Foundations For Christian Counseling: Providence

Introduction

This month I’m returning to some counseling themes on Contemplations. After all, to address the world of professional counseling is why I established this blog in the first place. In particular I want to discuss counseling from a Christian perspective. I have written about that perspective before here, here, and here. Some time has passed since I published those blogs, and I have come to realize how experiences that life throws at us shape our understanding of and our relationship with God.

The providence of God is something that must be trusted. No finite and fallible human being can fully comprehend it, figure it out, or explicate it. When human beings even try to do so, they cross a barrier that is not theirs to cross. Providence is an attribute of God in which we rest rather than know fully. It hopefully leads us to more prayer with God. Knowing that God is in control of all things helps us develop perseverance as we face the aftermath of certain experiences. And it helps us develop that thing called patience, an attribute that seemingly always alludes our grasp. It is meant to bring us peace, not total comprehension.

An experience that life threw at me occurred on October 9th, 2020. I got up that Friday morning and came to realize that sometime during the night while sleeping I had experienced a cerebellum stroke. My life took a different turn at that point. (I have written some about that experience here.) My stroke cast me on God’s mercy. And it definitely has had an impact upon my faith. And I still have a long way to go in facing what my life will be like in the future.

Providence and Prayer

At first glance providence and prayer appear diametrically opposed to one another. If God is providential over all that will occur, then why pray for particular outcomes in our lives? Such tensions are replete throughout Scripture. On the one hand, God’s eternal existence cannot be contained by space and time. On the other hand, the space-time continuum is where human beings live out their daily existence. Throughout Scripture we are exhorted to pray and meditate on God’s word. Both prayer and reading Scripture are pathways to knowing God. Prayer in particular is personal communication with God. God knows we are needy, and he exhorts us to place our needs before his throne of grace. The providence of God is that in which I rest; prayer allows me to develop a personal relationship with a providential God. As much as anything else in our lives, God is providential over our prayers. Moreover, our prayers are answered by God. In other words, God hears and responds to our prayers. Rather than a contradiction, God’s providence is an open invitation to constant communication with God.

Providence & Perseverance

The dictionary provides us with varied nuances of definition for the word perseverance. The following comes from dictionary.com: to persist in anything undertaken; to maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty and discouragement; to continue steadfastly. All three of these definitions relate well to the Christian faith, but I particularly like the second one. The early church faced constant persecution and believers encountered daily challenges to their faith. In more than one epistle the Apostle Paul exhorted the church to persist in the cause of Christ in the face of what appeared to be overwhelming odds. Paul viewed even his several imprisonments as God working out his providential plan for the church. Because of God’s providence, Paul did not falter in his apostolic duties, and he did not want believers to become discouraged among the churches to which he ministered. Throughout Scripture we read how various individuals viewed what appeared as tragic circumstances as falling under God’s providence. Joseph in the Book of Genesis is a prime example. If we take a close hard look at the political landscape today and its response to the church, we can easily recognize that the culture in which we live is still at odds to the cause of Christ. Knowing that God is in control of everything allows us to persevere in a fallen world that is not friendly to the message of Christ. So yes, we as believers in Christ are to continue steadfastly and maintain our purpose in building up the church. I realize that this steadfastness is easier said than done. To take captive every sphere of life to the cause of Christ requires that we strongly trust in a providential God who will grant us the strength to persevere toward our purpose in Christ.

Providence & Patience

Providence and patience appear to be the most logically connected attributes one can imagine. Yet many people will claim that as a personal character trait, patience is on the bottom of their list. Galatians 5, however, lists patience as a fruit of the Spirit. I have to admit that across my seventy-three years on this earth, patience is a fruit that I haven’t cultivated very well. The importance of harvesting this fruit of the Spirit is seen in the fact that impatience is actually a lack of trust in God’s providence over our lives. Having been hit by a cerebellum stroke, being wheelchair bound, and facing other challenges like testing positive for COVID are experiences that have taught me the importance of patience even though I haven’t cultivated it the way that I would like. Going back to prayer, patience is something for which I pray while at the same time acting as though I really don’t want it. When connected with providence, however, patience is simply letting God be God in our lives. It is our being still and letting God be God. Patience entails our waiting on God and letting him work out the details of our lives. It involves our learning how God does in fact work in our lives. All of this is so much easier said than done that to simply say to someone be patient is so much shallow nonsense. For one to have the patience to abide in God’s providence, one must cultivate his or her relationship with God. Because I believe that patience is one of the most difficult fruit of the Spirit to grow in our lives, I think it is one of the most important to develop. I have come to expect that we will continue to face daily challenges and difficulties in this life that throw us back onto trusting God’s providence in our lives. This will be true even post stroke and other major challenges that life throws at us. Providence calls us to enter God’s rest, to be still and quiet, and to wait on God’s working in our lives. Patience as a fruit of the Spirit requires true wisdom as discussed in the Book of Proverbs that comes with a deep relationship with God.

Providence & Peace

Jesus Christ is our peace. This was announced on the night of his birth. In Christ God has been propitiated and his wrath turned away from us because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to those who believe in him. Through Christ, we have been brought near to God. We are no longer enemies of God, but we have been reconciled to him. We are justified before God by our faith in Christ. And we are redeemed through the work of Christ on the cross and by the power of his resurrection. Therefore, those of us who were once at enmity with God now through Christ are at peace with God. God’s plan of salvation is the ultimate example of God’s providential concern for humankind on the earth. But he is also providential in our sanctification, our day-to-day lives with all its blessings, struggles, and hardships that we undergo. If God is providential over our lives, we can enter his rest and find peace in the truth that he is working out our sanctification and spiritual growth through all we encounter in life. Our peace is grounded in God’s unchanging character – his grace, mercy, and lovingkindness. For example, on my part, I have to trust his providential working regarding my stroke. I may come to understand that to a larger or smaller degree, or perhaps not much at all. If the latter, I must trust that whether or not I understand the why of my stroke, that it falls within God’s providence and his loving concern. Demanding that God answer all our questions about the difficulties that befall us will only disturb our peace. For our peace comes by resting in his providence.

Conclusion

When we face hardships in life, we all want them resolved as quickly as possible. Christian clients enter counseling with the same hopes as anyone facing difficult challenges in life. Although not a popular position, I believe the focus for Christian counseling should be engaging clients to develop their relationship with God. This is not, however, at the expense of also focusing on the concerns that clients bring into the counseling room. This is a both-and process, not an either-or decision. As individuals develop their relationship to God, knowing God on a deep level becomes the foundation for future life challenges that clients will face. The desire for a quick fix of life’s problems tends to draw us away from resting in God’s providence. The desire for immediate relief clashes with our need to be patient. Moreover, it robs us of our peace because when quick fixes don’t work, we easily become embittered, angry, and frustrated. Impatience tends to interfere with our prayer life because we begin to think what’s the use; prayer isn’t helping. An overwhelming desire for a quick resolution of life’s challenges also interferes with our ability to persevere. This is not to say that some personal concerns do not lend themselves to shorter resolution than others. But major life challenges tend not to be of the kind that can be quickly resolved. Resting in God’s providence means signing on for the long haul, if not now then sometime in the future. Even though we can’t totally comprehend it, having some insight into God’s providence produces wisdom, which will provide a firm foundation for facing life’s challenges and working through them in a productive manner.

John V. Jones, Jr. Ph.D., LPC-S/ March 14th, 2021

GENERAL ESSAY

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What Lies Ahead?

Introduction

The Christmas blog article delineated some future changes that will occur for Contemplations. I decided that a New Years publication should provide some finer detail as to what those changes will look like on this Website. Then January 14th will kick off a new era for Contemplations. Basically this blog will comprise three thematic emphases: 1) General Essays; 2) Analysis of Power (AOP); and 3) Book Reviews. I will delineate each of these below to some extent.

