But Counseling is for Sissies! (Part 2: The circles)

Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” (Proverbs 11:14, NAS)

We quote this verse, but do we believe it?  Do you have multiple counselors, or just a gang of “yes men” who reinforce what you already believe and do or are unwilling to rock the boat to help you change?  The verse above speaks clearly that when we chart our own course and go our own way, we will fall.  However, if we will invite circles of counselors, from friends to professionals when needed, into our midst to speak into our lives we can experience the victory that God wants for us.
You see, the Bible teaches that we should have a concentric set of circles of counselors, pastors, mentors, friends, and family around us to allow us to succeed.  Picture it like this: (no hating on my amazing clipart skills!)
Concentric Circles Counseling
As the circle gets wider, it includes more people who are perhaps not as close to you.  While it may seem like those closest to you can help the most, in reality many times those who are a little farther away can help you see with perspective and clarity that is simply impossible from those who are closest to you.  At the same time, having people close is critical so that we do not isolate ourselves, have no guidance, and as the above verse says “fall.”  So all of the circles are needed:


This circle is foundational.  The first relationship that God established was the marriage relationship (Gen 2:18-25), and that relationship is critical to our mental, emotional, and spiritual health.  We have parents as well who God tells us to honor (Exodus 20:12) and promises us that if we do, our lives will go well.  Family is powerful, and a necessary ingredient in a healthy group of counselors.
Not every family is a good family, and not every person is blessed with parents, siblings, or a spouse who is godly, warm, caring, and helpful.  The Fall marred our relationships for sure and many times family can be the source of hurt and not the solution to it.  So we must have more than family, even though in the best case our family is a source of support and care.


The next circle out is our friends.  The author of Hebrews tells us that we must have those around us who encourage us and help us live for God:

and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24–25, NAS)

The job of our friends is to encourage us, and while many of our friendships can be shallow Proverbs 18:24 tells us that there is a “friend who sticks closer than a brother.”  Those friendships are absolutely critical so that we don’t close ourselves off to what God is doing in our midst.  These kind of “friends who stick closer than a brother” are the ones that really count.  They are the friends who through time and experience earn our trust.  They are the ones who are there for us when times are tough and when we are not at our best.  They help us pick up the pieces and start again when we fail.
It is absolutely critical that we bolster these kinds of friendships.  If you have a friendship that is a strong one, thank God for it.  Even more, make it stronger by investing in it!  Take that friend to coffee, or go have breakfast at their house and talk about important stuff.  Invite them into your life and ask them for help.  This is what is known in church as “transparency” or “accountability,” when in reality it is more like just good old fashioned friendship. 
If you need more accountability or help walking with Christ or overcoming a sin or just being a better person, look around and start with asking your good friends to become better friends and help you.  And if you take inventory and realize that your “friends” in reality hurt you more than they help you, maybe it’s time to upgrade your friends and realize that maybe you need to let some relationships go so you can spend time building new ones.
Some more advice for these close friendships: be mindful of boundaries.  I don’t build close friendships with women other than my wife.  I have women friends (almost all married to my guy friends), but one-on-one time is not appropriate for a married man with another woman, period.  So in that vein build close personal friendships with others in an appropriate way.
Also, you have to be proactive about taking these kinds of friendships from casual to significant.  Naturally you don’t have time to do that with a hundred people, so choose carefully.  But once you know you’ve got a trustworthy friend, go out of your way to be significant in your friendship.  Occasionally ask to sit down and talk about important stuff, not just the weather.  My wife and I have friends we each go to for “peer mentoring” like this, and a couple of couples who we get together with to talk about the important issues of life.  That doesn’t have to be heavy or boring or super-serious, but it does have to be intentional and it does have to be regular.
In the next post we will talk about the next circles, but for now I challenge you to identify the strengths in your inner circles.  Where can your family help you in your walk with Christ?  Who is there in your circle of friends who is close and could get closer to help you be who you want to be?  Who can you confide in, and how can you build that confidence?  By being proactive and reaching for the relationships that God has given you, you can navigate life successfully.

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