Rick’s Counseling Notes On Guilt and Fear
These are the actual counseling notes from a friend that I met with for counseling. She permitted me to share them, which I altered slightly and flattened out for public distribution.
Counseling notes miss a lot of data. It’s like skipping a rock across the pond. While they cover the breadth of one counseling session, they do not exhaust what needs to happen in the counselee’s life.
- The Danger With Guilt, and the Need For Good Friends
- The Doctrine of Repentance
- How to Take Every Thought Captive
- How to Overcome the Fear Of Others
- A Detailed Study In Self-Reliance
Also, these notes do not accurately reflect all of the give-and-take of this session. More importantly, what you’re about to read is only one session in a series. This specific meeting was three hours, and it was an “in-process session,” the sixth one that I had with my friend.
Before this meeting, we had nearly 25 hours of conversation. The things addressed here are in the context of an established friendship. Because we had built the “relational bridge,” we were able to enter the deep waters of the person’s heart.
I changed the name of the person and the situation. The actual historical data is not as essential as the truth conveyed. This material will help you, and the discipleship opportunities the Lord sends your way.
This session was with a “counselor-in-training.” She took the notes that you’re about to read. The key to the success of this meeting was because of the humility and repentance of the counselee.
Behavior Reveals Heart
Mable, you recapped some of what has been happening in your life since our last meeting. After describing some of the events of the last couple weeks, you asked Rick, “What do you think is the weirdest part of what I did?”
Rick responded how your behavior seems erratic. He drew a zig-zag diagram, up and down on a piece of paper. It represented good to bad and back to good again. These ups and downs reflect your behavior.
When he asked you why your behavior had been so erratic, you responded that you’re often unsure of what to think or how to react to people.
After Rick spent some time exploring your response, he asked if you struggled more with guilt or fear. You answered guilt, and this is where we spent the rest of the counseling session, as Rick explained a biblical view of guilt.
The Bible gives us an accurate picture of how we are to live. When we live within what the Bible teaches, we do not experience guilt. The Spirit is not quenched or grieved, and all is well in our relationship with God (1 Thessalonians 5:19; Ephesians 4:30).
But if we don’t live by the clear teaching of Scripture, we are guilty, which is why we feel conviction from the Lord, a good thing. Conviction, pointing to guilt, is one of God’s many kindnesses to us.
When we do wrong, the Spirit of God convicts us of the wrongdoing, which guides us to repentance. We repent, and God removes all of our guilt. The gospel is the power that works for us to accomplish this.
Unfortunately, your understanding of right and wrong is much different from what the Bible teaches. In fact, you place burdens on yourself that are beyond what the Bible would teach. This habit is what gives you a lot of unnecessary conviction, unbiblical guilt, or what some call false guilt.
At this point, Rick drew another diagram on a piece of paper with a lot of rocks on it and called them your “guilt rocks.” Some of these stones you believe are from God. But others you think are from friends, children, extended family, Rick, me, people in your church, and co-workers.
The reason Rick drew them looking like rocks was to show how heavy they are and how they weigh you down. Ultimately this can cause depression. You even acknowledged how you sometimes struggle with depression.
He explained how these rocks become your “authorities,” if you allow them to be. They are like “voices” that tell you when you’re doing right or wrong. You either validate or invalidate whether they are right or wrong and you are guilty or not guilty based on your conclusion.
This cycle is messy, unbiblical, and it does not have God in the center of it. It is a self-centered interpretative grid, based on a wrong understanding of God’s view of things.
Guilt and Fear
Because you subject yourself to the control of these voices, you live in guilt that is not always legitimate. This overhanging cloud of guilt in your life fosters insecurity in your heart. Biblically this is called fear of man (Proverbs 29:25).
You end up with an unbiblical process of producing guilt that causes a deep-seated and controlling fear of others. These convoluted heart idolatries lead to your erratic behavior, which you permit other people to determine by their approval or disapproval of you.
You are like a pinball that responds according to who is blaming you or telling you how you should react. Rather than being controlled by God alone, according to a clear understanding of Him through the lens of Scripture, you allow others to control you.
The solution to illegitimate guilt and conviction is to listen to the one and only “Voice,” which has all authority in your life. That voice is the Lord’s. He is the one who defines what is right and wrong.
As your thinking lines up with His thinking, you will be able to discern where you are responsible and where you are not accountable. In time, this will not only eliminate your insecurity, but it will significantly reduce your erratic behavior.
At this juncture, Rick drew another line on a piece of paper. It looked something like this:
Insecurity: — — X — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — GOD
You are the “X” on the page. God is the goal, the Person you are heading toward, with the hope of benefitting more from His relationship with you. There are hindrances between you and God, which are represented by the dotted lines.
These are things that keep you from enjoying God the way He wants to you experience Him. Guilt is one of those hindrances. Insecurity is another one. As Rick explained, insecurity is a kissing cousin to guilt.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. — James 1:5–6
Insecurity, guilt, fear, and doubt are some of the sins that you need to repent from to experience restoration by God. From here, you remember how Rick began to unpack fear of man or what you understood to be insecurity.
Insecurity is placing your faith, hope, confidence, trust, or belief in something or someone that you can lose.
You have placed your “hope” in the approval of others. You are hyper-aware of how you can lose your friend’s acceptance, and it’s this fear of loss that controls you. This struggle is part of the reason you measure or over-interpret what they say to you.
