(Adam Winger, Unsplash)

I think I’ve seen a miracle.  I’ve certainly seen the truth and the wisdom in the Scripture that talks about giving thanks in all things, 1 Thessalonians 5:18. At first blush this Scripture doesn’t make sense because some circumstances are too grievous and overwhelming to leave any room for thanks; but the Holy Spirit knew what He was doing when He wrote it.  When the scales are weighed down with darkness even a little glimpse of light will tip the balance. It may only be a tiny change of equilibrium but it’s an important change.

When David [name changed] came for counselling his expectations were very low.  He’d found me through the Association of Christian Counsellors’ website – always a good sign as it usually means that the person has Christian values which put us in the same framework. He said he wanted to get his life back on track.  He quoted Victor Hugo, that ‘forty is the old age of youth; fifty the youth of old age,’ and said that now he was fifty-five he didn’t want his life to be hopeless, with him helpless, right up to the end.  And there were days when he wished the end were closer.

His parents were immigrants who’d changed their name to one that would fit better in Wales.  David was a child when it happened, but he was teased at school and remembered being made to feel different. In his teens he was taken by a friend to a little Baptist church and came to faith when he was seventeen.  ‘I was full of it,’ he said, ‘I told all my friends and family about it. I used to arrange meetings with friends to pray and worship.  You couldn’t knock me down!’

When he was diagnosed with an immune system deficiency at the age of thirty, he felt he had been well and truly knocked down.  He had a satisfying job and good friends, but was told that he needed to isolate himself because he was at risk of catching an infection that would be very serious.  He gave up his job and his friends and church contacts gradually drifted away.  He felt he didn’t matter to anybody and developed much anger and bitterness.  His main contacts had been his family but over the years most died or moved away and the last one he’d been close to – his father, had died six months earlier, before we met.  Studies show that our neuronal circuits can be triggered easily when constant use has embedded them, and the years had etched deep furrows.  His mindset was so negative and narrow that it was as though he looked at life through a colander over his head, seeing only the bad bits.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a kind of guided discovery.  The nub of it is twofold – one is recognising and challenging automatic negative thoughts, and the other is meta-thinking, taking an overview of those thoughts and being aware of them.  CBT blends very well with scriptural precepts, which is a powerful help to Christians.  And here’s where 1 Thessalonians 5:18 comes into play.  David was resistant to challenging his thoughts:   his feelings were so strong he’d developed a cognitive dissonance, making it harder.  He hardly followed any of the tactics we would agree in session, and I asked my supervisor was I missing something – was there anything else I could do? She said the choice was his, you can take a horse to water … and so on.

At first David said he had nothing to be thankful for, so I suggested he began with the mundane little things – to give thanks for his home, for his comfortable bed, for legs and feet that worked so he could go on walks around the park, for the few friends he had, for his good digestive system -for everything around him.  For his electric shaver, even.  To write the Scripture verse itself on a post-it note and stick it where he would see it each day, on the bathroom mirror or a kitchen cupboard.

Then in our last seesion he sat down and said, ‘I’ve brought these pages of Thought Challenging Records.  And I included the good thoughts as well as the bad.  I’ve stopped drinking so much wine and eating healthier.  I’ve actually lost 4 lbs since our last session.  And here’s a couple of pages of the things I’ve been giving thanks for.’  The heaviness had gone, and he was almost sparking with life.

Such was the impact I was lost for words.  Seeing my face he explained, ‘I asked the Holy Spirit to motivate me.’

David continues to come back to life.  He’s become more involved in his (relatively new) church.  He’s still careful about his health, but doesn’t catastrophize the risk factor.  He’s thinking about taking up the Librarian’s suggestion of becoming a volunteer there, one day a week.  And best of all, instead of being reflexively negative and bitter, he’s learning to give thanks.

The Word and the Spirit!

Louise Morse

Louise Morse MA (CBT) is media and external relations manager for the Pilgrims’ Friend Society. She is a writer and speaker, and author of books on issues of old age, including dementia, published by Lion Monarch and SPCK. She is a cognitive behavioural therapist, and her Masters’ dissertation examined the effects of caring for a loved one with dementia on close relatives.

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