For from it flows all the issues of life… Here’s a look at what guarding your heart really means.
One of the common approaches I’ve taken with a number of things I’ve written about is to think about some of the things that we say a lot, and explore what we really mean by that. After all, sometimes we say things we don’t fully mean, sometimes we say things that we don’t mean at all, and other times they’re dead on accurate but their implications reach further than just saying a few words. Some of the ones we’ve looked at so far are those more famous lines, such as saying I’m waiting, I’m not ready for a relationship, or one that we all use way too often – I’m too busy. These older posts are how a number of people have discovered this site, with many of us working out what these statements really mean when we’ve either heard them, or used them ourselves. All of these have also been requested topics by friends and readers.
And so today, we hit up another big expression that is used to explain and drive a lot of our behaviour in relating to each other, and one I’ve been asked a lot of times to write about – guarding your heart.
This phrase is a big one in church circles, but there are many people well beyond those in the faith community who’ve used and heard this approach to life. The most well renown source for this idea comes from the wisdom of King Solomon, where he stated, “Guard your heart, for from it flows all the issues of life”. That’s a big statement, and he’s not wrong. Obviously the expression isn’t talking about one of the most vital organs in our body, although it’s probably a good idea to protect that. But in the same way the rib cage protects the beating organ in our chest, the idea is being put forward that the centre of our being also requires protection, for it’s from our heart that we do so many things.
For example, you’ve probably heard this one – out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. This means our words are controlled in large part by what is going on at the core of who we are. I find this understanding incredibly useful personally. Often I’ll be able to work out how I’m really doing based on what I say about it, or even more accurate sometimes is what I won’t say about something. Sometimes just letting my mouth talk by myself or with some very trusted confidants really helps works things out. Your words locate you.
Or how about this one – a good man out of the goodness of his heart brings forth good things, and a bad man out of what is in his heart brings forth destructive or evil things.
Or this one – if you look on a woman (or man) with lust in your eye, you’ve already committed adultery in your heart.
The heart is the centre of everything here – our communication, our actions, our sexuality… it’s who we really are. For as a man (or woman) thinks in his heart, so he is (or she is).
I think if you’re reading this you’re quite aware of how important the heart is, and how dire the consequences of an unguarded heart are. And therein lies our real challenge.
Have you ever been hurt in your heart? You know, when someone has said something that has never left you? Or when you tried to give someone your heart, but they mistreated it and made you feel like you have no value? Or maybe it was a family member, a spouse, or a close friend, who had full access to the core of who you are, and absolutely smashed your heart into pieces in a matter of moments. Or maybe just over time, the events of your life have slowly taken their toll, and you’re not even really sure who you are any more.
The heart is strong, but at the same time, it is often very fragile. This is especially the case after it’s been broken before. Oh sure, on the outside, we put our poker face on and all is well with the world. But when the heart is sick, or disturbed, or lonely, or confused, or directionless, or bitter… man, it can really ruin your day.
And we start to wonder why we let it happen. We blame ourselves. Ah well, that’s what I get for being too trusting too quickly. That’s what I get for doing the right thing. This is what I get for caring for people. This is why I shouldn’t have put myself out there for them, because this is what happens. That’s why I can’t trust people.
And slowly, slowly, slowly… the heart starts to harden. Our survival instinct kicks in, and to prevent ourselves from going through similar trauma again, the beating heart becomes encased in a case of stone. And now we’re guarding our heart.
I have worked on a number of government projects, and in order to even enter the building, there are all sorts of government checks you have to go through. A police check, a check of your employment history, and, depending on your clearance, you may even require some character references and sign off on people checking a lot more about your history. Finally, having cleared all the checks, you get your photo taken and you’re given an access card, but even then, you still need to go passed the security desk, swipe through the gates, and only take the elevator to the floors you’ve been designated to go to.
When we’ve been hurt, we spend a similar amount of effort setting up a similar set up. The security desk is there, the snipers are on the roof waiting to take a shot at anyone who plays up, people need to pass the criminal history and character check before they’re allowed anywhere near the core of who we are. And even then, even if they pass all of those things, we still limit their access.
You know, this isn’t entirely a bad approach to take in some ways, I don’t think. We shouldn’t just go giving every single person or word or thought access to the core of our being. Your heart is a valuable thing. You matter. It is worth protecting. And not everyone in our lives should have equal access to the core of who we are.
I think what unfortunately happens instead though is that in guarding our heart from the wrong people and the wrong thoughts, we also often lock out the people we should consider letting in. Because unlike a government agency, for a friendship, a relationship, even a conversation, people aren’t always willing or able to go through the whole background check.
It’s hard to raise a family behind a glass wall. Sure you can see each other, but if you’re shut off from them, it’s almost impossible to relate. It’s hard to love your spouse from behind a glass wall. Where pain or disappointment has cause us to close up and get more defensive, if we stay too defensive, we shut off communication completely and regulate our relationship to protocol and duty. It’s hard to develop friendships when we’re closed off, too. Connecting and relating well with others requires things like vulnerability, trust, and in some ways a bit of surrender – all of which are things which cause the guards at the desk to start to pay more attention and consider kicking some people out.
I think for every relationship in our lives, guarding our hearts has to find the right balance. And unfortunately it seems like every single situation is a case by case sort of set up. We usually tend towards the extremes of either being too open – giving ourselves completely to others without any regard for our own well being; or being too closed – locking ourselves inside alone with no connection with the outside world. I think the true value of guarding your heart is somewhere in between the extremes. A book and surmising word that comes to mind is the word Boundaries, and its accompanying suggestions by authors Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
There are two thoughts that come to mind in wrapping up this little exploration of what guarding your heart really means. The first is a message brought by the prophet Ezekiel in which he stated that our hearts of stone need to be replaced by a heart of flesh. So often we have developed such a hard heart that we aren’t open in our interactions with others, or we’ve written off all men or women because of the way we’ve been treated, or we’ve shut out our parents or children because it hurts too much. I think the hard thing is that being close to others will always result in a risk of getting hurt. Love is permission for someone else to let you down. But we still have to make the decision to love anyway. The second is a quote from CS Lewis’ The Four Loves:
To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable
His words are probably some of the most profound thoughts on the subject to ever be put to writing.
I know in my life getting the right balance of guarding my heart is always going to be a challenge, but I think that’s true for all of us. Giving the right people and thoughts and words access to the core of who I am, and at the same time, keeping those things that are harmful at distance or with limited access.
At the end of the day, as with many of the issues in our lives, I think it comes right back to an identity and value thing. Who am I? And do I matter? I think whenever we question our identity or worth, we’re going to make unwise decisions about the underprotection or overprotection of our heart, but I think having a healthy perspective and knowing of the love we have in our lives keeps us grounded and safe, while at the same time, freeing us to love others as we’ve been loved ourselves.
Guarding your heart is a big issue with so many different facets. How about you? What do you think guarding your heart really means?