General Essays

The General Essays on Contemplations will take the form they always have taken, exploring various ideas, general information, critical inquiries, and responses to events socially and culturally. Because I inaugurated this blog to address the world of professional counseling, I will continue to focus on that work as long as I’m involved with it. Presently I’m approaching retirement mode as a counselor, so I don’t know how long I’ll be professionally involved in that field. Unlike the other two modalities, General Essays will not have a common theme or content from article to article. The articles will focus on what I think is timely and on what happens to pique my interests in the moment.

Analysis of Power (AOP)

Analysis of Power (AOP) will contain articles that most definitely take on a common theme. The content for AOP stems from my conviction that the major challenge to a free society today is the onslaught of Statism. These articles will entail a critical inquiry into the State and its abuse of power. Power is the enemy of true liberty. Hence articles related to this theme will also explore how we can counter the rise of the State. I will discuss ideas such as nullification, Convention of States (COS), and Austrian Economics. I will also discuss Biblical principles applied to our understanding of government. I believe that if we are to defeat Statism, the church has to lead the way in that fight.

Book Reviews

The Book Reviews modality is self-explanatory. I will utilize this modality to write reviews of books that I think are important, both from the past and in the present. Aligned with AOP, I will review books from the Austrian Economic camp, libertarian authors, as well as authors who are stanch anti-Statists.

Conclusion

Progressivism and political correctness with its woke culture have permeated institutions of education, politics, economics, and religion with a set of values that can only be characterized as collectivist, if embraced, will lead to the loss of individual liberty. This Website will highlight authors and thinkers that provide contrasting sets of values, if embraced, will lead to the restoration of individual liberty and the application of Biblical principles to all areas of life.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/January 1st, 2021

GENERAL ESSAY

A Time to Change

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven . . .(Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Introduction

Those who follow this blog know that for the past seven years I have published an article on the 14th of each month without missing a beat. Perhaps there was one or so published on the 15th. Whether or not quality is characteristic of this blog is for readers to decide, but consistency most definitely has defined my efforts put into this Website. Yet the 14th of October, November, and December passed without a peep from Contemplations. So what happened? Quite frankly a stroke happened. I got up on a Friday morning, October 9th, totally lacking the ability to stand or walk. Subsequently after calling 911, I was admitted to two hospitals and a rehab clinic, consuming the next 43 days of my life.

Additionally, those who follow this blog know that I’m fairly straightforward about my Christian faith. Part of this article will focus on how my faith informs my working through the challenges presented by my stroke. The epigraph from Ecclesiastes at the head of this blog is personally fitting because this is definitely a time to heal for me.

This blog, however, will address a broader form of healing than just a personal one. As a nation we need healing culturally and socially throughout all our institutions. I believe some of our institutions have outlived their usefulness all together. So another focus of this article will be on the change of emphasis that Contemplations will undergo in the future. A time to change is not directly expressed in Ecclesiastes 3, but it is implicit there if not explicit.

Healing Is Restoration

Having suffered a stroke I now know first hand what it means to live with a broken body. I lack the abilities to walk, swallow so as to take in solid food, and to see well. When I think of my prayers for healing, they are basically prayers for restoration. I pray that my body is restored to the capabilities that it possessed previous to the stroke. Faith is a multilayered thing. I hold fast to the hope that God will fully heal my body while simultaneously understanding there are no guarantees. There is at least one guarantee however. God will answer my prayers but in his own time and in his own way. Faith calls me to hold fast to God’s grace, his new mercies everyday, and his abundant lovingkindness. In doing so faith also calls me to wait for God’s timing. We are confronted with such tensions all through Scripture. We usually don’t get the full impact of them until they confront our lives in a real way.

There are nine fruits of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5. One of them is patience. Although the Spirit provides these fruits for us, I know for certain that I was born lacking any patience whatsoever. And I have developed very little of it over the seventy-two years I’ve lived on this planet. My recovery from this stroke most assuredly entails an incremental process. Although I would welcome God’s blessing of exponential quantum leaps in the extent of my healing, it appears that I’m in this struggle for the long haul. That fact very well could mean that this is God’s way of helping me develop patience, not only in terms of healing, but also across vast areas of my life so that patience truly becomes a fruit of the Spirit I possess.

Patience involves not only wading through incremental steps of healing, but it also entails waiting on God’s timing. To respond to God’s call to be still and know that I am God at least requires patience if not all the other eight fruits of the Spirit and tons of Spiritual maturity. This is my time under the sun to see if I can face the challenges of compromised health concerns, which I’ve never had to face in my life until now. One thing is for certain. Whether or not I feel it at times or doubt it, Emmanuel – God with us – will be with me every step of the way.

The one lesson I’ve learned at this point that I can pass on to people is this. Do not take your good health for granted. It can be gone in the bat of an eye. Embrace your blessing of good health, and don’t squander your time, which is a blessing as well given to us by God.

Cultural and Social Restoration

Contemplations blog will undergo major changes. Although libertarian, I used to really keep my political beliefs in some back corner, rarely discussing them publicly and particularly not using this blog as a conduit for my political take on things. Well that’s about to change. I no longer believe such an approach is feasible. Culturally and socially this country is in turmoil, politically, economically, and morally. Our institutions have failed us. There is a heavy duty renovation needed throughout our society. Moreover, it’s the church and believers in Christ that need to lead the way to that renovation. We need to apply Biblical principles to all areas of life, from education to our workplace, and from our personal ethics to our engagement with political matters.

Having stated my position, let me say what this blog will not engage. I will not be writing anything to urge people to back certain candidates nor align with any particular political party. Our political institutions as they exist are miserable failures. Economically the country is sinking into an abyss as future generations are strapped with a twenty-three trillion dollar debt. The need for political action can no longer be about voting for the right people whom we naively believe will make the world right for us. Politicians will not accomplish such a feat because they simply don’t have the know-how to do so. On the one hand we must engage politically while on the other hand having as a goal to rid our lives of political interventionism. We must learn how to live free of the State. Given our present condition reclaiming our fundamental liberties will require a lot of relearning and new learning of ideas. Future blogs will explore many of those ideas that can help us counter the Statism in which we are ensconced.

Conclusion

Progressivism and political-correctness have taken over our educational institutions, our political institutions, and social media. It is a time for change. Political quietism is no longer feasible because it has led to the surrender of our personal liberties to collectivized power comprising people who believe it’s their place to design life for everyone else. Their modus operandi is other people’s money and a government printing press that continues to inflate our currency while plunging the country deeper into debt. For those of us who want to counter this progressive onslaught our political engagement must not be about getting the right people in office. We must take back our communities and defeat the rise of Statism that defines the day. I believe we can accomplish this feat only by choosing to apply Biblical principles to all areas of our lives.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D, LPC-S/December 25th, 2020

General Essay

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Anxiety, Faith, & State

Introduction

Two Forms of Anxiety

Several decades ago (1950/1977), the existential psychologist and writer, Rollo May, authored The Meaning of Anxiety. In that book, he distinguished between two types of anxiety. He designated one type as pathological anxiety; he described a second type as existential anxiety. May believed that how we respond to the latter has much to do with whether or not we will experience the former. In his conceptualization, if we repress existential anxiety, we might very well develop pathological anxiety, along with other impairments that come with a denial of existential realities. Anxiety in all is forms leads to some restriction in the way one approaches life. The existential givens of life are limitations. We cannot be who and what we are not. When we deny or try to escape who we are, then anxiety can become more pronounced, and strictures of living can become more powerful impediments to our way of life.

Our True Nature and All Things Political

I rarely allow my libertarian spirit loose on this blog and write about things political. As a libertarian, I despise most things political. Rollo May’s conceptualization, however, of existential and pathological anxiety provides a good framework for how we can understand what has transpired over the last couple of months with COVID-19 government mandates, the rapacious hammering of an economy and people’s rights to earn a living for themselves and their families, and the wholesale giving over of Natural Rights to the State. I will speak to this cowardly act on the part of citizens, not only as a libertarian, but also as a Christian who understands life’s limitations from a Biblical perspective as to our finite and fallen nature. In our response to COVID-19 we chose to place strictures on our living due to our neurotic anxieties in the face of life’s limitations.

