WestCoast Challenge: A Good Decision – Expanding My Circle of Care

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Craig O'Brien
WestCoast Baptist Association Moderator

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I must confess: the fool-hardy disposition to go it alone runs through me. As a man I am easily cornered by the protective desire to avoid the shame of appearing weak. But these high walls are not what yields health or soul satisfaction in relationships, nor does it honour God or the people I am called to serve.

The purposes of a person's heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out. - Proverbs 20:5

As a young adult I was counselled several times, “Go get a family doctor before you need one.” So under the wise pressure of my wife, I participated in that search, albeit reluctantly. I even began submitting to a once in a decade physical. Then we attacked the teeth. “Surely you should visit the dentist too.” What moved me though was not pain in my own mouth. I was moved by the statement, “Your children need to see you taking care of your teeth.” So I went. Fortunately, it went well.

Then in 2011 it happened again. As Ellen and I were on the cusp of a new venture in church-planting and ministry, a friend announced another call to expand my circle of care. “Go get a family counsellor before you need one.”  Initially I was stunned. I had never considered such a need. But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

Following Jesus into a new venture in life and ministry was about to uproot us (my family) from the circle of care we had grown into for over fifteen years. The front-end of the church-planting journey is a disruptive season of new relationships and new life patterns. I began to ask myself some questions: Who is going to be there for us when trouble comes?  Why not build into our circle of care not only financial and prayer supports, but also  emotional and mental supports? Why not give my family healthy perspectives from a trusted voice that’s not just mine? Why not create access and permission to journey with a skilled navigator of the heart?

Counsellors, like doctors and sometimes like pastors, initially meet people and get a snapshot of that person’s life only in the midst of a crisis. Although our family was not in a perpetual state of crisis. I began to think of it like this: creating a relationship with a family counsellor is like having an earthquake drill. When the earthquake comes it will be good to have some rehearsed patterns of response. I began the search for trusted counsellors;  I made the call and set an appointment.

Well, as you can imagine, life happens. Earthquakes of the soul indeed do come and having a family counsellor has been a life-saving gift. It was indeed a strange day not only to me but also to the counsellor when the six of us piled into the office, filled up every chair and space the couch and introduced ourselves as a family. It was not the norm and he declared, “This has never happened before.”

I called it a “blank cheque.” “Here’s someone you can call, you can meet with, in order to sort out life when you don’t want to talk with mom or dad.” On the day when we made the visit we were not yet in crisis. But lurking in our hearts were the seeds of crisis. More often it has been “mom and dad” who have benefited from the counsellor. Over the past six years I’ve been thankful on more than one occasion to have a circle of care that included a skilled counsellor who possessed a snapshot of our family when we were not in crisis. For when the “soul-quakes” come and it seemed as if the earth  had moved, we had a rehearsed pattern of care that had been “normalized:” we could meet with someone to help us navigate the event and the depths of our hearts.

Expanding my circle of care before the crisis seemed strange. But it was a good decision. I’m thankful for the friend who challenged me to do what I once that unthinkable.

“The purposes of a person's heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.”

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