Articles

Embracing Uncertainty: The ‘Waiting Room’ of Christian Counseling, Part 1

By Chris Lewis, MA, LMHCA, Seattle Christian Counseling, PLLC

Image-19In my own life, and in my experience as a Christian counselor, waiting is the soul-mate of uncertainty. They go hand-in-hand. Often, clients enter counseling feeling as though they are stuck in the ‘waiting room’ of life: mired in the painful conflict, chaos, and questions of a current situation or a memory—or both. They want answers, and they want them quickly. They want to feel better. The equation has already been assumed: answers = relief.

There is a ‘certain’ truth to this. Counseling can definitely focus on very practical solutions. It can solve problems and provide insight and education. We all have an innate drive to make sense of our lives and answers can be quite helpful.

And … answers can also get in the way. At least, this is true for answers as we have come to see them and use them—answers as antidotes.

Encountering Uncertainty

Consider the following three scenes. They all unfold, just seconds apart, on a Seattle street:

Scene One
Dusk is blushing into evening as our family emerges from a bookstore on Capitol Hill. My youngest daughter grips the railing and begins to toddle down the steps towards the sidewalk below, letting everyone know—in no uncertain terms—that she can manage on her own. Just like her big sister. A bottleneck quickly forms on the bustling stairwell. Passersby must pause as Big Sis playfully turns one step into a pirouette platform, while Little Sis ambles for balance on another. It only lasts a moment or two, but a stressful week of house-hunting has sapped my patience. I can feel my face tightening into a parental grimace, my chest tightening into task-mode.

Scene Two
Walking down the sidewalk, my wife and I turn to glimpse an exchange between a couple who had been behind us on the bookstore stairs. They’re now watching our girls dance among the shadows and lamplights.

Woman, with a timid glance and wistful smile: “So, are you ready for one of those?”

Man, expressionless: “Um, sure. Yeah, you know, I think so.”

Woman: Downward gaze. Face turned away. Pursed lips.

Scene Three
We gather the girls to cross East Pine Street and turn onto 11th Avenue, skirting the edge of Cal Anderson Park on our way back to the car. It’s getting late and everyone is tired. We just need to get home. Our pace quickens – at least until Little Sister’s attention is drawn to a mound of blankets hidden beneath the tree-line just a few feet away. The blankets stir slightly, atop a rumpled air mattress. Her eyes widen. In a fit of herald-angels exuberance, she suddenly belts out, “Nighty Night!” I wince at how my daughter’s shrill innocence has met with the plight of a stranger, and also with those homeless parts of myself, so unsettled by months of futile house-searching.

Waiting in Uncertainty

Taken at face value, these three vignettes do not seem to share any deeper meaning. What threads them together is the enormous uncertainty they evoke—more specifically, the anxiety of waiting in that uncertainty and of being stranded in it.

In the first scene, waiting on my kids—patiently honoring and safe-guarding a simple moment of play—is threatened by the pressure to conform to social and behavioral norms, and by the shaming uncertainty of how I might be perceived by others. The second scene reveals the longing of one partner waiting on another’s desire, and the apparent loneliness in how each bears their own uncertainty. The third scene reflects that fragile (uncertain) sense of belonging and coming ‘home’ that we all yearn (wait) for, no matter how different our circumstances.

As so often happens in our human experience, these scenes and moments tumble one after another, becoming a blur on the mind’s landscape. The questions start firing:

  • What do my kids reflect about me? Do I need to show that I’m in charge?
  • Does my partner really get me, or am I alone in this?
  • Is there ‘no room at the inn’?

Actively Waiting for a New Self to Emerge

Image-29Sometimes we can’t even articulate the questions. We are left only with the anxiety reflected in another’s face: the tightening, turning-away and wincing mentioned in the scenes above. A Christian counselor does the work of sincerely facing these questions with you. When we learn to actively wait in the uncertainty, the questions can point us to an emerging new self that is pushing up against rigid old ways of being and relating.

Antidotal answers, while beneficial at times, can also offer a false sense of security, especially if they are used as ammunition, a premature place to settle, or a defense against deeper growth. Most of all, answers fail us when they:

  • Replace our need for a genuine connection with and curiosity about others and ourselves.
  • Atrophy our desire for awe and mystery—whether of the Creator, creatures or creation.

Often we strive for answers as a means of soothing our anxiety. We can develop a compulsion for defined outcomes, and for pinpointing the proverbial ‘reason why.’ And then we’re unnerved when this doesn’t really satisfy us—so we’re off and running again.

Awareness and Presence

What is missing in this search for answers? Two things, I would say: Awareness and presence. Specifically, a growing present awareness of our experience in the moment.

In part two of this three-part series, we’ll discuss this present awareness as it relates to brain function. We will connect this to both the neuroscience and spirituality of “mindfulness,” presenting an approach to working with anxiety and gathering discernment. Could it be that uncertainty actually plays a role in developing a healthier brain and a calmer mind?

Christian Counseling Can Help You to Embrace Uncertainty

A professional Christian counselor can help you to find rest, healing and self-awareness in difficult seasons of waiting. Our Christian counseling office will allow you a safe space to seek answers, while also wrestling more honestly and mindfully with your questions.

I beg you … to be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart, and to try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in a very foreign tongue … Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without even realizing it, live along some distant day into the answer.  (Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet)

Photos
Bookstore photo “Elliott Bay: Seattle’s legendary independent bookstore” by Nicola is licensed under (CC BY 2.0.
Girl jumping steps photo “Jump My Shadow Jump” by Lance Shields is licensed under (CC BY 2.0).

 



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