Our Enemy the State

It may well be that COVID-19 is even more dangerous and deadly than once imagined and predicted; however, presently that doesn’t appear to be the case. Even if COVID-19 turns out to be something akin to the Black Plague, that reality would furnish no excuse for the giving over of Natural Rights to the State. Indeed, any emergency situation where people are called to work together to deal with exigent situations is the very time to become more vigilant in safeguarding Natural Rights. Emergencies are food for the State to seize Natural Rights for the stated reason that it knows what is better for everyone concerned. The siren call one hears from the State singing it benevolent protection is one that should chill, not warm, the soul of people who truly value liberty.

Existential Anxiety: Risks Inherent in Living

Existentialists of various conceptualizations have described the tensions, struggles, and risks that comprise our journeys called life. Kirkegaard spoke of the dizziness of freedom, that weight we feel when we realize that we are responsible for our choices. Nietzsche spoke of the pressure that man faces in reevaluating his own values so as to avoid sacrificing himself to a herd mentality. Satre addressed man’s being condemned to freedom. Camus challenges man to live as a rebel, even in the face of what he felt to be an absurd existence.

Existential psychologists and psychotherapists expounded upon existential philosophical conceptualizations, such as those stated above, to describe certain forms of anxiety that are inherent in facing the many crossroads of decisions that make up our day-to-day existence. Irvin Yalom described four givens or themes of existence that we face in our human struggle: death, freedom and responsibility, meaning, and existential isolation. Others built on these to explicate their own view of existential approaches to therapy. Viktor Frankl explored the human need to search for meaning. Rollo May explored the notion of anxiety in depth to help us understand the dilemmas that are inherent in our struggle to carve out lives for ourselves. Although all these various conceptualizations contain food for thought, I believe they additionally must be understood through the truths of Biblical revelation,

Existential Anxiety and Pathological Anxiety

Rollo May described the normal challenges of life that we face as mechanisms that generate normal or existential anxiety. Inherent in living are threats to our various forms of existence. Can I provide for myself and my family? In such provision, can I also place myself and family in a safe environment where they not only have food on the table and a roof over their head, but they also have their health concerns provided? Can I keep safe so as to maintain safety for my family? And then, what about the day-to-day decisions I make? Will they be choices that continue the care I’m responsible for in terms of my own existence, as well as those I love? What if I make a bad decision? A wrong decision? What if I lose my job and income? What if I become ill and cannot take care of myself or family?

Inherent in all these questions are the normal anxieties of daily living. If we deny the struggle we are thinking more like an adolescent or child than an adult. The struggles and dangers are real. Facing the challenges that life throws at us is what Rollo May and others call the courage to exist. Rather than denying existential threats, we face up to them and fight to carve out and protect our livelihoods. When we deny these existential threats, then we can be swept away into neurotic anxiety. This happens to people because the challenges of living do not simply go away because we don’t want them to be present. If we don’t face up to them, then they manifest themselves in other ways in our being. We are responsible for the choices we make. We cannot escape that reality. Likewise, individually we must search out what is truly meaningful in our lives. In that sense, we make or at least come to discover how we can make meaning in and for our lives. We are all finite and must face the fact that one day we will die and cease to be. Individually, no one else can live our lives for us or make decisions for us. To cast this responsibility onto others is to act irresponsibly and cowardly.

Casting our Fate to the State

I have to admit that one of the most disappointing failures I’ve witnessed is our wholesale giving over of Natural Rights to the State due to the fear generated by COVID-19. First, let me say so that no caricatures or false narratives are applied to this blog, the threat of COVID-19 is real. I don’t believe it reaches the magnitude proclaimed by those in power, but it is real. Even if it does reach the predicted magnitude, the failure on our part as a free people is unsettling. We have cast upon the State the responsibility to take care of us, giving over to their dictates as to how we should live, what she should deem as essential, and the ways we should conduct our daily affairs, from the way we relate to our family and friends to the way we go about providing for our basic needs.

Note the devolution of Natural Rights that occurred over a period of just a few weeks. First, we engaged having to take precautions as we navigated our daily lives. Then precautions turned into dictates as to what kind of work is considered essential and what kinds of livelihood are non-essential. These designations determined by the State basically labeled people’s ways of living as important and not important. The devolution did not stop there. In some states, mandates equated to house arrests. Citizens were asked to spy on other citizens and report them if they violated certain mandates. The shock came at how easily citizens aligned with this role. Certain products in stores became designated as essential or non-essential. Activities, like mowing one’s yard, were criminalized or so near-criminalized that individuals feared being reported, shamed, or both if they engaged such activities. Certain governors of particular states took it upon themselves to determine whether people could even go for a drive. Police officers appeared at a mother’s house because she allowed her daughter to play outside. One governor went so far as trying to shut down an Interstate and an entire community because people disagreed and did not align with her mandates as to when and how they could resume their daily business.

One silver lining is that politicians who implemented these Draconian measures are beginning to experience some push back. Although that is a good sign, a deeper question exists as to how we so easily let things get to the point they did in the first place. Historically we have witnessed one of the major mechanisms the State uses to restrict people’s liberty, to proffer something that threatens their existence on some level. We have seen this over the years from the Cold War to the War on Terror, and now to the War on COVID-19. I do not wish to continue offering this qualifier, but again, I do not deny the threat of the COVID-19 virus. What I deny is that we as a people should have in a wholesale manner handed over to the State without thought and without hesitance our Natural Rights. If there is a more blatant example of pathological anxiety than our response to COVID-19 with our acquiescence to the State, I can’t for the life of me think of what it would be.

My Response as a Christian

Actions by the State in response to COVID-19 that bothered me the most entailed the blatant violation of freedom of worship and religion manifested in the closing down of churches and preventing people from coming together to worship. When a pastor is arrested for conducting church services, when people are fined and subjected to legal sanctions because they attend a worship whereby they stayed in their automobiles, and when the UN, WHO, and CDC desire to dictate to churches what they can and cannot do, then we have to ask what is going on here besides some concern for a virus.

I know many Christians will point to Romans 13 here as a proper Christian response. I agree but not to the point of acquiescence that some interpret that passage to mean. But that’s another discussion and blog article all together. As believers, we know via God’s word that life has been, is, and will continue to be full of existential threats. Although easier said than done, we are not be anxious. These exigent times of COVID-19 are prime times for the church to step forward and demonstrate what it can do and what it offers during such emergencies. The last thing we should do is hand all of our power to act over to the State.

Via God’s providence, we supposedly have created a government, not of men but of laws. My ultimate authority is God. Our ultimate legal authority here is the Constitution. We sold out the Constitution. We indicated by our actions that Natural Rights are not important when we embrace the Statist belief that those in political power know better how we should conduct our affairs than we do. I claim no omniscience at knowing how to navigate all the vicissitudes and vagaries associated with COVID-19. Such navigating would entail positive and negative experiences, getting some things right and other things wrong. Moreover, however, I recognize no omniscience on the part of the State to dictate to people how they should conduct their affairs, to know what ways of living are essential and non-essential, and to grant that it has the right to shutdown and annihilate an economy in the name of protecting people. Wilhelm Reich’s Mass Psychology of Fascism and Eric Fromm’s Escape from Freedom come to mind here. In mass hysteria, we ran into the arms of the State offering it everything we supposedly value to our core. In our neurotic anxieties, we traded liberty for security, and have gained neither. We restricted our way of living for a utopian promise.

