As part of Mental Health Awareness Month, we wanted to share with you an article from our 2021 magazine by our Founder and President, Nancy Alcorn! In this article, Nancy shares about her counseling journey and why going to counseling was one of the best decisions she ever made.
There’s no doubt in my mind that the decision to go to counseling was one of the best decisions I ever made in my life. I will admit that it wasn’t exactly my idea, but I am so thankful to have a friend who recognized I needed help and encouraged me to get it.
I was the middle child of seven. When my little sister, Beverly, was just three years old, she was crushed in my father’s lap after a tragic accident that happened on the farm where I grew up. From that day forward, I could always see sadness in my dad’s eyes because he blamed himself for what had happened.
My dad was a hard worker (I got a lot of my work ethic from him), but I didn’t really see him much because he worked multiple jobs to support our family. And even when he was physically with us, it never felt like he was actually with us because of the grief that he still carried. In 2001, my dad developed pneumonia and passed away in three days. My heart broke for him because I knew he had never gotten over the death of his daughter. And the grief I experienced when he died wasn’t necessarily because I missed what my dad and I had, but more because of what we never had.
Three weeks after my dad’s funeral, I was scheduled to go to the Hillsong Conference in Australia. And that was where I realized that something wasn’t right with me. The conference itself was powerful with moving worship and incredible speakers, but the entire time I was there, it felt like I wasn’t there. It was like this heaviness was building inside of me, almost to the point of causing me to have a panic attack. I was a mess.
After returning from Australia, many things from my past – things I had never faced or dealt with – started rising to the surface, and one night a few months later, I got a call from a close friend who lives in Florida. She said, “Nancy, I want you to get a pen and paper because I have some names and phone numbers to give you. I see you helping all these people and doing all these great things at Mercy, but who’s going to help you? You are a mess. I have done my homework and I have just given you the names and numbers of the top five Christian counselors in the Nashville area. You have exactly 24 hours to call me back and tell me you have made an appointment with one of them.”
I would love to say that I immediately knew this was a sign from God and that I needed to make the phone call. But to be honest, I was a little bit ticked off at the audacity of my friend telling me I needed counseling! Deep down, though, I knew I needed help. And I spent the next 23 hours and 45 minutes thinking about all of the “what ifs”.
The biggest one was: What if people find out I am going to counseling? I’m leading an international ministry! Won’t that discredit me as a leader? But I felt like God responded by saying, “What if, instead, people find out that you are real and transparent? What if they see that I can use you in even more powerful ways on the other side of what I am about to do in your life?”
I think God allows things to come to the surface when He knows it’s time for you to deal with them. Sometimes you can simply process those things alone with God, but I knew that in my case, God wanted me to go through that process with Him and a professional counselor. I want people to realize that when you reach out for professional help, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you. It really is OK not to be OK. But God doesn’t want you to stay there, because He has so much more for your life!
When I say God will meet you where you are, He met me in my prideful and insecure place where I was worried about what people were going to think. Let me just tell you that pride can take you to many “what ifs.” But I eventually figured out that licensed counselors are bound by laws of confidentiality. I was saved! I could just sneak over to counseling, do a few visits, check it off my list, tell my friend that I’m good, and then we’re done with it. No one would ever know because I sure wasn’t going to tell anybody, and the counselor wasn’t allowed to tell anyone! It was the perfect plan.
Once I went to counseling, I discovered that I’d never actually gone through the grieving process – not just for my dad and my sister, but for other people I had lost in my life as well. I had to break free from a spirit of grief that I had stuffed way down deep inside of me. Having a counselor who could objectively walk through this process with me allowed me to see patterns that I had never seen before.
What I thought would be two to three visits turned into seven years of counseling. After four visits, I was so moved by what God was doing inside of me, that I scheduled a meeting with my staff. I unexpectedly cried all the way through that staff meeting as I shared about my struggles, and that I was in weekly counseling. That day they saw a side of me that they had never seen.
