Christian Counseling: What Can Falling Teach Us?
When we fall, the least thing we need to hear is “shame on you” or “you hypocrite” or “you sinner” or some long sermon on what is right. Most people who continually fall, while in need of spiritual betterment, nevertheless are in the habit of “getting back up”. In these cases, Christian Counselors need to be more pastoral in their counseling than dogmatic. Those in the habit of getting back up after moral relapse usually already know the nature of their vice and want to be better. What they need is love, compassion and spiritual help.
In previous blogs, we have outlined the dangers of our occasion of sin and the inherent inclination towards sin within our own fallen nature. In this blog, I would rather focus on a more pastoral level of guidance and an understanding of the emotional and psychological state of those who fall–and ourselves.
Blessed and guided with a certain and correct conscience, we know the nature of our actions. We are not blinded by ignorance or lured by false teachings. As orthodox and true Christians, we understand the nature of our particular vice but we can fall due to our own weakness and the company we keep. The biggest question is when we fall, how do we feel?
Most are stung by their conscience with remorse and guilt. While the moral subjectivist would deceive us with tales of freedom from guilt, a true Christian cannot escape truth and the light of Christ. His heavenly presence shines too brightly upon the darkness of our soul to allow us to fantasize that such actions are not sinful. Instead, our subjective self is brought to the realization that our action is not in conformation with the laws of God and we feel guilt.
Some go beyond mere guilt and feel contrite sorrow. They realize that our sins crucified Christ and added weight to the cross. What a blessing it is for one to feel such extreme sorrow as to never wish to sin again! For one to flee sin at all costs, even life itself. This was the mentality of the saints. Many would rather have God strike them dead before they committed a grievous sin that would hurt our Lord. Yet, God allows us to continue to hurt him. He hopes we will not fall or at least fall less. As Jesus endured the slaps of impious Roman soldiers, he endures the slap of our sins. Christ, as the ultimate example, after falling due the weight of our sins, stood up again. In this, he encourages us to lift up the sin of our own crosses and move forward.
As inexcusable to our Lord as our sins are, he alone can bring good from our falls. First, by falling, we learn we are human. How many are driven by pride and feel they cannot fall? Or what of those who foolishly feel they have made such great progress in their spiritual life and feel the need for no new improvement? Then they fall. They are brought to a humiliating reality that they are weak and so far from a finished spiritual product. Secondly, by falling, our Lord allows us to see how much we need his grace and love to accomplish any small deed. Third, when we fall, we are filled with a great motivation not to fall again but to strive to higher heights of spiritual perfection.
We should seek the examples of Samson, David, Peter, Paul, Augustine and other great saints who fell numerous times but always looked for our Lord’s mercy. The devil knows of our spiritual progress and hopes that if one trips, they will fall into despair or feel unworthy to continue in the progess of sanctity. How many feel embarrassed or unworthy to continue the work of the Lord after they fall? Yet the reality is we are all unworthy and have crosses to overcome. The moment we stop living the spiritual life, despite occasional falls, is the moment we permanently remain fallen and crippled in the vice of sin.
Rejoice in Christ’s love and embrace the scars of sin because they can ultimately teach us wisdom and how dependent we are on God. In the meantime, may our Lord be patient with each and everyone of us and guide us through the perils of this world to eternal peace.
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Mark Moran, MA, GC-C, SCC-C