Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9
Sometimes I feel like I live a double life. On the outside, I tend to come across as a very practical, logical, Type A planner. I delight in consistency and order. And let’s just say it – I’m a hard core rule-follower. Despite my uptight tendencies, I’ve always thought that following my heart sounds like a beautifully romantic way to go about life. On the inside I’m a closet romantic. My heart has some really deep longings that I just don’t know how to hold back some days. Who doesn’t want to be swept off her feet and get carried away sometimes?
So I remember distinctly the first time I heard my pastor say that following your heart can be one of the fastest ways to ruin your life. That really messed with me. The rule-follower in me certainly doesn’t want to ruin my life, and the romantic in me felt like all my fun just got taken away. When I did some reading on my own I saw that instead of telling us to follow our hearts, God tells us in his word to guard our hearts.
I’m into words and meanings and when I started to think about what it means to guard something, I realized there are two types of things that have to be guarded, those that are inherently dangerous and those that are inherently valuable. The more I think about it, the more I have come to see first-hand that my heart is both.
My heart is dangerous and deceitful. I am in my very nature a sinner, it’s the way I was born and it will be a fact of life for as long as I live in this body and in this world. My heart will seek its way above all else and pull me toward my own wants and desires and selfish ambitions.
I have to guard my heart because I often find myself believing that because I want something really, really badly, it must be because I’m supposed to have it.
As a single woman, this form of deceit on the part of my heart most often comes in the form of my interactions with guys. My personal life experience hasn’t come from learning to guard my heart from the advances of smooth-talking men, but instead from having to learn to guard my heart from an even more dangerous adversary – myself.
Time and time again I’ve watched my heart and mind team up to do some crazy things. I plan and scheme and try hard to get whatever it is that my heart so badly wants. And when things don’t happen according to my plans or desires I’m left angry and disappointed. Often not because of any foul-play on the part of someone else, but because I let my heart run unchecked.
But there is another side to my heart. This heart of mine is precious and fragile too. My heart is the part of me that lurches when I see others in pain, that stops everything around me to take in something beautiful. It longs to nurture and pursue, to give love and honor. I am thankful for this vulnerable side of my heart that wants to see the best in people and give them the benefit of the doubt.
I have to guard my heart because living in this broken, messed up world makes me want to harden it.
Life is easier when things don’t hurt. And things hurt the most when they’re close to the heart. A soft heart is able to respond with grace and compassion, but is vulnerable to attack and disappointment. Hardening my heart may help keep out the pain, but it will also keep me from loving the way Jesus has shown me to love.
I’ve seen the beauty and grace of a soft, gentle heart and I’ve seen the wrath and pain of a cold, hardened heart. When I don’t guard my heart from the natural tendency to self-protect, I find myself becoming cynical, judgmental and not at all likely to care for others.
The fact is I can’t keep either side of my heart guarded in my own strength. The more I try to tie it down to keep it from ruling my life, the more I shut it down for the purposes it’s made to fulfill. Instead I have to constantly hand my heart over to God, not in one grand gesture but moment by moment and decision by decision.
As a young woman, I need to remember that the decisions I make and the things I experience today will shape my heart for years to come. Every day I make decisions about what to think about, who to talk to, what to look into, what to let go of and what to pursue.
There have been many days where I feel like my heart is this wild animal on a leash, pulling and straining at the bounds placed on it as it begs and pleads to have a chance to feel something wonderful, something it was made for. In those moments, I want more than anything to believe that following my heart will be ok. But letting my heart run away with whatever may be in front of it at the moment means that this deceitful heart of mine is about to drag this fragile heart of mine straight out into traffic.
Handing my heart over to God means inviting him into moments like this. Moments where I have to decide if my heart is being deceitful or if it’s at risk of being hardened. His answer isn’t always the same. Sometimes I need to step back and away from wandering into dangerous territory, but sometimes I need to step forward and into a place of trusting God in the unknown.
Jesus tells us that in this life we will have trials. No matter how hard I will try to guard my heart, things will come along that will hurt it. But Jesus also tells us to take heart, to be encouraged, because he has overcome this hurtful world. When I make decisions with this in mind, I hand my heart over to Jesus to protect me and this powerful, dangerous and beautiful thing he has placed within me.