Monday, November 18, 2013

How to Decide with Whom and How Much to Share Your Heart

The question often arises in counseling: How much should I share with ____ ?  And it is usually in the context of relational strain, hurt or desire to reconcile.

"They sometimes use it against me."
"They don't understand or try to understand."
"They twist everything I say to fit their view of reality, and don't try to consider mine."

And it goes on.  You can probably very easily add to the list, because you've probably run across a few 'unsafe' people.

In Scripture we see descriptions of close community in the Body of Christ, and proscription for intimacy in marriage and family.  How does that happen without knowing each other, and how do we know each other without open sharing?  Many relationship education models agree that Emotional openness + physical closeness = Intimacy.

Naked and unashamed is a phrase from Genesis that Jill and I use to talk about the goal of marital communication; that we might present our honest thoughts, feelings and desires to each other without fear of judgment, reprisal, scoffing, disregard or dismissal.  In other words, a goal in relationship to be a safe person; one whom is capable and trusted to hear and hold other's hearts when they open it to us.  But the degree to which we are trusted to hold other's hearts varies.  Sometimes people hesitate to share because they've been burned by others in the past. And sometimes they hesitate because we've burned them. The reasons vary, and they are many.

But what I want to focus on is the razor for making the decision about whether to share and how much to share.  Here is my usual suggestion:

"Take a slight risk to open your heart and see how ____ responds.  If they don't treat your heart with respect, take it back.  Imagine handing ___ something precious to you, like a family heirloom.  If they don 't hold it carefully, or worse, if they begin to harm it in some way take it back.  This is part of protecting your heart, which scripture admonishes us to do (Proverbs 4:23, "guard your heart for it is the well spring of life")

"Sometimes we find that _____ has a track record of hurting hearts.  So when you discern that they haven't yet changed their manner don't give them the opportunity to practice their pathological way of relating to you. Tell them why, and suggest that if they want to have a more open and healthy relationship with you that it will require a change on their part; that they become a safe person whom you can trust to hear and hold your heart."  This is truth spoken in love that provides an opportunity for confession and repentance (making a wholesale change in how they relate to and respect you.)  Casting pearls before swine applies (Matthew 7:6), "you should not put what is valuable in front of those who will reject the notion that it has value and furthermore that they will seek to diminish or destroy what you offer" (wikipedia).  Some people won't change, but at least you gave them the opportunity to understand why you are disengaging and an opportunity to make the changes necessary to continue/heal a relationship with you.

It is all too common, and injurious, to misapply the notion of turning the other cheek amongst Christians I've counseled.  Many have become so downtrodden that they have great difficulty rising up again to try in a relationship again.  Their condition would be much better, if they'd said "When" a bit sooner.  Sadly, many look and feel like they're beyond the point of no return.

Here's how I'd say it in a couple of sentences; Keep your love on (Danny Silk) and remain open to sharing your heart, but don't do it indiscriminately.  Be vigilant to discover who will hold and honor your heart vs. those who repeatedly injure and disrespect it, and don't be afraid to take it back and refuse them further opportunities to defile you and themselves by trampling on that which is precious.

Blessings, Jeff