's plan has been most tragically manifested. In areas of the very greatest intimacy, vulnerability, and need, sin has come in and robbed men and women of both pleasure and peace. Nothing short of God's grace can provide solutions for otherwise impossible situations.
As wives and mothers, as single women and widows, we have a great deal to give to one another. As we pass through our own temptations, trials, and triumphs, we gain depth of character and spiritual maturity. And we have comfort to offer (2 Cor. 1:3-4). Because others are struggling, it is up to us to share what we've learned, what we have, what we hope for and what we believe in.
We have received precious insights, promises, and blessings from a loving heavenly Father. Like the loaves and fishes the little boy brought to Jesus, let's give our portion of understanding and comfort back to Him. He will bless it, show us how to distribute it, and guide us as we reach out to others—woman to woman, heart to heart.