Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
What does it mean to guard your heart? If you are, like me, a young Christian female, you have probably heard this phrase countless times in the context of love and relationships. The proverb doesn’t directly refer to romantic relationships – in fact, they are general directions for all of life. Perhaps people chose to use this proverb to teach about love is because it focuses on the one part of us that gets really involved in relationships – our hearts.
Proverbs 4 comprises of advice from a father to his son. It starts with seek wisdom and ends with keep your focus on the right things. And in between, guard your heart. It tackles the things that often leads us astray – our mind, our heart, and our eyes.
Humans are emotional beings pretending to be rational. Our minds process information, but our hearts are what motivate us to act. Ever been in a situation where your brain is telling you it’s a bad idea, but you go and make that illogical decision anyway? That’s because your heart overrides your mental faculties. “Everything you do flows from it” is not an exaggeration. Those times when you say logic ruled, it’s only because your heart agreed with you in the first place (even if it’s just a very small part of your heart). Else you wouldn’t have gone and acted the way you did.
The father wants his son to guard his heart. He wants his son to feed his heart with the right things and to cast out the bad things. The succeeding verses tell us to keep from corrupt talk, to look directly ahead, and to keep from evil. It actually tells us how to guard our hearts – to look towards God. To have God as the focus and purpose of living. To delight in the Lord, such that everything else just becomes icing on the cake.
How does this relate to romantic love? Allow me to illustrate through my life.
I haven’t been in a relationship for over six years. After my last breakup, I decided that relationships and marriage are not my thing. I kept my heart under lock and key, refusing to open up to anyone. That part of me was dead, as far as I was concerned. It was very much as CS Lewis had said in 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… 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.
I refused to be vulnerable again. Was that guarding my heart? In a very flawed human understanding, perhaps it was. But it was a selfish, protectionist way of guarding my heart. I was concerned only with not getting hurt. And so I refused to love others in the process.
Fast forward to today. God in His grace has taught me to open my heart to His love. And with that, I have begun to open my heart and love others. And just when my heart is almost fully restored, in walks a man who wants to share his love.
Perfect, you might think. Well… not so fast.
Was I sure that this was the man God has intended me to love and honour? Should I start investing my time and my emotions into this budding relationship?
I looked to God. I wanted to please God and I wanted to make sure I would do what was right. I also remembered all the past hurts and I knew I couldn’t go through them again. In the process of seeking God – of keeping my eyes focused on Him – I guarded my heart.
It was easy to let this man woo me into submission. He was from my church, focused on his walk with the Lord, serving and leading others to Christ. He was very sweet and said all the right things that would make any woman’s heart flutter. But one fundamental thing bothered me – I did not know what the Lord has planned for me.
I will be honest – there is a part of me that has already started giving my heart to this man. There are strange feelings that surface when we talk. My imagination – as it has been wont to do – has started running away from me. That was when I decided to rein it back in. (Mind you, logic also kicked in and started pointing out things that would not make the relationship work.) I decided to cut off all interaction for a time. I sought the Lord, and continue to seek His will regarding this part of my life.
Ladies, if there is one thing I would like to impart to you, it is this – keep your emotions in check. Question them. Ask why you feel the way you do, and whether these feelings are true or just momentary. And always, always – seek the Lord’s confirmation. Do not allow yourself to fall when God hasn’t told you it is time. He has great plans for you – you are His cherished possession. He will not give you something that will not be for your own good. So wait. Wait patiently. Wait expectantly. Love will come when God chooses.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases
Songs of Solomon 8:4