Conclusion

I used the concept of Natural Rights throughout this blog. Suffice it to say without having to go into too much detail, as a Christian, I believe Natural Rights are endowed by a Creator. These times are scary, more than just for the reason of a virus. But in scary times, we as Christians have to look to our response to God and Christ our High Priest to understand, as Francis Schaeffer put it, how should we then live. Again, easier said than done, but our living should not be in fear. Our response to the State indicates that the mind of fear has ruled the way we see life. The way we see life has led us to acquiesce to the State. We have fled from the challenges inherent in life to live behind a mask that hides who we have become in our core. When this crisis passes, and it will pass, the question will be what masks remain on our souls that we sold to the State. We exchanged living fully for a utopian promise that no human being can, or has the right, to make and dictate.

To believe such promises from politicians is idolatry at its worse.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/May 14th, 2020

GENERAL ESSAY

Yes and No

Introduction

Life is a constant series of decisions. In our journeys we encounter crossroads at every turn, having to choose which way to go. Many of these crossroads leave little impact on our lives. Others are major crossroads that are life altering. With each decision, we have to say yes to something, which in turn means we say no to something else. Major crossroads are angst provoking for many people, especially when the choice of one road means they may never know what the other road might have held.

Major Crossroads: The Risks of Life

Life entails a series of risks that we must face. Every crossroad we come to entails risks that we must weigh because the way we go might set a path for our lives for some time to come. Time is the resource that we know is limited. We realize that we can never come back to the original starting point to make a different decision. No doubt, we can change our minds and make different decisions, but the time we’ve taken in the process is set in stone. We cannot reclaim it. A common experience I encounter is that I, people I know, and clients with whom I work desire someone to tell us everything is going to work out okay. We look for that person who can give us the picture that tells us the end from the beginning. Getting advice and feedback from people we trust is one thing. Wanting a guarantee is another thing all together. We desire guarantees because we don’t want to face the risks. The reality is that risks are inherent in life, especially if we want to pursue a life that is meaningful on some level.

So two things combine to make crossroads weighty things indeed. We say yes to something, meaning we have to say no to something else. Add to that we want to know that we’re making the right decision. I don’t believe that life is so arbitrary that we’re simply flipping a coin as we make our way through our existence. There are legitimate and good ways by which to make decisions. We can research, learn, and embrace those tried and true ways of making choices. What those may entail are another blog article. Nonetheless, even good decision-making practices cannot provide us with guarantees. There is truth in the notion that we simply have to use all that is available to us to make the best decisions we can, and then go with it. We have to let our decisions rest and see where they take us. We can neither get caught up in overthink or searching for ironclad guarantees. Overthinking and the search for absolute certainty will keep us stuck at the crossroads where we will never decide.

The Sinuous Paths of Life

Saying yes to things we hope to pursue can indeed be exciting. Saying no to pathways in which we’re also interested can produce both angst and sadness. There are many decisions we face that are not made up of cut-and-dry either-or decisions. There are nuances of interests and desires we have. The thought of saying no to some of those desires is truly painful. We simply don’t want to let them go even if we know we want to pursue a certain pathway. One thing I discovered in talking with so many clients and other people I know over the years is that when we choose a path, it is not necessarily one to which we are glued for our entire lives. In terms of career, many people have found ways to have more than one and even several careers that they have followed. Usually these decisions come about for them when one pathway runs its course, and they know it is time for a change. Likewise, once people choose to follow a path, they find ways then to work back into their journeys other things that interest them. Although it may take time, they find a way to bring back into their lives some of those things they said no to earlier. The common denominator here, however, is that these individuals first said yes to something and no to other things. The paths they ended up following would not have transpired for them had they not taken that first step toward one path at their crossroads. While we can’t be sure that we can work things back into our lives we once said no to, one thing is for sure. If we don’t say yes to something at the beginning, we will stay stuck at the crossroad. Staying stuck is simply saying no to everything. Again, we don’t know the end from the beginning. It may well be that when we say no to some things, they will never return to our life’s journey. There is nothing worse, however, than never getting started. All one has to do is listen to some stories that people tell about having wasted that resource of time to the point that they believe they have wasted their lives. If there is a guarantee I can give, then it would be that it is much better to choose a path, even if we have to reverse it later than to never have chosen at all. One can think in terms of romance. If I love a woman and wonder if I should tell her, one thing is for sure. If I never take the risk to tell her, I’ll never know what would have transpired. If I do tell her, and she says she doesn’t feel the same way, then painful as that may be, at least I gave it shot. I believe it is that way with every crossroad we face.

God’s Providence

I write this blog from a Christian worldview. As Christians, we believe in God’s providential care over our lives. That means we don’t need to know the end from the beginning. What God’s providence doesn’t mean is that we should make decisions in haphazard ways. In fact, as Christians we should be the ones who put the meaning into due diligence. We do the best we can, and we leave it in God’s hands. Does that mean we never make mistakes? I wish! Like anyone’s life, we can choose to learn from the choices we made that didn’t turn out or we can grow bitter and disappointed. From a Christian perspective, we can look to the lessons that God has for us. One of the things we all must learn is that the rare resource of time is limited. We don’t have the time to make life decisions in a haphazard manner. We equally don’t have the time to grow bitter and disappointed when decisions we make don’t turn out the way we desired. Life is indeed a learning process. It has hard knocks, pitfalls, and traps into which we fall. It also has its rewards that come with wisdom that we gain if we look for it in the experiences life offers us.

Conclusion

Life is a series of yes’s and no‘s. We are finite creatures who cannot know the beginning from the end. We have the rare resource of time to navigate the winding rivers and roads of our lives. The sad fact is that we can waste our lives if we are not careful. We encounter crossroads of one kind or another everyday. The major ones can be angst producing. The worst thing we can do at major crossroads is stay stuck as in quicksand because we want some form of guarantee that everything will work out the way we hope. No human being can offer us that. The one thing I do believe is that through faith and due diligence things will work out. Perhaps not in the way we hoped or desired, but they will work out, providing us with lessons that we can hopefully and joyfully call wisdom.

There’s nothing richer than that kind of wisdom.  

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/April 14th, 2020

GENERAL ESSAY

Counseling & Valuation II

Introduction

Back in October, I wrote a blog regarding counseling and valuation, and the kind of work that transpires with clients who pursue goals of valuation. In that blog I focused on clientele who are fairly certain of what their core beliefs and values are, but they have come to realize that they are not really living their lives in alignment with their purported values. That blog focused specifically on helping clients establish the means by which they pursue their valued ends. Many times clients have clear ideas as to the values they hold, but they are not sure of the means by which to live out those values. I called that type of valuation work Level I because the counseling process does not delve into the search for clients’ values. Level I work is important work for counseling and most likely fits the needs for the majority of clients entering counseling for life transition work.

Counseling and valuation, however, can involve another level of work, a type of work that is more difficult and time consuming than Level I work. Counseling and valuation, Level II work, entails working with clients who simply are unclear as to what their core values in fact are. It’s tantamount to being in a fog regarding to where life is heading. Individuals are so unsure as to what their core values might be, they need some in-depth clarification work. What this type of counseling work will look like will be highly diversified, depending on each client. Counselors may hear clients say such things as: I’m not sure what I believe about important decisions in my life. I’m at a loss as to what my core beliefs and values are. I’ve never truly considered what my core values are and how to live out my life according to what they are. I have a difficult time making major decisions in my life because I simply do not know what it is that I believe. I know I want to do something meaningful with my life, but I’m just not sure what that is.

Unlike Level I work in valuation, Level II work cannot begin with exploring the means by which to pursue and accomplish valued ends. Rather this level of work must begin with exploration of what in fact an individual’s valued ends might be. Level II valuation work in counseling is what is typically designated as values clarification. Before clients can engage means to pursue the ends they value, they must first clarify the ends they hope to accomplish with their lives.

