What type of person does the term ‘counsellor’ conjure up in your mind? For me, it’s someone:
- empathetic – who can relate to the many problems people face;
- kind – who genuinely desires to help heal brokenness;
- peaceable – who aims to resolve conflicts swiftly;
- wise – more than the average person, in order to guide people through their issues;
- honest – trustworthy and of impeccable integrity;
- just – who can remain impartial and stand for what is right.
When you make that ‘Christian counsellor’, there are additional implications. I’d imagine that such a person should have a deeper understanding of Christ’s message than the ordinary Christian, coupled with the ability to help struggling people apply that message to their individual problems. The goals of this endeavour, beautifully summarised by this leading Indian counselling centre, are to help the counselee:
- “Mobilise internal and external resources and find new options in facing life.
- Discover and develop God given inherent potentialities and lead an integrated life.
- Make contributions for the wellbeing of his/her fellow human beings.”
Growing up, Family A and my family belonged to the same parish. The mother of Family A was a church counsellor, and also one of the leaders of the Malayalam prayer group. I vividly remember her at the forefront of all the public solemnities – sari pallu piously draped around her head, leading processions, voice raised in fervent song. It was an impressive performance, which had us believing that with such a mother, this was a down-to-earth, God-fearing family. It eventually led to the marriage of Son 2 and DIL 2.
Some years later, DIL 2’s older sister and her husband (referred to hereon as OS and OBIL) joined the counselling fraternity as marriage counsellors to young Christian newlyweds and those contemplating matrimony. I don’t know whether these three – the mother, OS or OBIL – have had any formal training in the subject. Nonetheless, one would think that as people who have volunteered to counsel, they’d possess the qualities listed above to some extent, if not abundantly.
The very fact that a person is a counsellor automatically inspires a degree of trust in him / her, even if you don’t know them. How much stronger would that trust be if you were related to them? And so, in her anguish as a new widow, my maternal grandmother Mercy opened up to this counsellor mother about the mistreatment she and my late grandfather had suffered at the hands of her middle daughter, DIL 2, and DIL 1.
Now admittedly, it is difficult to remain impartial when someone brings a grievance against your child. Still, if you are a fair person, and especially an experienced Christian counsellor, then as this site notes, you have an “absolute standard” to guide you – the Bible. This means that if you claim to be a Christian counsellor, then it is not any human philosophy / tradition / whim or fancy, but the Bible alone, that must drive your problem-solving approaches and advice.
Shockingly, as we have witnessed through the years, this has not been the case. Every attempt by my parents asking for a resolution, for my grandmother to be treated compassionately, has been met with stone-cold silence. The very people who should have been working towards the counselling goals described above, have instigated and supported the divides that have broken up my maternal family.
Far from being able to live life productively, with dignity and happiness in the company of all her loved ones, my grandmother is instead languishing in deteriorating health, confined to her home in Mumbai away from all her immediate family. OBIL visits when he can with funds Son 2 sends and that is made out to be an act of care. But is money alone an adequate substitute for the love and companionship that only family can give?
To me, one of the most unkind episodes in the years that Mercy has lived alone in Mumbai was on Son 2’s birthday. His family, plus the entire Family A had all gathered in Mumbai. He visited my grandmother in the morning to get her blessings. Undoubtedly, Family A would’ve held a big celebration later on. However, my grandmother was not invited. This family has enjoyed her generous hospitality on many occasions. But on this one, this old lady who had six months ago lost her older son, who is otherwise housebound with no one to take her out, was coldly and maliciously excluded from an event that would’ve brought her some happiness – the 50th birthday celebration of her only surviving son.
To what end? Money, as it almost always is. Son 2 is expected to fund Family A lavishly, while doing the bare minimum, preferably nothing, for his own widowed mother. Family A is warmly welcomed into Son 2’s home, but Mercy was treated there like an unwanted burden. And now, they’re hoping that the pain of this neglect will push her into an early grave, leaving them free to claim her flat and enjoy its proceeds.
While this is sadly an all-too-common story, today we know that this constitutes elder abuse. Regardless of your spiritual orientation, it is deplorable conduct by all standards and must be stopped wherever it occurs. For Christian counsellors to maintain this public facade of piousness, while privately preying on the life of an old widow is an absolute outrage.