Dr. Bill Wattenbarger – Counselor
In the last Counselor’s Corner, Garry wrote eloquently of the night train of grief, the episodic emotional stations en route and the hope we have in God’s mindfulness and promises.
As grief is to loss, despair is to life’s many challenges which sometimes just seem too much to overcome. Career is thwarted, family is breaking apart, reputation is being ruined, there is never enough money, schoolwork is failing, friends are always moving on, children continue to misbehave, faith is not “working” … Our best efforts seem too little. Nothing changes and we are fatigued, even exhausted.
Surely, life is challenging at best and troubles are to be expected. We can keep on plugging away, looking for solutions, finding ways, but when all fails, despair goes beyond disappointment or frustration, even depression, all the way to hopelessness. We might give up the struggle, check out or withdraw. At its worst, some might even consider suicide.
In despair we might ask if anybody cares. To despair and nobody seem to care breeds a profound loneliness. All of us live alone with our own thoughts, feelings, hopes and choices. But loneliness goes beyond solitude. It’s all vanity unless somebody out there cares.
Every client I see brings some kind of brokenness (why else come?). Very often it is ongoing pain and suffering which can bring on the worst despair. “Why does this never end? It is so meaningless.” Despair, loneliness and meaninglessness run together.
We can try to define some kind of purpose for ourselves. We can endure for our buddies, families, nations and causes. But meaning depends entirely on God’s interest in our story. Despair asks, “Why doesn’t God do something? If He cares He should remove the obstacles, fill the loneliness, soothe the pain, and stop the suffering.” When waiting on God to answer does not avail, we may give up on Him too. “If this is the best God can do, who needs Him? No God worth his salt would create such a world.” (The problem of pain and suffering is the prevailing “argument” against God in our time.)
God does care but not for the reasons the world might think. Scripture reveals God as loving and compassionate but He is more. He is also righteous, formidable and purposeful. Most importantly He is the fount of all that is. His name is “I AM.” So, God has his own reasons.
Because God is God; He just can’t be confined to our smallness. It is only His otherness that can give our small lives His eternal and infinite proportions.
Because God is good; He is engaged in a great conflict with sin and Evil which only He can win. He has a kingdom to build. He calls us to be part of it.
Because God gave a Son who is the Way; We have someone to follow. He leads the way so we can live the way.
Because God has His own goals; He has a work for each of us. There is good news to be shared. The good news is that God’s Holy Spirit is alive and well in us for all to see.
Because there are generations of witnesses (and martyrs) before us; Our lives become part of God’s greater story and God is glorified.
Because God always finishes what he starts; We can live in victory.
Because real life is spiritual union with God in Christ; Life is less about us and more about Him.
Because in Christ we are more than conquerors; The Apostle Paul considered it a privilege to work and even to die for Christ. He had discovered the secret of being content no matter his circumstances. It behooves us always to recall who we are in Christ.
You might be saying “I know Bill, it preaches well, but how do I get there from here?”
Caution! To suggest that “I’d be glad to follow and glorify God along the way but I can’t until these endless troubles end” makes God subservient to the man. This is a deal breaker. Whenever we insist that God condescend to deal first with our pain, we shrink life to our own size and our meanings become meager or invisible. We must dismiss pain and suffering, or the lack of them, as measures of God’s love. In their stead we must count His wonder, purpose, faithfulness, hope and grace. He will supply His strength to endure.
Surrender! John offers a disturbing insight. God is spirit. Just as we know the wind is there, we cannot know where it comes from or where it is going. Life in the Spirit is like that. God propels us on course while we obey each direction He gives. To be sure, overwhelming challenges, loneliness, pain and suffering are not easy, even with God, but our response must always be the same: we must surrender everything to Him, especially our brokenness. This must be intentional. Surrender is ongoing, as each moment unfolds.
Solitude with God! Just as Moses spent time on the mountain hearing from God and Jesus was known to spend sometimes agonizing nights in solitary communion with his Father, we are admonished to meet God in our prayer closet, conversing with our Father. God is not found in the world with its hard knocks until He is first found in our solitude. God knows all but He wants more! He wants to fellowship with us. With God it is impossible to be alone.
Ultimately, if God doesn’t care then nothing matters. We must nurture unconditional intimacy with Him, seeking, asking, inviting Him into the most private places of our lives, even where we hurt. Knowing that God cares about our story and values our struggle gives meaning which is the antidote to despair.
Bill Wattenbarger joined the Joy House team in May of 2015 to work in the Counseling Center. He provides biblical, Christian and pastoral counseling services to those who are hurting, confused or overwhelmed. He earned a Master’s Degree from the University of Florida and a Doctoral degree in Counseling from the University of Georgia. The Joy House Counseling Center exists for the purpose of providing a faith-based option for residents of the Highway 575/ 515 corridor who seek guidance with life’s problems. We have locations in Pickens, Gilmer and Cherokee Counties with fees based on income and ability to pay. We offer counseling to all ages, from 7 to 70, with professional services to a wide variety of individuals, families and their needs. Contact our Counseling Center via phone at 678-452-2037 for more information.