A Quick Review: Level I Work – Means and Ends

In the blog, Counseling as the Science of Human Action, I wrote about the use of means and ends in working with clients. Many times clients enter counseling with a fair to clear idea of the ends they hope to accomplish in life, but they are unclear as to the means to accomplish their desired ends. Counseling with such clients involves anything from behavioral plans to assessing what they have already tried, focusing on what things worked and what didn’t. Helping clients establish means to accomplish their valued goals also entails helping them look at how risk aversive they might be, and assessing what level of risks they would be willing to undergo. Clients can know what it actually takes to make changes in their lives, but they may balk at taking the risks to make the necessary changes that can propel them onto more fulfilling lives. Counseling can help them establish action plans that they can engage at a pace that is comfortable for them individually. Then the counseling work involves troubleshooting any obstacles that continue to prevent clients from making desired changes. The use of the language means and ends helps clients distinguish between their valued goals (ends) and the actions (means) they embrace to reach those goals. Once an individual begins working towards certain ends, he or she can begin to make any nuanced changes along the way in terms of both means and ends. When clients hit a wall in their pursuits, therapists may need to assess whether the issue is not only means that clients are utilizing to make changes in their lives, but also may entail making changes in the ends clients are pursuing. In other words, clients may be unclear and unsure as to the valued ends they truly want to pursue. At that point, counseling work has shifted from Level I to Level II work.

Valuation Counseling: Level II

There are no easy formulas or step-by-step cookbook approaches that seamlessly guide counselors in working with clients who need to engage in Level II work of values clarification. This kind of counseling work is truly a pure form of exploratory work. This work is foundational in the sense that what clients discover at this stage provides the ground on which Level I work will build. Level II work involves clients’ radical acceptance that they are at a starting point on a journey that at the moment has an uncertain finish. Clients who truly accept that they are unsure of their core values must place everything on hold for the purpose of critical inquiry. All clients believe something by which they are making their way through life. It may be that they simply have not clarified what that something is. That is a starting point for values clarification. Individuals do not like to admit that they are uncertain as to what their core values are. It’s a difficult thing to admit about oneself. Like any other work in counseling, clients need to feel safe and not judged when admitting such truths about themselves. Clients have to perceive the counseling setting as a safe place to open up to certain truths they perhaps would not admit to most people they know.

One of the first things to take place in Level II valuation work in counseling is that clients agree with and establish a commitment to take on such work. Clients must be honest with themselves that they need to engage the counseling process involved in clarification of values. In respect to time commitment, although no time limit can be set for Level II work, it will most likely take at least a few weeks and possibly longer. The counseling process will be replete with inroads into clarity, setbacks into lack of clarity, rethinking ground covered, and reassessing what clients believe they have accomplished. It is that feeling of taking three steps forward and one or two steps back. Value clarification can be a slow process, while simultaneously can involve punctuated accelerated gains that come with insights that clients gain along the way. Patience is indeed a virtue for this kind of work, for therapists as well as clients. More than once, therapists and clients will have to discuss whether or not all the effort is worth the outcome hoped for.

The Card Sort

William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick in their work, Motivational Interviewing: Helping People Change, provide a list of 100 values along with definitions of what each value entails. Although using card sorts can feel mechanical I think the approach Miller and Rollnick provide is highly useful, and it at least establishes a beginning point for clients to engage value clarification. More importantly, it provides a way that therapists and clients can begin a discussion and exploration about values, what they mean, and how they inform people as to how they should live. Clients read through the list of 100 values and sort them along a Likert-like scale of five ratings ranging from Very Important to Not Important [Very Important – Most Important – Important – Somewhat Important – Not Important]. Exploratory discussions in counseling begin with what clients rate as Very Important. Many times this exploratory process allows clients to compare, rethink, and reevaluate among those values they rated in the top three categories. Clients find it difficult to distinguish these levels of importance at times. They will tend to move back and forth, placing and replacing various values into their card sorts. This process is important work for clients, helping them become aware of how difficult and important it is for them to nuance their decisions.

If clients place a large number of the values listed into the first two categories, then the next step in this process is to ask clients to rate their top five or ten values, leaving the others aside for the moment. Once clients establish their top five or ten values, then their choices become the focus of exploration in counseling.

Alignment of Thought and Action

Card sorts and lists are fine tools that therapists and clients can utilize that help them delve into important discussions around clarifying values. However, they are just that, a tool. The nitty-gritty work in this exploratory process are the discussions in which therapists and clients engage. Therapeutic discussions help clients nuance, refine, and clarify the tough decision points they face as they seek to determine their core values.

Talking about values clarification during the session is one thing. Acting on decisions about values is another thing all together. Although people can choose from a list of values the ones they think represent their core beliefs, unless they act on those beliefs, they remain stagnate instead of moving forward. At this point, important discussions around taking risks emerge. Clients have to try things that perhaps they’ve never tried before. After all, they are searching out their core values. If for example they claim Art as one of their core values, described by Miller and Rollnick as to appreciate or express myself in art, then clients must seek out ways to live out this value. For many clients that would most likely mean studying, creating, and producing art in some form. If they claim to possess such a value but don’t act on it, then their purported beliefs do not align with their actions. This misalignment of beliefs and actions becomes the focus of discussion in counseling. The old adage where the rubber meets the road is supreme here. Clients not acting on purported values must confront that they in fact do not value what they claim to value. Even if the lack of action is due to fear of failure or aversion to risks, clients who do not act on stated values must face the reality that they do not in fact value what they claim. Such discussions can be the most challenging, fearful, and even painful ones that clients engage.

Another adage, talk is cheap reigns supreme here as well. If I say I believe something at my core, that I truly value it beyond all other beliefs I might hold, but my life shows no evidence that I in fact value what I claim, then something is off. I may have fears I need to overcome. I perhaps need to explore risks assessment, helping me understand what level of risk I’m willing to take on. I might fear what others would think of me if I lived truly in alignment with what I believe. Or, it may be that I don’t truly value what I claim. If the case is the latter, then it’s back to the drawing board of values clarification. These are the reasons that when dealing with values clarification actions must become the focus in counseling or it’s all mere talk. Actions help clients clarify and nuance what they claim to believe and value. There’s nothing more powerful than taking an action based on a purported belief and letting the consequences of that action provide a feedback loop regarding that belief. When the rubber meets the road, the road can be a hard and harsh teacher. It also helps clients clarify and nuance what they purport to believe. Without action, words about values are just that, mere words.

Conclusion

Clients engage Level II work of values clarification when they lack certainty about what they truly value at their core. The process of this work will involve movements back and forth between stated values and testing those values with action. Moreover actions help clients nuance their choices so as to better refine them so that they indeed become clearer guides to a better way of living, which is a goal we all seek on one level or another.

Speaking of nuance, future blog articles will delve more into the process of values clarification in terms of the major themes I’ve written about in other blog articles, which include meaning, thought/action, humility/finitude, and worldview.

John V. Jones, Jr, Ph.D, LPC-S/January 14th, 2020

GENERAL ESSAY

Meanderings 2019

Introduction

Time for the final blog for 2019 has arrived. It’s at this time of year that I proffer my meanderings for the year, reflect upon what the future of this blog might hold, and take time to prepare for the holidays. Like most twelve-month spans, this past year has brought about some experiences that has made life interesting, to say the least.

Reawakened Interests

Back in September, I posted a blog about returning to some themes I had written about in the past. Indeed they reawakened some interests that I have held for quite some time, and they represent areas of exploration that will form and shape this blog across the next year of 2020. The importance and impact of these themes also remind me of the humility I have to embrace, given that I’m anything but an expert in any of these areas of exploration. The interests that have been rekindled within me will include research into the areas of mind, meaning-making, thought/action, finitude/humility, worldview, and valuation. I’m not sure which one of these areas of exploration will become primary data for next year’s blog writing, but at least one or two of them will be at front and center stage. The idea that all of them will be tapped out over the next twelve months is unrealistic. Each theme could become an in-depth study for quite some time to come.

