[dropcap3]A[/dropcap3]n email from Mary brought a smile to my face. In her message she shared how her new, post-college life was going. Though life was providing her with challenges, her email communicated a sense of strength and triumph over obstacles that a year before would have left her paralyzed by fear. When Mary first came to the Oasis Counseling Center as a senior, she was suffering from severe anxiety and panic attacks. Determined to get this problem corrected before she emerged from the relative shelter of university life, Mary decided to use PBU’s counseling services to address the fears that she knew were keeping her from living out life in a manner that God had intended. She worked hard at learning the meaning behind the things which frightened her and kept her from living more effectively. Over time, she was able to see how early life experiences had caused her to see God, the world, and others through lenses which sin had tainted, throwing off her perception in subtle, yet significant ways. This work allowed her to get to a place where she was able to exchange unhealthy coping methods to her fears for healthy, mature, more biblically responsible methods of handling fear.
Though just one student, Mary is fairly representative of the nature of the counseling work that we do in Oasis. As in most university settings, the student body is comprised of young, healthy, bright individuals. They make up a community of believers who are, together, learning about the rigors of adulthood and the trials they will face throughout their lives. University students are resourceful, creative, and often willing to try new ways of handling challenges. But their energy and cognitive ability does not mean that they will escape life’s problems. More likely, they will begin to see as they emerge into adulthood that, though life had always had its challenges, they never had to withstand the brunt of the storm. In fact, many of the students who find their way to our office are a bit surprised that they are at a place where they need to ask for help. Though they know that Christian counseling provides help, direction, and guidance that are biblically centered, many are surprised to find that they arrived at the place where they themselves need assistance.
The staff of the Oasis Counseling Center at Philadelphia Biblical University walk closely with students who need a bit more care than they normally would to make it through the storm that they find themselves in. We see ourselves as guides along life’s journey who will assist someone who is lost, hurting, or stuck on their path. As counselors, our job is to come alongside them, get to know them where they are and what has gotten them to where they are. In some respects, we “get lost” with them to better understand how they have gotten “stuck.” We then help them take the steps necessary to navigate to a place where they can continue their journey without our assistance.
God tells us, throughout Scripture, that there will be struggles in the Christian life. The Bible is full of examples, real and metaphorical, of how hard life’s circumstances can be and their impact upon our mental, spiritual, emotional, and physical health. Whether reading of Elijah’s fear and exhaustion, of David’s laments of abandonment, or Christ’s apprehension of impending suffering, the Bible is able to help us understand how life’s challenges and circumstances conspire to undo us. The examples also show us God’s sovereignty in those situations, and how He uses trials to strengthen and teach us. While Mary’s life circumstances are not unique by any means, the personal impact cannot be minimized. The events that had occurred upon her life’s journey helped her to see that she is indeed fragile and vulnerable (as we all are!) Yet her pain and fear kept her from being able to see beyond her wounds and to a God who has promised to provide her with healing and restoration, both in a limited way in this world, and in a perfect and completed sense in the world to come. God’s words through the prophet Isaiah concerning the work of Christ in both His first and ultimately Second Advent show us this promise.
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
Because the LORD has anointed me
To bring good news to the poor;
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn;
To grant to those who mourn in Zion—
To give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
The oil of gladness instead of mourning,
The garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
That they may be called oaks of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
–Isaiah 61:1-3 (ESV)