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Counselors Help You Navigate Rough Waters

Brad Yoman has been navigating the swamps around Georgia’s Altamaha River for more than 30 years. 
He captains a small boat with a small motor, but small is what you need when you are moving through the swamp. 

Many places are passable only because Brad has cut his way through with a chainsaw. 

Any person sitting on the front of Brad’s jon boat cannot tell where the next turn will be. Only Brad knows.

The swamp is Brad’s home. He is more comfortable with the animals, trees and water than he is with people.

Recently, my sons and I joined Brad for a trip into the swamp.

I put my larger boat with a heavier engine into the swamp. While my boat is not as easy to use as Brad’s, the biggest difference was the operator.

I had used the motor in open water for only about three hours since owning the boat. Even so, I had visions of following Brad through the swamp.

As I began, I immediately looked like a 15-year-old behind the wheel of an automobile for the first time after getting a learner’s permit.

With the combination of my lack of skills, the current flowing faster than normal, and a tree to dodge every few feet, I felt like a steel ball inside a pinball machine.

Sometimes it’s better to admit, “I’m in over my head,” than to continue and reap disastrous results.

I’ve always been one to say, “I’ll show you,” but along with my gray hair comes a little more wisdom. So, I parked my boat and allowed Brad and the group to go up the river without me.

In my world, I see a lot of people who know they are in over their heads in relationships, but they will not admit it.

So, they keep plowing straight ahead, hitting many stumps and low hanging branches until they hit something so hard that the relationship capsizes.

Two of the most important skills in relationships are communication and conflict resolution. People who can communicate and solve their problems find a lot of joy despite difficulties that arise.

Difficulty comes in all relationships. However, some people never equip themselves well enough to deal with the struggles.

They compound the problems by refusing to admit they are in over their heads, and keep moving without seeking any help.

There’s no shame in saying, “We are not communicating. We are not solving our problems. We need some coaching. We need to know how to turn this relationship in these swift currents without hitting these stumps. We need some help before we capsize.”

But instead of parking and getting help, people go full steam ahead, which is one reason the divorce rate is so high, even among Christians.

Please take my advice from the waters of the Altamaha River – when troubles come that you cannot solve, park your relationship with a good counselor. Don’t drown in the rivers of “denial.”

There are skilled people able to help you build a strong marriage, get along with your parents, relate to an ex-spouse, deal with flashbacks from the past, and manage depression, anxiety and addiction.

The next day on my trip we were not as pressed for time, so I got my boat out again. 

Brad guided the boat out to a small opening in the swamp. He then let me take the helm and showed me how to maneuver through the smaller twists and turns with my motor.

It wasn’t easy. I made some mistakes. However, I was learning. I was being coached and, after a while, I was doing a good job.

In my world, I never know when I may run into someone who will admit that they are in over their heads in a relationship and need some coaching.

Admitting this is actually a good sign. It’s the first step toward healing. 

I counsel many people in my office on a short-term basis, but I have referred scores of people to qualified counselors who will journey with them further.

It is one of the greatest gifts a person can give himself or herself, and it is a great gift a person can give to those he or she loves. We cannot love others properly if we are troubled, depressed, anxious, burdened or stuck in grief.

In the presence of people who are trained to listen and identify where the waters in our lives have overrun their banks, these people can help us begin to smile, laugh and hope again.

I can say this from experience. I am thankful for those times I have been coached through some swampland and found my way back to the banks.

Proverbs 20:18 instructs us to “make plans by seeking good counsel.” So, if the water is rising, the current is running swift and you know you don’t have the skill to navigate through the swamps of your life, humble yourself, park yourself in the presence of a skilled person who can help you learn the skills you don’t have.

Your relationships with those you love are worth the investment. You are worth the investment.

There’s beauty even in the swamps if you know how to navigate the obstacles, avoid the dangers, listen to your surroundings, and see what many never take the time to see.

Michael Helms is pastor of First Baptist Church in Jefferson, Ga. A longer version of this column first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.