Counseling as Human Action

Another major focus that had its inchoate appearance in 2019 on this blog involved a notion that I borrowed from the economist Ludwig von Mises. And that is counseling as human action. I hold a strong belief that as human beings we are all in the quest of making our lives better in some way. That is, each of us seeks to carve out a life that we personally believe entails a life of fulfillment. As such, we hold values that make up and define the kind of life we want and hope for. Action entails our discovering the means by which we can obtain the kind of life for which we long. Our valuations are the ends at which we aim, and our actions entail the means by which we hope to obtain our valued ends. Counseling as human action is a theme I hope to explore more in depth over the next year. Obviously this theme dovetails nicely with the six areas of exploration that I delineated above.

A Specific Topic and Quest

Over a year ago, I published a blog article on the dynamic and power of group counseling. I am specifically interested in forming group experiences for individuals who experience social anxiety. This particular idea is one I will explore more in 2020, both by proffering ideas on this blog, and by developing these ideas in my private practice.

Life Experiences

Our meanderings over time are always abetted by the various experiences that life throws at us. For sure, this came true for me during 2019. I found myself by quite surprise in the position of becoming Power of Attorney for some relatives that had experienced and were going through some difficult times. Because they are elderly, physical health concerns have taken center stage in their day-to-day struggles. I never knew what stepping into the role of a Power of Attorney entailed, especially for elderly individuals whose lives were pretty much in shambles in terms of finances, daily care, and possessing the support they needed to simply carry on their personal functioning. At first, the task overwhelmed me, and it appeared much larger than me, and anything I could bring to it. I also became aware of the experience of two people’s lives and well being having been thrust into my hands. As a person of faith, I found that I was in a situation that challenged things I believed, about myself, about God, and about my faith in general. I have written several times on this blog about my personal beliefs and how they inform my work. At this point, I can say thankfully that I have reached a plateau of understanding, but there are sill many miles to cover with this specific situation. Basically, I’m watching two people near the end of their lives who did not have anyone to take care of them. The beliefs that have carried me through this situation thus far entail my coming to the knowledge and understanding of what God would have me do, and that I do it right. Thus these experiences forced me to embrace my faith and truly come to know God on a more personal level. No doubt, I will explore these ideas more over the next year on this blog. More importantly, however, the place that these experiences have brought me thus far will simply inform much of what I have to say, both as a counselor and an individual who is a Christian.

Holidays

Several times on this blog, I have written about the holidays, special days, and celebrations we engage, ranging from Valentines Day to Christmas Day. The holidays are special times for me, so I will continue to write about their meaningful significance in my life as we go forward into 2020. As I noted on last month’s blog, the holidays, while special times for most people, are difficult times for many people. As practitioners in the counseling field, we might experience clients during this time of year as they undergo both highs and lows.

Conclusion: Counseling and Beyond

Counseling is a field of which it is a both a privilege and honor to be a part. Those who are familiar with this blog, however, know that many topics about which I write only tangentially may intersect with the field of counseling. The subtitle of my Contemplations website is: Exploring the Life of the Mind, the Arts, Sciences, and Critical Inquiry. I hope over the next year to explore several areas that are important to people, not just from a counseling standpoint, but also from the point of being those who like all of us have to engage daily the human condition.

Here’s to 2020. Hope you come along for the ride.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/December 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY

Preparing for the Holidays

Introduction

Every year when the holidays come around, it is a satisfying and peaceful existence for me. This fact is especially true since I have returned to my faith, seeking to live as God would want me to live. (Several years passed when that was not the case.) So what I have done over the last couple of years on this blog is explore some thoughts about the holidays, touching on my personal beliefs, history, and experiences. I want to speak to the coming of the holidays from two perspectives, one as an individual and one as a professional counselor.

Holidays and Family

My family was one that celebrated and excitingly embraced the holidays. I remember year after year of extended family celebrations, both during Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those were times that settled deep into me bringing home the importance of family, the connections that would remain with endearment throughout my life. The holidays were always special times, and above all they were times that signified the importance of family connection. The holidays did not make family connection special; the holidays were special because family connections were already special, regardless of the time of year. The holiday season simply emphasized what was already deeply special about family. Family was a place of belonging. It was a place to which and people to whom I could always return, knowing those connections would never cease to be there for me.

Holidays without Family

As a kid, I never realized that there were situations not quite as happy and secure as mine. In fact, there was no reason I or any other kid should have to face such painful facts, not until we become an adult. Those facts are that for many during the holiday season the loneliness becomes emphatically pronounced. The holidays shine a bright light on the importance of family. Many individuals simply lack that familial connection that can become an important focus during the holidays. When counselors and other mental health professionals are ready for time away from the office, this time of year brings people into the office bearing some weighty stuff because of either family conflicts or the lack of family connection all together. Not only might they lack family to spend time with during the season, but also many of their friends are away spending time with their families, emphasizing the lack of total connection they experience. The fact is, this is a tough time of year for many people. Those tough times begin right after Halloween and continue through Thanksgiving and Christmas on into the New Year.

Many of us know who these people are who move in our circles. As professionals, we know them as clients. There are two important things for us to consider who work with clients who face difficult times during the holidays. First, we have to understand that while we look forward to the holiday season, others do not because they lack those connections that enrich this time of year. Indeed, as counselors we may be their only connection to this season. It’s a difficult task at anytime to work with clients who experience deep loneliness. This time of year adds to that difficulty because we are so aware that our clients lack the family connections that make this time special.

This brings up the second thing of which we need to be aware as professionals. We cannot let our clients’ difficult times during this season put a damper on the holidays for us. As professional counselors, we are all aware of the need to clock out at the end of the day and leave our work at the office. This is a constant pressure in the field of counseling. There are reams of literature, research projects, and workshops that address the pressures that can lead to burnout for professional counselors. Those pressures can become magnified during this time of year. I believe strongly that is why family is so important, especially during the holiday season. We should embrace the fortunes and blessings we have if we still have our families available to us. Embrace those blessings with all our passion and enjoy them to their fullest extent. We never know when the last family get together will come.  

Conclusion

As an individual, I miss my family-of-origin everyday. The years have come and gone since my mom and dad’s passing. In God’s providence, I never married so as to build my own family experience. Although those times have passed now, the solidity of what a loving family provided me over the years is one of the bulwarks against any loneliness I may experience during this time. Another is my faith. I always look forward to the holiday season. I want to embrace this time with every bit of life I have.

As a professional, I know that for many the holidays are difficult times indeed. I hope too that they find their bulwarks as well. I pray that they find some solid ground on which to step. One piece of that ground can be the therapy office where we as professionals can provide some connection with what they’re going through.

After all, that’s one of the main reasons we’re in the office.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/November 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY

Launching Pad: Return to Some Previous Themes

Introduction

With last month’s blog, I explored my thoughts on what I call Philosophical Counseling. I want to continue that exploration this month and for a few blogs to follow in the future, returning to some themes that I have explored in the past on this blog. Beginning with last month’s blog, Philosophical Counseling, I am going to build on some thought about which I begin contemplating back in 2018 and before. The particular blog off which I will build is the one titled Game Plan, published on this blog on May 14th, 2018.

Launching Pad

In that blog article I delineated several area of interests or themes that I wanted to explore, pertaining both to my work as a counselor, and also to the way in which I want to formulate how I approach living life. I have come to hold that what we believe informs how we live, whether or not we are aware of our beliefs. Much of life’s struggle is developing the awareness of what we actually believe. In so doing, then we can begin to explore and question how we are going about life. The areas of interests I delineated in Game Plan are: mind, meaning-making, thought/action, finitude/humility, and worldview. In addition to that blog, I published several others that touched on these themes specifically. They can be found on these particular blogs: Meaning-Makers, Thinking, Living, and Reading “Worldviewishly, The Quest for Meaning: Part I, The Quest for Meaning: Part II, The Quest for Meaning: Part III, and Psychotherapy, Neuroscience, and Consilience. I would increase the five areas of interests to six, adding values exploration, or simply valuation. These six areas of interest form the foundation for launching my exploration into philosophical counseling that I described in an introductory fashion last month.

