I recently finished a 2,500+ mile road trip for work through West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The bulk of the twelve day trip was spent by myself, incessantly changing the radio to find a station that wasn’t either county or static, or ideally, both. Unsuccessful as I was, I spent too many hours silently processing life and the many things I’ve been learning over the past 9 months.
I spent a long time thinking about the phrase “guard your heart.” It’s one of those Christian cliche phrases that get thrown around so much that it doesn’t mean anything anymore, but we say anyway for good measure. I’ve always taken it to mean that we should be defensive and cautious in our relationships, both romantic and platonic, so that we don’t get hurt. However, since I’ve started reading Brene Brown I’ve really come to embrace vulnerability; it’s the only way we can truly connect with others and feel known and loved. Vulnerability and guarding your heart don’t seem to jive well together though, so when push came to shove I said the hell with guarding my heart. Vulnerability was creating a path for me to feel known; guarding my heart had only ever made me feel isolated and lonely.
Here’s what I’m coming to realize though: the two ideas aren’t mutually exclusive; rather, they go together.
The phrase “guard your heart” only appears twice in the Bible, and is more commonly quoted from Proverbs 4:23, where the writer says “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” In Proverbs 4, the writer is speaking as a father to a son; he’s imploring his son to live righteously. That context helps us understand that “guarding you heart” doesn’t have much to do with living defensively, but living intentionally. Guarding our hearts from evil and wickedness means intentionally pursuing righteousness.
But what really helps me understand guarding my heart is the other occurrence of the phrase found in Philippians 4:6-7. There Paul says:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and your mind in Christ Jesus.”
At this point in his life, Paul’s been through the ringer as he writes a letter to the church at Philippi from his jail cell. But even in prison He’s able to write “do not be anxious about anything” because “the peace of God” is guarding his heart. A friend recently told me he read a modernized translation of the passage that says “…and the peace of God will umpire in your heart.” The peace of God is calling the shots. It’s a paradigm shift to go from standing defensively against the world, fearing the worst and being afraid to get hurt, to having a calm assurance founded in the peace of God. Guarding our hearts has less to do with avoiding hurt than it does with keeping pain and fear from ruling over our hearts.
Because the peace of God is responsible for guarding our hearts, and not ourselves, there is no fear, doubt, worry, anxiety, thought, concern, or uncertainty that can strike a blow against us. And that is LIBERATING.
We don’t have to worry. We don’t have to be afraid. We don’t have to be anxious.
Here’s the kicker: when we are free from the pestering thoughts of the enemy, we can live whole-heartedly. We can assume that others are doing their best. And we are free to give our hearts away to others.
Circling back to my conflicting thoughts about vulnerability and guarding your heart, the two ideas go hand in hand. Because to really guard your heart, you have to give it away. You have got to give it away to God so that you can be in a place to intentionally and peacefully rest in His presence. But you’ve also have to give it away, in varying degrees, to others. Only then will you find love and belonging. Only then will you find the richness in life that Jesus desires for us.
Here me say this though: sometimes when you give your heart away to others you’ll get hurt. It’s human nature. That’s a really sucky thing, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It just is. But until you allow yourself to give your heart away, and until you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you’ll continually be hustling for love and belonging. Even in pain, giving my heart away was the most healing and freeing thing I’ve ever done. And in whatever way it looks, I want to learn to give my heart away, to God and others, every day.
So guard your heart by giving it away! Be vulnerable! Make the most generous assumptions you can of others! And in all things, rest in the peace of God that guards your heart.
Post Script: Enjoy this related song 🙂