You Never Know Who Might be Listening

Recently, I had the opportunity to teach on a variety of issues including anxiety, depression, psychoses, anger, suicide assessment, addictions and personality disorders. Sometimes, because I think about these issues quite a bit, I approach them in a detached way. As I plough through my material, I can forget that the people I am teaching and equipping might be strugglers as well as helpers. Imagine that--people in training may be in the process of seeing God’s redeeming work of change in their own lives.

Let me share two examples with you:

Addictions

While teaching a seminary class on addictions, I mentioned the difference between substance addictions and lifestyle addictions. When most people hear the word “addiction” they immediately think alcohol, marijuana, or pain killers; the usual suspects. Yet, some people fail to see that issues like gambling, shopping, spending time on the internet, and pornography qualify as addictions, also. If you look at how either of these types of addictions affect the brain, you will notice clear similarities. Habituation and tolerance both arise as you indulge in the behavior. The person will experience similar withdrawal symptoms, too.

During the break, I was organizing my notes and a young woman approached me. I assumed she had a technical question about the syllabus or some assignment, but that was not why she wanted to talk. She discreetly and helpfully shared about her husband’s addiction to pornography and how it had impacted their marriage. While she was realistic, she was hopeful because of what God had been doing in their relationship. I was heartened and thankful that she was willing to share that with me. It changed the rest of my teaching on addiction that afternoon.

Suicide Assessment

Another startling example happened when I was teaching on suicide and suicide assessment. Once again, I found myself working through the details of suicide statistics. 41,000 people will commit suicide in the United States this year. Most of them will be men even though women will try more often. Men are more “successful” because they use more violent means.

After teaching on helpful ways to assess whether someone is seriously committed to harming themselves, I casually opened it up for some Q & A. A few technical questions were asked, and then another young woman shared her story. She said that one year ago, she had her suicide all planned out. She had written a note, had the means to kill herself and was going to follow through as soon as she returned home from a Christian camp! She then said that God had worked powerfully over the week and she had become a Christian. She returned home a radically different person. I was humbled by her confession. There she was, sitting in the front row, taking notes for about 45 minutes, and then she shared her story.

Once again, I was awakened to the fact that real sufferers are always in my audience. The impact was almost like a reset button for me. When I am teaching, I am more than a “talking head” disseminating information. Rather, I am a servant speaking words of life to people who need grace. You really never know who is listening.

Copyright © 2015 Timothy S. Lane

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Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.