Overcoming Reluctance to Share

When I taught pastoral counseling, I would give the students a blank piece of paper. I instructed them to write on the paper the most offensive sin they have ever committed, i.e. the best kept secret of their life. The anxiety level in the students instantly went from minimum to maximum. They were probably wondering, What is this sick professor going to ask us to do with this piece of paper, or What is the sixth or seventh most offensive thing I have ever done that I may share with my fellow class mates under the penalty of failing the class if I don’t.

I let them struggle for about a minute and then said, Stop. I really don’t want you to do that, but I wanted you to feel how difficult it must be to disclose that to another person. Here is what I want you to write on the paper. If you had to share that with someone, who would you share it with? I don’t want the name of a person. I want you to consider what kind of person they would have to be or not be, what would you want them to do, or not do. What is the first thing that comes to your mind?

I had everyone share what they wrote on their paper, which I wrote on the board. They said: compassion, confidentiality, forgiving, accepting, loving, patient, kind, empathetic, able to help, etc. After they had all shared, I pointed to the board and asked, Who does that describe? They all said, God!

I told the students, If you haven’t committed yourself to become that kind of a person, would you now? If you are not that kind of a person, nobody is going to share anything of intimate detail with you. If you don’t know what the core issue is, then you have no way of helping them.

People will always be reluctant to share intimate details of their lives. They wonder, What is this person going to do with the information I am sharing? Will they use it to help me, or will they use it against me? We have told even the most hardened criminals, You have the right to remain silent, for the information you share may be used against you in a court of law.

Encouragers will never be perfect like Christ, but God’s will for our lives is to become more like Him. The more we do, the more effective we will be in ministry.

Dr. Neil

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