Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Resisting the Fixers

A counseling client of mine blurted out in a session one day, “I am not a problem to be fixed! I am not a problem to be fixed!!” I could not have agreed more.

This bright, accomplished woman had spent weeks describing the cruel voices from her past that had convinced her that she was fundamentally flawed. She felt broken under the weight of those condemnations. But suddenly, in a moment of clarity, she recognized that she was a human being with problems, not the problem itself. I wanted to jump up and applaud for her.

There are many forces in this world trying to convince us that we are the problem. We are broken and need to be fixed like a tire that has blown out. Some people seek the fix through religion. Others through therapy. There are lots of fixers in the world eager to start tinkering away on us.

But what if that whole paradigm is wrong? What if the problem isn’t that our souls are weighted with sin, or our bodies laden with lust, or our minds crippled with illness, or our very DNA corrupted with defective genes? What if the problem is that we keep listening to the voices that insist we are broken in the first place?

Those voices come in many different shapes and sizes. Parental voices of shame. Societal voices saying that if we are not normative there is something deviant about us. Scientific voices identifying the myriad of ways our bodies and minds are diseased. Religious voices insisting on our original sinfulness. This last one is particularly interesting to me as a former pastor.

Christianity has played an unfortunate role in undergirding the sense that people are flawed from birth. That seems odd considering Genesis 1 begins with these familiar words: “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.”

Thus begin the six days of creation. One of the things you may remember about this first creation story is that at the very end, God sees everything that has been created and declares it good. This seems right to us. You take a look at the finished product before you evaluate its goodness. Yet, that’s not the total story of the creation account. On the first day, the very first day, when the text says God speaks light into existence, a kind of blessing is also spoken. “And God saw that the light was good.” Before the earth, and the sea, and the sky, and the vegetation, and the creatures were ever created, God says this is good. This is a kind of blessing, a declaration of the innate goodness of this new beginning.

It is interesting that a religious tradition whose scriptures describe on page one the innate goodness of the creation became so fixated on teaching the innate corruption of it. So much damage has come from insisting that people are inherently corrupt.

The voices pointing out the “problems” of the LGBTQ community are loud and persistent. The religious voices shouting “abomination.” The political voices shouting “you are a threat to traditional marriage.” Even the scientific voices shouting “we used to think you were mentally ill, but now we changed our mind.” Is it any wonder that many gay and transgender individuals have internalized these voices and carry within themselves the belief they are broken?

It takes great strength and much support to resist the voices who insist on fixing those parts of us that are actually quite healthy. In fact, I often think the best thing I can do for people who come to me for counseling is not fix or heal them (powers that I don’t have), but help them rediscover their specific gifts and strengths.

We all have problems. Some of those problems are serious and we need help in dealing with them. But it is important to remember the insight of my client who shouted that day, “I am not a problem to be fixed!” There is a difference between people and problems. Once we figure that out, all kinds of possibilities arise.

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About Me

former pastor who is now a pastoral counselor and consultant (mckinneycounseling.org); married with two teenagers; progressive in my politics and theology