Re-framing Stories in Biblical Counseling

reframingThe Bible is a storybook. That is to say, the Bible tells the story of God’s plan to redeem the world. There is an unfolding narrative that tells us of Jesus and the plan of salvation. This story is not, however, simply God’s story, it is our story too. His story is the overarching framework for our own, God has written our story within His own (Psalm 139:16). At one level, then, Biblical counseling is all about helping people to re-envision their story within God’s story.

We are inherently people of stories. We live according to some story, whether of our own making or of someone else’s. Kevin DeYoung says it poetically when he writes:

Everyone lives according to a story. Everyone has some meta-narrative, some story that seeks to make sense of everything. You can’t avoid trying to explain how life works. You need a framework. You don’t directly experience reality. You constantly interpret it. (The Journal of Biblical Counseling, 27:2, 2)

As a counselor the people whom I meet with regularly explain their struggle, their problem within some story. A young man struggling with pornography tells me a story of victimhood. It’s not his fault that temptation lurks around every corner. He simply can’t control himself. The angry husband tells me a story of provocation. Yes, he yelled and said hurtful things, but his wife deserved it. The young woman with anxiety tells me a story of deep-seated insecurity, of an uncertainty about God’s trustworthiness. She tells me a story of disappointment. Each story is set within a specific framework, one often informed by pop-psychology. My role as a Biblical counselor is to help others retell their story within God’s framework.

The way to change begins as I view myself, my situation, and my help according to the Scriptures. This means a counselor needs to help people reinterpret their story. So, the young man struggling with pornography needs to hear both what God says about sexual immorality, and what God says about the fruit of the Spirit called “self-control.” The young woman struggling with anxiety needs to hear both that anxiety is a sin, and more importantly that God is trustworthy. This also means communicating to them the story of salvation, that is the hope of their change. DeYoung writes:

We are each telling a story, living by a story, evangelizing a story. Every counselor “proselytizes” – including the ones who don’t know that what they are doing. Secular counselors have a tale to tell, just as much as the biblical counselors do. But the stories are different. We understand pain, anxiety, addiction, sexuality, motivation, pleasure, guilt, shame, and hope in very different ways. Every attempt to help another person change embodies and speaks a salvation story. (3)

Counselors are telling stories and putting people’s experiences within those stories so that they can find real help and hope. The man verbally abusing his wife needs to stop making excuses. He needs to reinterpret his actions within God’s story. Anger arises from our “unmet desires” (James 4:1-2), and out of sinful heart (Matt. 15:19; Luke 6:45). We can’t blame others for our outbursts of rage, only ourselves. So to help him, I need him to see his story through different lenses.

Retelling our stories according to God promises us tremendous hope. You see, God does not guarantee me help in my story. But He does assure us of help in His story. His story says that I can change. His story tells me of a new heart, a transformed heart that can change my desires (Ezek. 36:26). His story promises me that the shame and guilt I feel can be erased (Rom. 8:1). His story tells me of being transformed into a new person (2 Cor. 5:17). When I retell my story within God’s framework there is real hope for change. I can see my situation more clearly, but I can also see God’s provisions more clearly.

Biblical counseling, then aims to reinterpret a counselee’s story within God’s framework. Their story is important, and I need to hear it and they need to share it so that they can get to the root of their problems. But change only comes as I begin to see my story within the larger vision of God’s grand narrative. It is only within God’s story that a passage like Romans 8:28 makes any sense, only in His story can it be believed. Other stories simply don’t provide real hope of lasting change. As Kevin DeYoung says:

In the end there are only two kinds of stories. One story is ancient and rugged, the other modern and banal. One confronts, but comforts. The other caresses, but kills. One truly helps; the other falsely succors. One looks cheery, but ends in death. The other looks terribly grim, but ends in life and joy. (3)

Everyone lives according to a story. Choose yours wisely. (4)

Biblical counseling, then, must involve retelling a person’s story within the Biblical narrative. It is through God’s story that they can truly begin to understand their own story, and truly experience the hope of change.

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