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Reflection - Counsel the Doubtful

counsel“Where there is no guidance, a people falters; but in an abundance of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14) Most of us don’t like to ask for advice.  We live in a culture that prizes individual initiative and self-confidence.  However, if we honestly look at our lives we find that often our biggest mistakes were those we made because we did not seek counsel from others with greater wisdom and experience.

The word “doubt” comes from the Latin dubium, a word suggesting “two ways”: a fork in the road.  We find ourselves wavering between alternatives, and we need to discern which path to take.  When the matter is not clear-cut, it is a good idea to ask how others see the question.  Of course this does not guarantee that we will make the best decision.  Most of us have made decisions that turned out to be disastrous, and others that worked out in surprisingly good ways.  The one assurance we have is that if we seek counsel, we will make a more-informed decision.

This suggests the first quality we will need if we are going to counsel the doubtful: we ought to be humble enough to seek advice ourselves.  If we consult others when making decisions, we will have a feel for how to give advice to others in a positive way.  We will be supportive, not badgering; insightful, not intrusive.

Some counsel is a matter of human prudence.  But there is also a God-given counsel, a gift of the Holy Spirit, who guides by a sort of supernatural intuition.  We are to share with others this spiritual gift, enabling them to discern whether a decision brings them closer to God or farther away from him.  

We must also avoid the “one size fits all” temptation.  Wise counsel takes into account the circumstances, the strengths, and the limitations of all involved.  We see Jesus exercising this individual approach throughout the Gospels: one person is called to leave everything to follow him, another is directed to return to his family and relay the good things God has done for him.  If we offer counsel to another, it should be done with a profound respect for each individual’s unique dignity.  

And if our advice is not taken? We can do no better than follow the example of Jesus.  He gave Peter very good advice which that impetuous apostle did not heed.  After the nightmare of denials and Good Friday, they met in Easter light of early morning on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Our Lord did not say, “I told you so.”  He simply asked one question: “Do you love me?” and issued one invitation: “Follow me.”