This kind of thinking is born out of your insecurity, which inevitably gives them control over you. If your friends are accepting, you feel good. If they reject you, according to your interpretive system, you are erratic.
One of the things Rick noted was how your insecurity is not consistent with every friend because there are some situations where you feel a sense of security. These are typically contexts where you excel and can rely on your strength or personal gifting.
You are insecure in other contexts that are new to you, or you don’t excel in, or you’re unsure folks will accept you. An example of a setting where you shine and are secure is your work. At your job, you are working within your strengths. Your self-reliance guarantees you’ll experience acceptance.
But you are insecure with people that are out of your class or who you think have it more together or who you believe they are more spiritual or more of whatever you wish you had and believe them to have.
Because your confidence is in yourself, it is a sin, which is a self-centered worldview that is opposed to a God-centered way of thinking and living. This “self-centered faith in yourself” is the specific thing you need to repent of to be free from the opinion of others.
As long as your confidence is in yourself, you are going to be insecure. Ultimately, security in yourself is not security at all. It is a mirage as well as illogical, and unbiblical. God’s desire is for you to rely on Him alone.
For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. — 2 Corinthians 1:8–9
Security is placing your faith, hope, confidence, trust, belief in something or someone that you cannot lose.
As you can see, there is only one little, but a life-altering difference in the two definitions. It all rests on what you can or cannot lose. You can quickly lose people’s approval, which makes you insecure. The question you want to answer is, “What is something that I cannot lose?” There are only two things.
- The Written Logos, God’s Word
- The Living Logos, God Himself
The written Word of God and the living Word are eternal. Anything else you can lose and those things are not worthy of your trust.
Whenever you go into new situations, you will always be nervous about whether you might not get it right or have the acceptance of others. That should not be a problem if the answer to the dilemma is to put your confidence (security) in the only One who cannot reject you.
If you will fully trust Him, it doesn’t matter if you mess up, don’t get it right, or don’t meet perceived expectations. Your faith is not in what man can do to you, but in what God has done for you by His gospel.
Then Rick took you to Matthew 14:29–33, the story of Jesus calling Peter out of the boat to walk on water. You remember how His command to Peter was one simple mono-syllabic word. He said, “Come.” That was it. No explanation and no more information. Just “Come.”
You noted that if you were Peter, you would find a lot of security in your boat, which is accurate for all of us. You described what self-reliance looks like for the fear-motivated controller. But God is calling you to have faith in Him even if it means walking on water to Him.
The real issue of your heart is not about the acceptance or rejection of other people. It is about a faith that is in God alone. The Lord wants you to trust Him, and He brings these challenges to you to motivate you to trust Him.
Even when you begin to sink, which you will do because of your temptation to rely on your strength, you will find these dicey moments as opportunities to cry out to Him. If you do this, God will immediately come to your aid. He gives grace to the humble crier (James 4:6).
Peter cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him. — Matthew 14:30–31
As Rick mentioned, this story was not primarily about Peter or Peter’s faith. It was about God and His faithfulness to His children. The reason for this was because it was God’s reputation that was on the line.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” — Psalm 23:3
God takes care of us to make His name great. And when He does help us, we magnify His name, which is what Peter and his friends did when they got back on their boat (Matthew 14:32–33). Our responsibility is to trust Him, as we cooperate with Him. Then we praise Him for what He has done.
In God We Trust
You have been unwilling to trust Him like this up to this point. You have been relying mostly on yourself. To believe in yourself is to put yourself in direct opposition to God. He is a jealous God. He will not allow any of His children to set-up other objects, concepts, people, or even ourselves as the primary thing we trust.
This problem begs a few questions that you want to ask yourself. As you mentioned, you have already rolled some of these questions over in your mind. Though you may not have asked them with such clarity, your behavior tells us how you have some “sort of issue with God” because you will not trust Him explicitly.
Here are a few questions we explored. You will have to distinguish the difference between what you know to be true and how your behaviors contradict what you say you believe. It’s your behavior that reveals the most accurate condition of your heart.
- Is God good?
- Will He save me?
- Will He take care of me?
- Can I trust Him?
- Is He trustworthy?
Your answer to all of these questions should be the same. God is God, and He is good, faithful, just, and entirely worthy of your trust. These are easy questions to answer because of the gospel.
The cross is the centerpiece of His gospel, and if nothing else, it informs and proves God’s goodness to us always. As you grow in your understanding of His goodness, as understood through the gospel, you will begin to become more secure in the Lord.
Over the next few sessions, Rick wants to begin unpacking the gospel as it pertains to your salvation, but also to your sanctification. The more you grow in your understanding of who God is, as viewed through the lens of the cross, the more you will find rest in Him.
Believe it, Mable: you can entirely fling yourself upon God. If you begin to do this, you will also start to mature in the only authoritative Voice in your life. And you will not be so easily swayed by what others say to or about you.
We will begin our journey through the gospel the next time we meet. In the meantime, Rick needs for you to continue the momentum of the gains from this session by doing the things he asked.
Let me know that you have received this follow-up email, and please share any questions, comments, concerns, or anything else that needs clarification. (Study the links at the top of this article.)
Take your time. Your goal is not to get through the work just to finish it. Your aim is the “own the material,” which will be discerned by personal transformation.
Originally published at Rick Thomas.