Mind

We live in an age of naturalism, materialism, and reductionism. Counter to these ideas come all sorts of New Age and postmodern formulations regarding the human makeup. As counselors, it seems to me that we have the responsibility to formulate our ideas about the human mind, at least to the degree that we can. Obviously, our worldviews will shape how we approach this question of research. Neuroscience is one of the cutting-edge fields today making inroads in defining and describing the human mind. Much of the thought from that direction is reductionist, equating the mind with the brain. Such discussions and debates around these formulations cannot help but highlight the clash of different worldviews. (For example, I’m a Christian and thereby not a reductionist.) Various worldviews will seek to uncover what I consider to be one of the mysteries of the human condition, the mind. How we think about the human mind cannot help but inform the way we work as counselors, as well as any other field of endeavor that deals with human experience. We appear to be trapped in this existence of having to turn the mind on itself so that we can comprehend it. We have to use our mind to study the mind.

Meaning-Making

I possess a strong conviction that human beings are meaning-makers, and for the most part they seek to make meaning of their lives and to carve out a meaningful existence. Another way to think about meaning-making entails the act of interpretation. We tend to interpret our experiences so as to make some sense of them. We want to understand the various experiences we encounter, both the good and the painful. We think in terms of good and bad or good and evil. We label experiences as pleasurable or painful. We talk about the meaning we garner from our work, or in many cases, the lack thereof. One of the things that many individuals fear the most is that they might come to regard their existence as a meaningless one. A wasted life is one of the most core fears we encounter. We try to ascertain the meaning of our various experiences such as the work we do, the careers on which we embark, the relationships we develop, and the explorations we search out around the world. We want to exit this life, holding that it was a meaningful one rather than one that totaled to a useless existence.

Thought/Action

I hold the strong conviction that one of the most meaningful ways to live involves our awareness of the manner in which what we think aligns with how we live. We want that alignment to forge a strong bond that tells us that we live in conjunction with our convictions. If that alignment fails us then we feel like a phony, or we might view ourselves as hypocritical. We do not want to be viewed as someone who tells people we believe one thing while living out the exact opposite. From a counseling perspective, clients may desire to explore this bond between thought and action. Before forging such a bond, they may want to explore what it is they actually believe. Upon understanding their belief systems, then they can better comprehend how to navigate the world as they see it.

Finitude/Humility

The notions that I have the one correct view of how the mind should be understood, or that I have no questions or concerns about how I make meaning of things, or that beyond a shadow of doubt my actions correspond to my beliefs, are simply supercilious notions. The mind is indeed a human mystery. Making meaning of life is a constant navigation, involving trial-and-error living. The same goes for thought and action. Our beliefs change over time. Experiences might even shatter some of the strong beliefs we held at one time in our lives. What we believe and how we live those beliefs out are never set once and for all without further deliberation, alteration, and possibly radical change. Finitude and humility simply mean that we approach life with the idea that what we don’t know is infinitely greater than what we do know. Moreover, even the things we have concluded, we may fail at. For various reasons I will on occasions not act in alignment with my beliefs. Such experiences are part of the human condition. Various spiritual traditions, for strong reasons, highlight the need for humility in our navigation of life.

Worldview

One of my favorite Christian authors is James Sire. His work, The Universe Next Door, is a compendium of worldview comparisons and contrasts. In this work, he defines worldview as follows:

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live, move, and have our being [p. 17].


In dealing with questions and explorations about mind, meaning, thought and action, and in recognizing our finitude and humility, our worldviews cannot help but come into play. That does not mean that worldviews are lost in a sea of relativity whereby they cannot be critiqued. We are – or should be – aware that our personal worldviews are the frame of references by which we critique our own and different worldviews. Such awareness can help us garner as much objectivity as possible. But in comprehending how we understand mind, how we go about making meaning, how we assess alignment between our beliefs and actions, and how we embrace our finitude and humility, we must utilize the worldview that we hold at the moment to comprehend human nature and the human condition. We can’t do otherwise. If we live carelessly, what we can do, as Sire points out, is live out our worldviews inconsistently or in a state of unawareness. The human struggle entails the hard work of becoming aware of what it is we actually believe that, in turn, guides how we live. The more we are aware of our worldview, the better clarity we have in evaluating it and other worldviews. Clients may enter counseling to clarify their worldviews. They quite often enter counseling when their worldviews are challenged by life experiences.

Valuation

No doubt, clients enter counseling to explore and, what Nietzsche calls, to reevaluate their values. I recently authored a blog article titled, Counseling as the Science of Human Action, and one similar two years earlier titled, Human Action and Personal Journeys. In both those articles I discussed the importance of means and ends that human beings grasp to pursue their goals. An end is a valued goal. A goal that one wants to obtain speaks to a value that one holds. How one achieves those ends are the means one embraces to reach their desired goals. Clients can either lack clarity about their values, which will help them understand why the means they utilize might not be working in their lives, or they can embrace inculcated values in ways they have not truly thought out for themselves. They may not actually value what they claim to value. If one clarifies his values, he will have a clear picture of the means he needs to embrace to accomplish his valued ends. Hence, valuation, and particularly, value exploration is a sixth theme I’ve added to the five themes discussed above. I have worked with several clients who have done the work of value exploration. Our values inform and contribute to our meaning-making and our worldviews.

Conclusion

Following last month’s blog article about Philosophical Counseling, I have returned this month to these six themes discussed in this blog article. In pursuit of a practice that I would designate as philosophical counseling, building on these six themes is a necessity. Hence, each of themes will form an important discussion, in-and-of-themselves, moving forward as I put together the pieces of a philosophical counseling practice. My work will, and must, follow from a worldview that comprises my Christian beliefs. Although such a worldview is not a match for many of the clients that will walk into my office, I have a strong conviction that I can work with anyone, regardless of the worldview he or she holds. Clarifying values and worldview with the desired end of making meaning is a task that can and will, I believe, draw many to the counseling process.

I welcome and invite readers to join me and offer feedback and critique over the next few months and longer as I build on the six themes discussed here in putting together my thoughts and ideas on a philosophical counseling practice.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/ September 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY

Lessons In Time

Introduction

When we think beyond an ordinary watch or clock, Time becomes one of those mysteries that has drawn the interests of physicists, metaphysicists, and philosophers of all persuasions. Existentially, time can be both an ally and an enemy, depending on how we relate to it. Time should always be our ally, but it doesn’t always work out that way for us. I think the only reason we would view it negatively springs from the fact that we might not have used it in the most efficient manner. Time carries those lessons of life, some we wish we would have learned earlier, and others we wish we wouldn’t have had to learn at all. It stares us in the face whether or not we like it. We stand in its midst and are caught in its flow even when we would prefer that not to be the case. We would like the ability to slow it down and even halt its onslaught on occasions. Other experiences find us wanting to speed it up exponentially. Whatever the case, our not letting time be what it is – Time – is the main factor we don’t learn from it what we can.

Time as a Teacher of Wisdom

No doubt, most of us heard our parents and grandparents proclaim how fast time would pass, and suddenly we would be looking upon our pasts as the largest part of our existence. Having reached the mark of a septuagenarian, I can attest that everything my dad said about how quickly the decades, especially those following my school days, would speed by is true. It appears over the years that time exponentially speeds up. I’m certain that the twenty-four hours in a day are the same now that they were when I was twelve, but the way they fly by feels very different than when I used to wait impatiently at my school desk for the afternoon bell to signal the end of the school day.

Biblical writings teach us wisdom concerning time. Such wisdom is one of those things of life I wish I had learned earlier rather than later. Psalm 103 proclaims that human life is like a flower of the field, flourishing for a while, and then gone with the wind in the bat of an eye. The wind passes over this flower, says the author King David, and its place is remembered no longer. In Psalm 90, Moses compares the passing of years to the eternal God. A thousand years to God is like but yesterday when it passed. A millennium to God is but a watch in the night. This Psalm likewise compares the years of life to the grass or a flower in the field: like the grass that is renewed in the morning/in the morning it is renewed/in the evening it fades and withers. The Psalm goes on to say that the years of our lives are soon gone, and we fly away. Given this shortness of life, the Psalmist asks God: teach us to number our days/that we may get a heart of wisdom. Hence, time and its relation to our lives is viewed as something from which we can garner valuable lessons that can lead us to accrue wisdom if we so choose to relate to it in a way that allows it to teach us. What are some of the lessons that time can teach us if we are open to letting it be our teacher?

