Our lives are shaped not just by the things that happen to us, but also what we believe about those things. Each event in our lives and the beliefs we hold about them form themselves into an overarching story that we use to interpret the world around us and our place in it. It's imperative that the story we believe is the true story, as I've written elsewhere. I think this is one of the most important benefits of counseling – having someone to help you understand the story that you're in. Because so often, the characters in the midst of a story are the ones who have the least idea what is really going on. Allow me a rather lengthy quote from a great philosopher of story – Samwise Gamgee from Lord of the Rings.
“We shouldn't be here at all, if we'd known more about it before we started. But I suppose it's often that way. The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo: adventures, as I used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as you put it. But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't. And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten. We hear about those as just went on — and not all to a good end, mind you; at least not to what folk inside a story and not outside it call a good end. [...] I wonder what sort of a tale we've fallen into?”
So how does counseling help in the task of understanding our stories? When we are caught up in the midst of our own story we often don't have the best perspective for seeing the big picture of what God is doing in and through it. We don't just want to know that our lives generally connect to what God is doing in the world, there are specific things in our story that we don't understand and we want to know there is a purpose, especially to the painful things we've experienced. As Sam said, there's a difference between what makes a story seem good to those hearing it and what makes it seem good to those living it. But I believe that because God is the author of our stories, we will one day see Him use even the most painful parts for good, and we will acknowledge the story was beautiful.
Just recently a dear friend of mine was telling me about something really difficult they were going through. As a friend I had an outside perspective not blurred by the pain of the situation but I also knew the context of my friend's story. I could see how this hard situation fits in with the good work that God has been doing in my friend's life. Having a vision for that story also gave some insight into what it might look like to continue forward and I was able to help my friend have hope for the future.
Even if we are able to get some really great perspective on the bigger purposes God is accomplishing in our story, it's so easy to forget as we go back to the hard work of living it out. We need people who will help us remember the truth of our story when we forget. I've been on the receiving end of this as well as the giving end. Not long ago I was so discouraged when things weren't going the way I thought they should be that I started to question if God's story for me was really what I thought it was. I began to wonder if there had ever been a divine story for me or if I had been fooling myself and making up my own story. I needed somebody else to remind me of the truth. I needed someone to remind me of my own story and how faithful God has been throughout it. Thankfully, I had that not only in good friends but in a good counselor.