Philly asked me to write an article about life coaching – what it’s like, what it can mean for Christians – and for some reason this verse got lodged in my head.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”Proverbs 13:2
How true this has been in a pandemic. We usually have things to look forward to and can be reasonably sure that those things will happen. Our day-to-day longings are often met. But this year, factors way outside of our control have deferred our hopes. And deferred them again. And our hearts have felt sick.
You can’t fail to see the truth of this verse in a year like 2020, but since training as a coach I’ve seen it show up in all sorts of ways in people’s lives. We are built to dream, to hope, but so many things get in the way of us even listening to what those fragile dreams might be. A good coach helps you uncover what it is that you are really hoping for, and what action you can take to move towards fulfilling that hope.
Hopes come in all shapes and sizes. It might be for a vocation/job/calling (whatever language you prefer) that feels more like where you’re meant to be. It might be to improve a relationship, or get healthier or deepen your relationship with God. Or it might be very broad… just a sense that you want to get unstuck or feel more comfortable in yourself and who God has made you to be.
What they all have in common is that it can be surprisingly hard to make choices that allow those hopes to flourish and grow into a “longing fulfilled.”
Sometimes we know what we want to do, but we don’t do it. Sometimes we don’t know what we want. Sometimes we don’t even feel comfortable asking ourselves what we want. (Because we’re only supposed to do things out of duty and obligation, right? Wrong.)
St Ignatius talks about making decisions from a place of consolation, where we’re moving towards the love of God, others and our truest selves, rather than desolation – where we’re moving away from God’s active presence in the world.
I find this a really helpful analogy to describe what coaching can help with. Just like the contemplative practises St Ignatius developed, coaching can help us identify what’s driving our actions and whether we’re being drawn more towards God, or further away from him through the decisions we make. Coaching provides a space where you can separate out the wood from the trees, challenge unhelpful perspectives, and remove the barriers that come between where you are and where you want to be.
We’re all unique, and we all have, within us, our own unique answers to the challenges we face and the questions we have. But it’s often really hard to hear that inner voice, that whisper, when there’s so much else going on in our heads and in our lives. Coaching is about giving room to that voice, so that we can understand what’s going on and make better choices.
What I love about coaching is the mystery of it. It seems so simple – all we’re doing is listening, talking and asking (the right) questions. But it works! There’s a point in every coaching session where someone suddenly has a light bulb moment, or sees things in a different light and, sometimes quite suddenly, things shift. It’s like the clouds part and this unexpected, surprising and semi-miraculous shaft of light shines down and lights the way.
To me, those moments of revelation are golden. It’s why I get excited when people choose to give themselves space to do coaching. As a Christian studying biology at university, I had this sense that God was absolutely thrilled that we were discovering just how amazing he has made the world. Now years later, I get that same sense when I’m coaching – it’s like he’s thrilled when we discover more of who he’s made us to be, and all wrapped up in that is a greater sense of who he is too.
So that’s a brief intro – but I thought I’d jot down some questions that cover what coaching is not, as well as what it is.
What’s the difference between coaching and counselling?
They’re both what people call “talking therapies” – they use listening, questions and talking to help people their awareness and ability to change. Broadly, coaching will focus on a future goal you might want to achieve, whereas counselling might be more focussed on healing traumas you have experienced in the past or helping you cope with a mental health problem.
Even within these broad labels, each counsellor or coach will have a different approach so it’s really important that you get someone you feel comfortable with, that you trust.
Isn’t church/prayer/reading the Bible enough?
They are all great! And they can all be difficult (in my experience). Coaching doesn’t replace any of these – just like it doesn’t replace good friendships, or enjoying nature, or good family relationships. But because coaches are professionals training in helping people work through issues and reach goals, it can help people to find new ways forward in ways that are different and complimentary to Sunday services, friendship or reading the Bible.
Put differently, coaching meets a different need that church isn’t necessarily geared up to meet – just like a medical doctor helps you meet a physical health need. All these needs are valid, and sometimes getting space outside of your everyday Church context can be exactly what you need.
Isn’t it selfish to spend time thinking about yourself and your desires? Shouldn’t we be thinking about serving other people and trying to find God’s will?
There’s a lot in this question but one thing (at least) to say is that we often imagine that all these things are separate. It’s like we think we can turn the “loving others” section while turning off the “loving ourselves” part and expect the two to operate completely independently. They don’t. Or maybe we think that if we love ourselves too much, there will be less love left over for others. The opposite is more true – when we take time to understand and show love and compassion to ourselves, we’re better able to receive and show love towards others – including God. I love that the second commandment Jesus gives isn’t to love your neighbour. It’s to love your neighbour as yourself. Loving yourself isn’t selfish – it’s part of the greatest commandments!
What if I’m [too young/ too old/ don’t like goals/ think I’ll fail/ not motivated enough/…?
There’s no “type” that you have to be to opt in to coaching. If you’re curious, try it out! You’ve got nothing to lose (especially as most coaches will offer an intro session free of charge).
If you’re interested in exploring this with me, you can find out more on my website and book a free taster!
About the Writer: Sarah is a Life Coach based in North London. She and her husband are co-founders of Crux, a social enterprise seeking to bring mediation services to the community. She also co-hosts Unlocking Conflict, a podcast all about having better conversations. If you’re interested in finding out more about Life coaching visit her site: www.sarahhutt.co.uk.