The place I like to start when describing my journey is when I realized the depth of my pain and at the same time felt tremendous hope and excitement when I decided I wanted to be a counselor. This all occurred when I was 20 years old and was going to see a professional counselor for the first time with Joshua, my boyfriend/future husband to support him on his road to health. Part of me felt humble and so completely open in the presence of our counselor. I could feel the Holy Spirit enabling me to open my heart to how God wanted to use this man in my life. I felt present and trusting but not naïve. The amazing thing was that the counselor could actually feel me having an open heart toward him too. He stopped at one point and looked at me and said, “How are you doing that?” My spirit quivered and felt surprised but engaged. Joshua looked at both of us, completely perplexed. I remember smiling and being filled with joy as John and I laughed at this mystery. Then he asked if I could feel him being open. I said yes. Joshua, still looking on, we sat in this moment for several minutes. Finally, I described that I had felt my heart and others many times but that I had never been in a setting like this where we were actually acknowledging it.
As I got to know John Smeltzer and began digging deeper into my own past and present issues I began to understand the importance of what we were experiencing. John showed us through scripture that the health of the heart of the believer was vital for experiencing our own heart, the heart of another human being and to experiencing true relationship with God.
Even though certain parts of this were and are easy and very natural for me I also have discovered heart conditions that have proven to be very challenging, painful and at times felt overwhelmingly hopeless to recover from and get rid of.
As for the parts of my heart that remained healthy and open into adulthood I can attribute to an early love and connection to the person of Jesus and a safety and understanding of God’s love for me and the power of the Spirit that I often felt when I was alone, outside on my swing set or in nature, and when my mom and dad emotionally attuned to me. I also experienced my heart when I was in church. Although not in the sense that church was teaching me how to be in my heart but that I was very present and aware of being at or in church and almost separately feeling God speak to me in my heart. Even during childhood, I knew I was experiencing something very profound and I was grateful that Christianity meant something very deep and mystical to me.
However, I certainly did not live in my heart all of the time. I was blind to this reality until this same session with John that initially I thought was going to go so supernaturally well turned a very vulnerable direction. As Joshua and I started to dig into our relationship I began to feel pride, stoicism and resistance flowing through my whole body and spirit. I wanted to hide or leave as the conversation moved to what Joshua needed from me or what I might need from him or feel related to him. I was trapped. And yet it had felt so good to be known 15 minutes prior. To my disdain John noticed this too. And of course, that’s where we spent the next hour.
I was beginning a revealing process that forced me to confront what I believe many Christians suffer from, a dilemma of heart living versus religiosity. On one hand I completely trusted that God was in my heart and that my heart could be trusted. This is what allowed me to feel and experience John’s heart that day and the hearts of others prior. However, if I felt unsafe or intimidated or insecure I would instead protect my heart with rigid boundaries or rules and instead trust in my mind, my knowledge, my will power my ability to judge others or the rightness or wrongness of a situation. So I often turned to religiosity like this: rather than be vulnerable or revealing, because it feels too uncertain or messy I’ll perform a role of someone who has no problems or struggles and I can justify this as God’s will for me because he wants me to be perfect and sinless and holy.
This pattern of hiding my true self from others made me a hidden and private person and put chasms between me and intimate relationships as well as potential relationships. It pained me to realize that the way I was living was not how God created me to live when I believed so strongly in him. However, God has used this and other realizations to inspire me to not only continue seeking his life and what Jesus really preached and stood for but to also help other believers out of the pain and blindness of religiosity.
Sarah Bingaman, LPC
“So it is faith that enables one to live in and through the soft and open heart. It is faith that God will protect the soft/open and unguarded heart and soul. Human, secular boundaries are not necessary. In fact they are damaging to heart living. Believing God and submitting to Him are the keys”.
John Smeltzer, LPC