OTTO J. RITZ Pastor-Evangelist, Southern New England Conference
The science of dealing with human minds J. is a delicate one, calling for the coordination of the minister's fullest mental faculties. In this field of ministerial responsibility there must be nothing haphazard or slipshod.
Counseling becomes more complex when thorough consideration is given to the fact that "little we can know of the heart-anguish of another. How few understand another's circumstances. Hence the difficulty of giving wise counsel." Testimonies, vol. 5, p. 55. A life filled with frustrations and complexities calls for minute understanding on the part of the counselor.
Youth, because of its capricious, its unpredictable, its explosive nature, is even more difficult to appraise. Only after a careful analysis of the problem should youth be counseled. To say that youth do not readily respond to sound counsel is wholly incorrect. Youth will respond favorably to discreet counsel. Advice must, how ever, be given so as to reasonably cover the need.
Off-the-cuff platitudes handed to frustrated young men or women have about the same chance of effectiveness as a hypodermic injection that is shot at a patient from a distance. An indiscriminate, overt act is merely an effective barometer reading of a disturbed or frustrated inner life. Platitudes seldom reach the inner life. Reaching the inner life calls for an understanding of human behavior. This brings us to the first of a series of fundamentals, the understanding of which governs to a great degree the success of pastoral counseling. Individuality There are no two persons alike. Every human being is a separate entity with a mental and physical inheritance peculiar to himself only. Although certain basic behavior patterns categorize most people, yet the detail makings of each life cannot be stuffed into a ready-made framework for the purpose of analysis. Here is where I believe the first round of effective counseling is lost. Insufficient recognition is given to the matter of distinct individuality. "Every human being, created in the image o£ God, is endowed with a power akin to that of the Creator, individuality, power to think and to do." Education, p. 17.
How frequently does one hear of trite moralism handed out to youth, with comparatively little regard to the matter of individuality. A physician would not pass the same bottle of medicine to his various patients. Yet spiritual counseling is often done on just such a level. A few well-worn phrases, a few sharp scriptures, and the problems of youth are expected to dissolve. A minister, then, should carefully study the young person before him, fully recognizing that only specific counsel can be of help to this one youth, of whom there is not a duplicate in all the world. Recognition having been given to this principle, counseling can proceed on a more acceptable level.
To intelligently understand a frustrated youth, one must listen to his story. On the part of the counselor it is unpardonable to get only the introduction of the story and assume the rest.
Some pastor-counselors assume that they have the rare gift (if there be such) of knowing the whole before even the half has been told. One is reminded of the youth who spoke less than a dozen sentences, when the counselor cut in and orated for half an hour. Having exhausted himself he turned upon the young man and asked, "Does that answer your need?" To this the young man replied, "But that's not my problem!" Tragically, this young man was not even given a chance to air his difficulty, to say nothing of having it analyzed. Listening, sympathetic listening, wide-awake listening is imperative. Scores of people would die on the surgeon's table if an operation were performed on the basis of the first few statements made by an ailing patient. It is for this reason that multitudes die spiritually. They are mangled with out having been given an opportunity to properly describe their symptoms. "Don't ever try to say very much, and most of the time say nothing at all. The curse of our ministry of comfort is words." PETER H. PLUME, Some to Be Pastors, p. 44.
Careful listening at the very first interview with youth pays rich dividends. Strict attention to the unfolding of the story will enlighten the counselor as to the facts, circumstances, the youth's mentality, his reasons for seeking counsel, et cetera.
True listening involves patience. Though a similar story has been told a hundred times, discretion demands that the counselor listen with honest interest.
"This work is the nicest, the most difficult, ever committed to human beings. It requires the most delicate tact, the finest susceptibility, a knowledge of human nature, and a heaven-born . . . patience." Education, p. 292.
Normal young people are kind, lovable, and friendly. Youth responds to kindness. The sin may be ever so great, a moral issue ever so obnoxious; if the youth comes in deep distress, seeking help, every effort of kindness should be shown him. "Remember that kindness will accomplish more than censure." Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 224. "A word of cheer, an act of kindness, would go far to lighten the burdens that are resting heavily upon weary shoulders." Ibid., vol. 7, p. 50.
How much more effective would be the work of ministers if recognition were given to this principle! The transition from youth to adult hood is beset "in and out and round about" with problems of development. Kindness will heighten the chances of a successful counseling. "If a person is in error, be the more kind to him." Testimonies to Ministers, p. 150. The problems of youth are real. All off-hand inferences and suggestions to the contrary reflect negatively upon him who so contends. To fail to recognize youth problems is about as logical as to fail to recognize youth. "Many are without God," "guilty, corrupt, and degraded. . . . They are subjects for tenderest pity, sympathy. . . . Ever bear in mind that your efforts to reform others should be made in the spirit of unwavering kindness." Testimonies, vol. 4, p. 568.
