Friday, November 9, 2007

Means or End?

Do you want a happier, more intimate marriage? Do you wish you could communicate better with your spouse? Do you pray for things to be better? I would guess most couples could answer yes to those questions. Those issues are pretty common to all marriages. What if I asked you why? Why do you want a happier, more intimate marriage? Why do you wish you could communicate better with your spouse? Why do you pray for things to be better? I hope you have a better answer than, "Because that's the way it's supposed to be."

When couples seek marriage counseling, there's usually one thing on their minds. They aren't as happy or as comfortable in their marriage as they'd like to be and they think a counselor can help change that. Their marriage is like an irritating splinter in the tip of their forefinger and they can't seem to get relief. So they look for someone else to help pull out the irritant. In other words, most couples seek counseling as an end. Many counselors seek to help the couple pull out the splinter and think highly of their counseling skills when they are able to do it. That is sad. Here's why:

Couples generally come for counseling because both spouses are self-absorbed. The husband is self-absorbed. The wife is self-absorbed. As a couple, they are self-absorbed together. Each spouse sees himself as the sun around which the planets revolve. And the couple sees themselves as a couple as the sun around which the planets revolve. The reason they want help is to be more comfortable being self-absorbed. As a counselor, if I help this self-absorbed couple become more proficient at being self-absorbed, how have I helped them?

As a counselor, my biggest agenda is to point self-absorbed, unhappy couples away from seeking counsel as an end. If I don't, then I've just enabled and fueled their selfishness. Why would I want to make a couple comfortable being selfish? Instead, I have to ask the dreaded, "Why?" Why do you want counsel? Why do you want things to be better? Why do you want to communicate more effectively? Why do you want a better sex life? Why do you want help with your finances? Why do you want a happier marriage?

Only when I ask those questions am I able to move beyond the couple's natural self-absorbed nature to bigger issues. Marriage counseling is not an end. The reason for this is simple enough. The couple is not the end.

"For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). This is the verse in the forefront of my mind as I seek to navigate the waters of my own marriage, and help others through the waters of their own marriages. Until I ask a couple why they want a better marriage, Christ can remain in the background. Or worse yet, as a genie in a bottle longing to grant the couple's every wish.

Christ is the end of counseling. Christ is the end of marriage. So Christ is the end of marriage counseling. Unless counselors point a couple away from themselves, away from the goal of having a good marriage, away from their inherent selfishness, away from seeing their marriage as an end, then their counsel won't ultimately help the couple. Marriage is a means to the end of living for Christ. Marriage counseling is the means to the end of helping a couple stop living for themselves and start living for Christ.

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