After that day, I noticed a major shift. I had always considered myself as this open, transparent, and approachable leader with my staff, but I learned that my team at Mercy didn’t exactly feel the same way. Everyone was afraid of me, and it broke my heart to figure that out. The enemy had me totally blinded. However, when I started getting real and honest with my staff, they started getting real with me. Because I was willing to share my story and my journey of healing, it started to change the whole culture of Mercy.
Staff members started sharing things with me that had happened in their past. They had always feared that I might be angry with them over those things, but when I started being open with them, they started feeling comfortable sharing with me some of the things they were struggling with. All of my relationships changed and improved after going to counseling. I even became bolder and more passionate as a speaker. During this season, I was speaking at large conferences in the USA and other nations and I found myself telling my story, hoping others would reach out for help if they needed it.
We always say at Mercy that you give away what you carry. And if you are carrying pain and hurt, that’s what you’ll give away to others. With Jesus, you don’t have to carry those things on your own, and after years of counseling, I realized I no longer had to carry them. I could carry peace and healing and freedom, and in turn, give those things away to others.
Before my own personal experience, I believed some of the stigmas that come with people reaching out for help or going to counseling. I realized that I judged people who sought professional help because I viewed it as weakness. I soon learned, though, that it was the pride in me that made me think that way. Some people think that if they have the anointing to minister to people, then they are somehow “set apart” and can handle things on their own, but again, that’s pride.
After a few sessions with my counselor, she told me that anyone who had experienced the things I’d experienced in my life would be in the same position I was in. It didn’t matter whether or not I was in a position of leadership. Being in leadership had nothing to do with what I had gone through.
My guess is that if you are reading these words, you likely have some things from your own past –struggles, unhealed hurts, unprocessed grief – that you need to face and work through. Why? Because there is no such thing as a perfect life and no such thing as a perfect person. We all face pain and heartache on this side of heaven, and we often just keep moving forward without ever taking the time to really process and work through those things. We need to not only give grace to one another, but we need to give grace to ourselves. Recognizing that it’s ok not to be ok removes the shame, which is a big roadblock for people reaching out for help. I know it really helped me when my counselor affirmed that no person could go through what I had been through without help.
If I hadn’t gotten the help I needed, I truly believe that I would no longer be at my post as the leader of Mercy Multiplied. God would have continued to use the ministry, but I would have been replaced because I probably would have had a breakdown. If you are leading anyone and there is stuff you need to deal with, I couldn’t encourage you more to deal with it. Lay down your pride and give yourself grace. Because I’ve always said that if you don’t deal with your issues, at some point, your issues will deal with you. Even if you don’t carry an official leadership “title”, we are all called to lead as Christians, and it’s vital that we do so from a healthy and whole place. God wants us to work through the issues and pain in our lives so that we can truly love people as He loves them.
I wholeheartedly believe that whatever the problem is, Jesus is the answer, and He will meet you where you are. Too often we end up turning to relationships or substances to numb the pain we feel instead of inviting Jesus in to do the work of healing and restoration that only He can do. He is the only One who can heal broken hearts and deliver a person from pain, abuse, depression, grief, or any other life-controlling issue.
Many people are experiencing new levels of anxiety, depression, and all kinds of other issues as a result of this pandemic. Others are experiencing these issues for the first time in their lives. Something in your spirit may be telling you that something isn’t quite right, that you’re just not okay. Maybe you haven’t felt like yourself in quite a while and you haven’t been able to figure out why. The decision to reach out for help is hard but completely worth it. Don’t wait until things get out of control. Don’t wait until you reach a breaking point. Take that first step. Talk to someone. Find a professional Christian counselor and make the time to take care of yourself today. And like me, you might just find yourself telling others one day that it’s one of the best decisions you ever made in your life.
Mercy Multiplied exists to provide opportunities for all to experience God’s unconditional love, forgiveness, and life-transforming power. We offer multiple programs and resources online and onsite designed to equip people to live free and stay free in Christ. For more information about the services we offer, click here.