Rapport is a fourth basic principle essential to successful counseling. Rapport is a satisfying relationship between two or more persons. It denotes friendliness, trust, confidence. Little is accomplished when rapport is absent. Equally as little is accomplished when professionalized friendship is obvious. The eyes, the face, the head, the voice, all index with perfect accuracy this thing called rapport, or its lack.
Many young people live in a fear peculiar to youth not so much a fear of their problem as a fear that their problem will be "found out." Frequently one hears, "Well, I didn't say any thing for fear it would get out and around." Consequently, for lack of a confidential counselor, many continue to carry their burdens. If there is the slightest doubt that his problem will be held in complete confidence, the young person will hesitate to confide. A counselor who is aggressively direct in his remarks, sharp in his analysis, quick in his conclusions, is likely to destroy at once the young person's confidence in him. Rapport is established and strengthened by our genuine interest in the other person. A desire to help, a burning flame from within, can be seen from without. Youth is generally quick to detect sincerity.
A constructive plan is often the solution to a confused youth. Many young people whocome for help leave with a sense of remorse for having exposed their problem and received no definite help, and occasionally they receive a stone instead of bread. Here is a case that emphasizes the matter of concrete suggestions and Jr of plans.
A young couple came for counsel. Although newly baptized, they were already candidates for disfellowshiping according to standards of a ruling clique in the church. I talked with the couple at some length, not so much about their present problem, but on matters of the immediate future. I laid before them the suggestion of their both returning to school and completing their formal education. At first they seemed bewildered. Where could they go? What about money? How could they possibly give up their jobs? One by one these problems were taken care of. I wrote letters for them, assisted in their getting passports, counseled them on money matters.
Finally, what earlier seemed to be a case of two more young people leaving the church turned into a case of two more young people attending one of our schools, where they found a new life, a new future. In all counseling there must be constructive suggestions, definite plans. Counseling that does not open new vistas, make practical outlets, produce concrete results for good, is failure. For each youth there is a future. Into this future the counselor must endeavor to lead these youth.
"The Lord has His eye upon every one of His people; He has His plans concerning each." Testimonies, vol. 6, p. 12. "To every individual of to-day God has assigned a place in His great plan." Education, p. 178. I believe one of the fundamental reasons why youth leave our ranks is that we frequently for get to present to them a future. We fail to sit down and interest them in a specific plan for their future. In fact, if the young people fail to show an interest in denominational work they receive less attention than those who do show such an interest. This ought not to be the case. In logical progression comes the sixth point frequent contacts with the one who has sought counsel. A plant that has been newly trans planted will almost surely die if left unattended. It will die in spite of the careful transplanting, in spite of the good soil into which it has been placed, if it is not frequently attended to. Where it takes root it needs cultivation, protection, shelter, pruning, and many other such services. Yet how often are young people "given an earful" and sent on their way! Often no direct inquiry is later made as to their welfare and progress.
All counseling that is not followed through to a proper and satisfactory conclusion is of little avail. Jesus returned time and again to help Peter, Mary, and others. At each such consultation the pastor can measure the progress made and be in a position to give definite direction.
The average problem of counseling can be encouraged if this axiom be remembered: "Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal." In due time the minister can become an efficient physician of the soul. By dealing faith fully, conscientiously with each soul, the pastor becomes a mighty instrument in God's hand.
The approach to problems through prayer and trust in God is unique with the Christian counselor. No matter how deep the young per son's fall into sin, no matter how complicated the net of circumstances in which he seems caught, no matter how hopeless the future may look to him, there is with our Lord grace and help sufficient for even him; and the way to reach and appropriate that grace and help is through sincere, believing prayer. The wise counselor will therefore not neglect to use this most fruitful means of guiding youth to solve their problems. God's arm has not been shortened. It is still possible to pray our way through problems.
"After you have received counsel from the wise, the judicious, there is yet a Counselor whose wisdom is unerring. Fail not to present your case before Him and entreat His direction. He has promised that if you lack wisdom and ask of Him, He will give it to you liberally and upbraid not." Testimonies, vol. 2, p. 152. "Those who decide to do nothing in any line that will displease God, will know, after presenting their case before Him, just what course to pursue. And they will receive not only wisdom, but strength. Power for obedience, for service, will be imparted to them, as Christ has promised." The Desire of Ages, p. 668.