As a church kid growing up in a Christian family, I heard plenty of advice about how to date in a godly way. One of the most common things I was told was “guard your heart”.
The problem with this very well-meaning advice, was that no one ever actually explained what it meant. How did one “guard” a heart? You couldn’t post physical guards or fences, obviously. And what exactly was I supposed to be guarding my heart against?
In my younger teen years, I simply dodged the entire problem by avoiding boys altogether. I had sisters and girlfriends, so I saw no reason to have boys—who I thought were disgusting, loud, and smelly—as my friends.
Later, when I actually dated, I was petrified at the thought of making a wrong move. I was afraid of giving my heart away too quickly, saying the wrong thing, or loving the wrong person. If I felt myself becoming too attached, I pulled myself back because what if I wasn’t guarding my heart well?
One day my wise Mom said something that brought me up short. “Cherise,” she said thoughtfully, “do you even like him?” “Of course I do!” I said, aghast. At the time, my now-husband and I were talking about taking a pre-marital class. “Well,” she replied, “the way you act, it doesn’t seem like you do.”
Fear of making mistakes was ruling me. In response, I tried to control the situation, over-analyzing and over-thinking every conversation. I had exchanged trust for control and freedom for fear.
I wish I could go back to my younger self and tell her a few things.
First, I would tell her what “guard your heart” actually means.
The phrase comes from Proverbs 4:23, which says:
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Okay, read it again. What is the point of the guarding? It is so that good, beautiful and right things will flow out of your heart. Good in = good out. It is about setting our minds on what is true, honorable, and lovely. Yes, this also means that we will run from what is perverse and dark and evil, but that is not the focus of the command.
We know this from the whole context of scripture, which repeatedly tells us to “set our minds on things above”, to focus on “whatever is true…noble…right…pure” and lovely (Colossians 3:2, Philippians 4:8).
Guarding your heart does not mean be-super-guarded-and-never-like-a-guy. It means you should focus your heart’s affection and attention on God–and whatever reflects him.
Secondly, I would tell her that fear is typically a bad motive for any decision.
Fear is a clenching, grasping master. Many of us choose a career because of the fear that what we love to do won’t pay enough. Many of us choose relationships that are harmful because of the fear of being alone. The Bible has some things to say about fear too:
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
-1 John 4:18
If I am stressed and anxious because I fear making a mistake, what does that say about my heart? It means that my heart doesn’t understand the love and grace of God, which has already paid the punishment for any mistake I will ever make.
I want to be filled and motivated by love, not fear.
Finally, I would hold her hands and gently plead with her to trust God instead of trying to control.
You have a good Father, I would say. Trust Him to guard your heart. He actually promises to guard it with crazy awesome peace when you bring him your desires and anxieties. (Philippians 4:7)
I know you’re afraid of making a wrong choice. Listen to God. Listen to wise people who also listen to God. He promises that if you acknowledge Him, He will direct your path. (Proverbs 3:6)
I know you’re afraid of causing pain. You’re afraid of being hurt. If He does allow pain, it is for your ultimate good. Not only that, he will heal you and make you whole.
This post is part of a writing challenge called Write 31 Days. To read other posts in this series, click here.
Photo cred: Neal Fowler (edits mine)