Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sweet, Like Perfume

“For most of this century we have wrongly defined soul wounds as psychological disorders and delegated their treatment to trained specialists. Damaged psyches aren’t the problem. The problem is disconnected souls."

~Larry Crabb
Connecting: Healing Ourselves and Our Relationships

This is the quote we are examining for “In Other Words” today, which is hosted by Esthermay at The Heart of a Pastor’s Wife.

Two years ago my husband, John, and I were invited by our pastor to attend some training sessions on becoming marriage mentors through a state-funded program called “Marriage Matters.” Since our marriage has always been very precious to us, we decided it would be a privilege to encourage other couples in their marriages.

We were surprised at how little actual training was offered. “The best thing you can offer is yourselves,” the organizer told us. “You have experienced life and worked through things in your marriage. Just share with your couples how you went about that...what worked, and what didn’t work.”

To say that we felt inadequate is an understatement.

In our two years of working with couples experiencing marriage difficulties we have discovered some common threads.

    *Communication between these spouses is very difficult or non-existent.

    *None of the couples we have mentored have friends in common. Either they each have their own friends, or one has friends and the other does not. They do not hang out with other married couples.

    *Most of the couples have already tried counseling, have found it lacking, and are now ready to try mentoring as a “last resort.”

The last point came as such a surprise to us. John and I are totally inexperienced and lacking in professional knowledge and skills, and yet these couples are coming to us? It makes no sense. Or does it?

Perhaps an ordinary couple willing to share real struggles and successes is more beneficial to some couples than a professional offering book knowledge at a set cost per hour.

Perhaps it’s our availability. Sure, we have to set some limits to guard our own lives and marriage, but we are willing to take phone calls and answer e-mails from our couples or even schedule special meetings as needed (all at no cost to the couple).

Perhaps it’s the fact that we pray with the couple before and after each session, asking the Lord to work in our hearts as well as theirs, making each of us tender and receptive. This has often been an emotional experience for the couple and for us as well. We then assure them that we are praying for them regularly between sessions.

One of the couples we mentored is a couple we have known for many years, or at least we thought we knew them. It turns out that many of our assumptions, based on outward appearances, were false. They were on the verge of divorce, and dealing with some serious injuries and issues of distrust. We had some very direct and difficult conversations with them that I would have never imagined taking place. Although we would have considered this couple “friends” before we mentored them, we grew to love them through the time we spent together. Although the mentoring ended several months ago, we touch base with them often. We were recently invited to their home, which was a big step for them as a couple, and one of the issues we had addressed. What a blessing!
I truly believe we had a greater influence on this couple because we approached them as friends, which underscores this verse of Scripture:

“Oil and perfume make the heart glad, So a man’s counsel is sweet to his firend.” Proverbs 27:9 (NAS)

I could say so much more about marriage mentoring. It has even strengthened our marriage as we pray together for our couples, decide which issues to address, and plan our approach. In the context of Larry Crabb’s quote, however, I would say that marriage mentoring has demonstrated to us the importance of connecting. Married couples need to connect with each other through good communication. They need to connect with other married couples to learn from them, gain support and accountability, and share common experiences. And in the midst of marriage difficulties, it seems that connecting with a mentor couple who is simply willing to share themselves is very beneficial, too.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that professional counselors aren’t necessary, and I don’t believe that is what Larry Crabb has in mind, either. I am convinced that in his years of professional counseling he has learned many of the same things we are learning through mentoring –that God has created within each of us a critical need for connection. Of course our primary need is for connection with God, Himself. From there our need extends outward to others, and it is truly sweet when that connection meets their needs as well as our own.


  1. GREAT advice, wow. I can totally see how your insights on marriages in trouble are true.

    "God created within each of us a critical need for connection."


  2. This is excellent, Sharlyn. Wonderful advice, and an incredible reminder for all married couples (me and my hubby included!)

  3. Interesting . . . as INadequate as you felt going into the mentoring, you probably had just as much to offer as some of the best trained therapists! Really! . . . and this is precisely what the Body of Christ is all about! I LOVE your story.

    Honestly, if marriage counselors had all the answers, why are more marriages breaking up today with so many of them out there??

    I read this book in graduate school and – you are correct – the premise is not that professional counseling is un-needed. The more relevant point is this:

    If we really begin connecting with people on a spiritual level, we will find that many of the issues for which we would have otherwise sought (or suggested) professional counseling – aren’t really issues at all! It does take discernment.

    Wonderful real-life application of this quote.
    Thank you for sharing.

  4. What great thoughts you've shared Sharlyn.

    Like you, my husband and I are involved in ministering to those in need.

    You are right, our example...listening ear, and lifes trials are some of the best tools to minister to others.

    I so LOVE Isaiah 61:3 which says:
    "to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,"

    God works like that...taking the ashes of our lives and turning them into HIS beauty, so we can then minister to others.


  5. This was great Sharlyn!

    Looks like the Lord has truly used you and your husband in a mighty way.

    Thanks for being willing to "connect" with these couples.

    Your love and example have truly made a difference!!

  6. I think this is a great idea. Mentoring as a couple to help other couples is so wise. I agree with you that what most of us need is that connection with someone else that we can feel safe with.


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