In the last several years my life has taken some very unexpected and difficult turns. We moved out of our old Philadelphia home where we’d lived for over 25 years, the results of the pandemic on psychotherapy practice are still up in the air and most difficult for me, my church community dissolved in conflict. Since I’m “in the business” of helping people change, you might think I knew how to deal with all this. I’ve not found it easy by any measure.
As I’ve pondered all the changes I didn’t expect in my life, I’ve turned to a long conversation with God and some trusted friends about power. There’s so much going on in our world that looks like power grabs to me and I find it infuriating. I really don’t like it when it looks like the bad guys are winning. I tell myself it isn’t that clear cut, but I wrestle in the night with how to respond in love. Some old sermons by Jurgen Moltmann, published in a volume titled, The Power of the Powerless, have been very helpful to me.
In one of these sermons, Moltmann considers the experience of Peter, James and John from Matthew 17 when Jesus takes them up a high mountain and then he prays and they witness his transfiguration. Jesus sort of glows, like the story of Moses before him. A light emanates from Jesus and everything transforms. It’s a spiritual high point. And the disciples want to stay there and enjoy the joy of it all. But Jesus leads them back into the world of conflict and confusion and the need to love well and resist hate constantly. He sends them back to work, to care for those in need and to form a community of faith and love. This is growth for them. Knowing Jesus and embracing the change He brings means that we have to leave the mountain top.
This is disappointing. We are wired toward pleasure. We like to repeat it. The disciples thought they had finally made it on that mountain top. They had longed for freedom from difficulty and failure and here they were in bliss with their hero. When we come to Jesus we are looking for comfort and hope and enlightenment. And we get that. But it’s never quite exactly as we would have imagined. When we follow Jesus, He inevitably asks us to go through a transformation that is both all we longed for and absolutely unexpected.
Therapy is like that too if it’s fully integrated with faith. We initially feel the comfort of being listened to and empathized with. Feeling understood is a wonderful thing. It’s like the lights have finally gone on. But it is not all there is. If you desire a life with Christ, your therapy will involve looking at experiences that are not highs at all. The moments when we feel knocked off our feet and in a place we never thought we’d be, the times when our way of doing things has to change in ways we never dreamed of, that’s good therapy and it’s a good place for our faith to grow.