It is wise for a man to solidify his reasons for pursuing his career. It is easy to forget the passion and desire one once had at the onset of one’s career path when the job becomes overwhelming and stressful. Therefore, having a personal mission statement can provide reassurance in times of stress and chaos. Identifying one’s WHY can remind a man of his passion, desires and purpose in his chosen career.
The first time I heard the word “vocation” was during my time as an undergraduate student at Lubbock Christian University. Our speaker, during our designated chapel time, was encouraging the students to choose a career and make it their vocation, or mission field for God. As I write this, I think of another professor who preached that our mission as Christians is not our own, but God’s – we are just messengers. We are the vessels through which God delivers his message of redeeming love and reconciliation.
The purpose of this essay, is to put in writing my WHY- my purpose for being a marriage and family therapist- my vocation, my mission. I write this as an encouragement to myself now, a reminder for my future self in times of stress, and as an inside-look about who I am and what I do for those who are curious.
The Ministry of Reconciliation
“What made you want to become a marriage and family therapist?” This is one of the most frequently asked questions I receive, second to, “Are you analyzing me and my family?” I first realized I wanted to be a marriage and family therapist (MFT) during my first semester of my sophomore year in college. I was enrolled in a course titled Love, Courtship, and Marriage. This course is designed to educate students about the many ingredients and factors in relationships. Topics of the class included defining and understanding the definitions of love, stages of relationships, challenges in relationships, sex and sexuality, and celibacy. It was this course that first sparked the interest and, soon to be love, for marriage and family therapy. Before I knew it, I was enrolled in a graduate MFT program. Now here I am, a licensed and practicing therapist. I can truly say I am living the dream! What was it about the course I took in 2014 that sparked the passion I now have? Honestly, I don’t know for certain. Consider it the Spirit stirring my heart’s desires. I don’t believe it was an “A+B=C” process, but more of an “A+B+C+D+E+F….=MFT” process. I believe God continued to put me in certain situations with certain people and mentors in my life that helped shape and mold me into the person I am today. Nonetheless, I do remember being drawn to the goal and process of relationship reconciliation. As I continued my studies and growth as a professional and as a person, I have found myself in the ministry of reconciliation.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! [see Col. 3:9-10; Eph. 4:22-24] All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: That God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. [see 1 Cor. 13] And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Reconciliation is defined as, “the restoration of friendly relations; the action of making one view or belief compatible with another”. For reconciliation to happen in relationships, we need to identify the negative interactional patterns – the spiraling cycles we tend to always fall back into that leave us feeling defeated and discouraged. This is the old self. We rid ourselves of the old ways of negative patterns and put on the new self by implementing new, positive interactions to break the cycle and restore love, joy and peace. “…Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another,” (Eph. 4:22-25, ESV).
My role as a therapist is to identify negative interactional patterns that maintain a cycle of problematic behaviors. Then, through collaborative conversation, identify any unmet needs and begin to implement new behaviors to break the negative cycle and create a new, more positive interactional cycle. To do this, couples first need to be mindful of and vocalize their needs. Then, partners need to focus on meeting the needs of their partner rather than focus on how their partner is not satisfying the needs of their own. This is what love is. Complete love requires a person to set aside one’s own needs and place the needs of others above his own. I can’t help but think of God’s definition of love, found in 1 Corinthians 13.
“If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all my possessions to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
In relationships, it is easy to become defensive and criticize the shortcomings of those you love. Relationships hurt when members of a partnership or family begin to act out of selfish ambition rather than love. Paul, who wrote these words of love, encourages the opposite: love is humble, gentle, and doesn’t keep a record of wrong. If we can learn to love the way the Bible instructs, we can reconcile our broken relationships. And maybe, just maybe, find God in the process. After all, God IS love (1 John 4:8).
My vocation, then – my WHY, as a therapist, is to sit with people as they are and encourage them to part with their old ways – their old self- and put on a new self. My role is to relay the message of reconciliation. In doing so, may I till the soil and plant the seed of love and reconciliation for another person to water and ultimately, allow God to do his work and grow the seed (1 Cor. 3:6).