Time is Relentless

I’m sure that most of us have seen family pictures comprising family members with their young kids at preschool age and have read captions like, don’t blink, where did the years go, or turn, turn, turn, now they’re grown. Quite frankly, the decades of life do seem to pass in light-speed, especially when you look back on them. I can remember high school graduation night like it was yesterday, as the adage goes. The notion that in 2020, someone born in 1990 will be thirty years old is almost beyond comprehension. More emphatically, I remember how lively and fun my parents were when they were in their thirties and forties. Both of them died in their seventies although those fun-filled times seem recent, but they passed like the bat of an eye. Don’t blink is indeed a good lesson to learn about time. Savor the moments, don’t waste them, and don’t wish them away just so you’ll get to Friday faster. Wishing away time is like wishing away pearls of wisdom that you’re letting slip through your fingers. There’s no way to hold onto anything forever; all will pass. But you can find ways to savor the good tastes of life. Time will not prevent you from going old. Just the opposite, it will take you where you may not be ready to go. Time doesn’t care whether or not you’re willing to be in its flow. We can fight it, or we can learn to be at peace with it. Some of the saddest people I know are those in their sixty’s or older, looking back and believing that they have wasted their lives. That hard and harsh reality brings up all sorts of lessons upon which we can reflect regarding our relationship to time.

The Now Is Always of the Essence

I’m sure most of us think about certain plans that we had on which we never acted. Such a fact doesn’t have to be catastrophic, unless inaction represents a pattern throughout our lives. Another major lesson to learn about our relationship to time is to avoid getting caught up in the past or lost in the future to the point that such entanglements rob us of our present. For sure, there’s nothing wrong in reflecting on the past for the sake of good memories or learning lessons. And there’s nothing wrong with planning for the future with some vision of what we hope it may look like and bring. But if learning from the past and planning for the future doesn’t impact what we do in the present, then we’re wasting the valuable commodity of time. There’s a skill in embracing the existential now. The skill entails our ability to think and act in the moment so as to carve out our lives with which we’ll move forward. Such in-the-moment living doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes, miscues, and outright screw-ups. It simply means we take in and live with the hits and misses that make up our day-to-day living. The ability to navigate the now so as to build a life is one of the most important keys to obtaining wisdom. The lessons we learn by embracing the now are the ones that can protect us from wasting the commodity of time. There will always be those thoughts about events where we wish we would have done things differently. But those events don’t have to represent our lives at large. Even when we reach our septuagenarian years and older, the now is still with us. Thomas A’ Kemp, author of the classic work, Imitation of Christ, in one of his many aphorisms in that work stated that if there was something you wanted to do at a younger age and didn’t get it done, then do it now. If we have to come to grips at an older age that there were things we let pass by, it still is not too late to at least try them from a different perspective and age. We can’t be thirty and do them, but we can be seventy and do them in a manner that is fulfilling – or at least we can try. There is also the lesson that we can embrace whereby we settle in and understand that many of our choices have been made, and we must live with what those choices brought us. The fact that I chose a counseling career over an engineering field is done. The fact that I chose to stay in school for years to pursue a Ph.D. is done, and those years are gone, and they’ve brought what they brought. Although I can’t alter them, I can still make some alterations and decide on how to carve some new paths at this stage of life. They will not be and can’t be the paths that a thirty-year-old would have made with all the vigor and energy of a thirty-year-old. But they can nonetheless be new opportunities and exciting in their own right. Those are choices and possible paths that I face in my given now that make up my present.

Choices and Consequences

One of the things that we don’t like about time is that in its wake we have cast choices that have rendered consequences, both to our like and dislike. For the latter, we simply may have to embrace the fact that choices we didn’t like have been cast, and we can’t go back and undo them. Some choices hurt us and other people, and the simple fact may be that we are left to live with that reality. Some choices throw us so far off track, that we spend much of our commodity of time trying to get back on the right road. We have to live with the fact that some things we do take us places we would have preferred not to go. They make us face things about ourselves that we would prefer not to face. None of this means that people can’t change and overcome some bad choices. It does mean, however, that there are some things in our lives that we cast in the wake of time, and we simply have to let them lie there. Regret is a heavy-duty concept. But there are some actions we might have taken in life that we regret, even though we learned the lesson from them that we needed to learn. Ideas, beliefs, and choices based on those ideas and beliefs have consequences. Sometimes we choose to go against our beliefs and ideas, and those choices too have consequences. I’m sure that we have all known people, and that we have seen it in ourselves as well, where once choices are cast, we want to go back and undo those choices as though they never happened. We want everything to go back and be the way it was before we made the choice. Another valuable lesson about time is that it can’t be rewound. There are no do-overs. Overcome things, we can do by the power of the Spirit. Make things as though they never happened, that we can’t do. Consequences follow choices. Although they can be painful, consequences can also be valuable learning lessons. Whether or not they become valuable learning lessons is still another choice we have to make.

Delayed Gratification

Several times throughout this article, I have designated time as a commodity. Although our time is much more than a simple commodity, it at least is a commodity that we use wisely or unwisely. One of the major lessons to learn about time is delayed gratification. It is a lesson lost on many people today. Perhaps it always has been. Perhaps even it is one of the most difficult lessons to learn about time and human action. We all hope to carve out a certain kind of life for ourselves. Putting in the time to develop ourselves – knowledge, skills, experience, deeper understanding of things – is one of the most important investments we’ll make toward this commodity we all have called time. It is human nature to want what we want as quick as we can get it, expending the least amount of effort to get it. If we become aware of that fact, we can do something about it so that it doesn’t derail us all the time. The 10k rule applies here hard and fast. Putting time and concerted effort into self-development is one of the most important investments we can make. And such development is not simply about working skills. People skills, interpersonal relational skills, and the skills to learn from others are all part of the development. And then there’s the skill to learn from our failures. All such deepening requires time – reflection, study, effort, contemplation, and action. The results are what countless spiritual writers call wisdom. The great Austrian economist, Ludwig von Mises, in one of his works stated what I have come to believe is a simple truth: There are no shortcuts to wisdom.

Conclusion

Patience is a virtue .  .  . A stitch in time .  .  . Home runs are only for baseball .  .  . These are statements, adages, that I’m sure we’ve all heard or read. There are reasons that some ideas become adages. They are cast in the real stuff of life. Biblically, patience is not only a virtue, it is considered a fruit of the Spirit. A stitch in time is simply about facing the problems and struggles of the day so that one doesn’t have to face them over and over again down the road as though they are always something new. What we learn to solve today will mean we don’t have to spend valuable time on the same problem down the road. We learn lessons that contribute to skills that aid us on our journey in living. And yes, home runs are fun in a baseball game. Babe Ruth swung for the fence and held the home run record for decades. He also held the American League for strike outs five different times, totaling over 1300 strike outs. Too often, rather than taking the patient path of skill building, learning, and developing our selves, we want the payoff right now. Swing for the fence. There may be a time in life’s decisions to swing for the fence, but most often, it’s that slow slug paced effort toward building life skills that pays off in the long run. Yes, time is more than a commodity. But it is at least a commodity to which we relate all of our lives. What we do with it counts. How to rightly relate to and sow our seeds in time are some of the most valuable life lessons we’ll ever grow and build.

Time is always an ally if we choose to see it as such, and now is always with us so that we can begin to rightly relate to this ominous thing called Time.    

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D., LPC-S/June 14th, 2019

GENERAL ESSAY