Power and Presence in Relationships

As a counselor, I seek to help those who are wounded and suffering. I have learned over the years, that having the heart and desire to help those in pain is important, but is not as central as keeping in mind power and presence in the counseling relationship. Specifically, am I keeping in mind my position? Do I keep in mind that I yield influence, I yield power as a counselor even as I seek to be kind in my care? As a counselor, I come with knowledge and I come with words. Do I take the time to think about how I use my knowledge and my words as I care for those who have been wounded and are suffering?

There are times that it is easy to forget my position of influence and power. Before I know it, I can find myself responding with words and knowledge that does not consider the state of those before me. Perhaps, you too, have found yourself in this position wanting to encourage a friend who is going through a painful experience. You want to speak, you want to offer thoughts on what he or she can do to feel better. Most of us find that it is much harder to listen, to hold words, rather than to speak. Yet, whether we listen well, or need to learn more about how to do this well, each of us needs to keep in mind our position.

Caring for others happens in the context of relationship. Have we thought about how much emotional and verbal power we may hold in our relationships? Even as a trained counselor, I have found how difficult it is to be continually mindful of the power that I wield. Thankfully, Isaiah 42:3 gives me a picture to remember that helps me to remain aware.

Isaiah 42:3 states, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

The context of Isaiah 42 where this verse is found is the description of God’s Servant, Jesus. So, we know that this verse is giving us a picture of what Jesus is like. It also gives a picture of who we are as people.

As we look at the beginning of the verse, a commentary by Albert Barnes, an American theologian from the 19th century, defines the word reed as “the cane or calamus which grows up in marshy or wet places” so that it “literally denotes that which is fragile, weak, easily waved by the wind, or broken down.” He further states that the word “may be applied to people who are conscious of feebleness and sin; that are moved and broken by calamity; that feel that they have no strength to bear up against the ills of life.”

He further states that the word bruised “means that which is broken or crushed, but not entirely broken off…it may denote those who themselves are naturally feeble, and who have been crushed or broken down by a sense of sin, by calamity, or by affliction.”

To me, this describes the emotional state of many of those that I have encountered over the years in my practice.  

Listen also to Barnes’ definition of smoldering wick. He states smoldering “means that which is weak, small, thin, feeble…and the phrase refers literally to the expiring wick of a lamp...It may denote here the condition of one who is feeble and disheartened, and whose love to God seems almost ready to expire.

Again, these are pictures that describe those individuals that I have had the privilege to come alongside as they seek healing for their pain.

Barnes then reminds us of the character of Christ as He enters into the lives of those who are bruised and smoldering. He states, “He will not deepen their afflictions, or augment their trials, or multiply their sorrows. The sense is, that he will have an affectionate regard for the broken-hearted, the humble, the penitent, and the afflicted.”

Lastly, he speaks of the promise to not “snuff out”. This “means that he would cherish, feed, and cultivate (the wick); he would supply it with grace, as with oil to cherish the dying flame, and cause it…to rise with a high and steady brilliancy”.

As we reflect on this verse and the description of Christ’s character toward us, those who are suffering, we are reminded of His position and presence in His relationship with us. It is one that seeks to “not deepen our afflictions” and is filled with “an affectionate regard for the broken hearted”. I find this to be a beautiful picture of Christ’s care for us in our weaknesses and pain. It is also a high calling for us in our relationships as we offer care and support for those who are suffering.

What helps you, in your relationships, to keep in mind your position and presence as you seek to listen, love and help?


Written by Carol M. King, M.Ed., LPC

Carol King is a licensed professional counselor working at Diane Langberg, PhD and Associates in Jenkintown, PA. Her counseling areas of focus include sexual abuse and trauma, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and marital issues. Additionally, she has had the opportunity to travel in the U.S. and internationally assisting in the training of both lay and professional counselors.