If you’ve been in the evangelical Christian circle for sometime than you know all the fun catchphrases we like to use… “do life together”, “seasons”, “intentionality”, “missional”, “community”, “guard your heart”, etc.
I love words. I like putting a word to an idea. But I find that, sometimes, we throw around words without understanding their implications, practically, to our lives and our walk with Christ, and more importantly, the lives of those we are speaking into. Those phrases above have a lot of weight and wisdom behind them, but speaking a single phrase cannot adequately convey a complex, and highly personal, issue of the heart.
Usually in the context of dating and relationships, people really love to advise you, with good intentions, to “guard your heart”. It sounds great. Guard – that’s a pretty strong word for ‘protect’. Hearts are important. We should protect them! I’ve read a handful of “guarding your heart” articles whose main objective seemed to be selling the reader on the idea that guarding your heart was important in order to remain emotionally and spiritually healthy and sexually pure. At some point, you’ll actually agree that a heart, especially a woman’s heart, is a delicate thing, and it’s important to nurture and protect. But then the thought drifts to…. what does guarding your heart (and hers) actually look like?
I don’t necessarily know the ‘right’ answer to that question. But I have a few observations:
- Women have given too much
- Men (or boys) have taken too much
- Jesus specializes in brokenness repair. That’s kinda His ‘thing’.
There’s a conversation to be had around guarding your heart – but it needs to go beyond simply ‘why’ to ‘how’?
Where does the idea of “guarding your heart” come from?
The Bible has quite a bit to say about our hearts.
While what we physically do is important, in Jeremiah 17:10, we get the idea that God is very much concerned about the condition of our hearts:
I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.
We read something similar in Hebrews 4:12
For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.
As Proverbs 3:5 suggests, we come to the Lord with our hearts and not our minds:
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
Our heart is where salvation is born. Romans 10:10 says:
For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.
It is so utterly important, for our spiritual health and perspective, to have a right heart.
Matthew 5:8 says:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Mark 7:21-23 offers a sobering reminder of where our depraved sinful hearts can go without the redeeming work of Jesus Christ and without feeding and nurturing them:
For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery,greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person
Think of the worst Hollywood relationship. Think of the relationships in the juiciest drama or reality TV show. Can any of the above words describe those relationships? They all can.
All this is WHY we need to heed Proverbs 4:23
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
Whether in the context of dating relationships or even just friendships, if you’re trying to get to know someone, you have to be vulnerable to some extent. You have to open up. You have to share who you are. If you don’t, you’re not going to have that other persons attention for very long.
As a Christian, I feel this difficult tension between our Gospel call to love one another (as radically as Christ’s love for us) while ‘spur[ing] one another on toward love and good deeds’ and guarding your heart.
Maybe that tension doesn’t need to exist. Maybe those two things aren’t at odds. Maybe what we’re telling people is too generalized and thus too constricting.
Take, for example, C.S. Lewis’ words 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. 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.
Being vulnerable sure sounds like the opposite of being guarded.
One size doesn’t fit all
And herein lies the problem… sweeping generalizations and catch phrases used to protect ourselves or to freely love don’t work because we’re all different. We all have different capacities to love, to protect ourselves, to give, to receive. We need to go deeper. We need to have heart-to-hearts amongst ourselves (and God) and figure out our personality.. our heart.. and then come up with a way to guard our hearts – to protect them from Satan, to protect them from harmful relationships, and to protect them FOR God.
Relationships and matters of the heart are tricky and highly personal things. There’s no 1-size-fits-all answer. God knows your heart. God knows His plan. At the end of the day, chase after God’s own heart, seek to glorify God, and ask Him how you should be guarding your heart so you can love deeply… the right way.
So what now? Like I alluded to earlier, guarding your heart is paramount, not just in dating/romantic relationships, but in friendships and even family relations. Those are really tough areas where people from different perspectives and backgrounds may speak into your situations or sway you to do or believe something you know isn’t right. In the interest of this post I want to focus on new dating/romantic relationships.
Girls: What does guarding your heart look like?
I could come up with ideas based on conversations I’ve had with girls… or I could hand the topic over to my friend Elyse and let her offer her own unique perspective. Elyse Jankowski is a Jesus-loving 20-something from New Jersey. She enjoys photography, vegan food and uninterrupted sleep. She blogs at standoutscripture.blogspot.com.
Disclaimer: I’ve only been a Christian for two and a half years, and I haven’t dated anyone since being saved. So, my perspective includes both where I’m at now spiritually and the experiences I’ve had in the past.
Dating a believer
If you haven’t kissed dating goodbye, make sure you’re dating a Christian guy! A legit one. I dated a non-legit Christian (ironically, before I was saved), and that’s another story. I’ve also dated many a “bad boy,” who can make you weak in the knees, but before long, you learn there isn’t much substance under the spark. Not trying to be rude, just keepin’ it real. Dating a guy who puts Christ first means he should be intentional in guarding your heart as well. Of course, we all falter, and he will ideally desire to right his wrongs, first with God, then with you (and we ladies should do the same!).
Taking it slow
I know what it’s like to give my heart away too soon. I’ve done it about a bagillion times, often within the first few dates! In the past, I was desperate for love and didn’t know Christ had more of it than I could even fathom. So, pretty much any guy who showed an interest got all of me, both emotionally and physically. Can you say recipe for disaster? Now, believing that Jesus has cleansed me of my past sin, I will be much more deliberate in taking it slow. I hope my future husband and I friend-zone each other for a bit before even dating! It’s not just about guarding my heart; it’s also about guarding his. As much as I’ve been hurt, I’ve hurt guys, too, and that’s just not gonna fly anymore!
I think back to the first boyfriend I ever had and how many people said I was flat out insane for dating him. In retrospect, I absolutely was! But I didn’t listen at the time. We must listen! To the Holy Spirit, trusted friends, family members, and spiritual mentors. We also must be honest with them, sharing even embarrassing details if they arise. Being held accountable helps us think twice about our words and actions. Praying with an accountability partner can expose areas that need healing, thus benefiting the relationship.
Being in prayer
Speaking of prayer, guarding your heart means putting it in the hands of the One who will not and cannot ever break it. The more connected we are to God, the better we can love others and love ourselves. I believe no prayer is too small or too big for Jesus to hear and address in His own special way. That might mean praying about what you wear for your dinner date or praying about whether or not you should kiss him. Wherever you’re at, however you feel, talk to Him about it, and He will guide you.
As Philippians 4:6-7 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 minds in Christ Jesus.
Guys: What does guarding each others heart look like?
As men, we have a ton of responsibility; for ourselves and the women God puts in our lives. Whether they are ‘independent’ or strong-willed women, we still have the duty to do our part in protecting their hearts and souls from what we do or say.
Get yourself together. Prepare
Give up the porn. Stop lusting. Stop ‘getting fresh’ with every girl that gives you the opportunity. Get your life together: your spiritual life and your physical life. Get out from under your parents wings, put down the video games, get some life experience, and figure out, generally, where you’re going. Figure out what currently has your heart – if it’s money, status, a career, girls, or possessions you might want to check yourself. Know what you desire, get your boundaries set, and mature yourself enough to be able to say ‘no’.
I love this quote from Brandon Andersen at Mars Hill Church:
The truth is that when you’re in a relationship, you get their crap on top of your crap. That’s double crap. It is hard to start a healthy relationship with two immature people drowning in crap. Men, get your life together first, know where you are going, then invite a girl to come along (Prov. 16:1–9)
Live out 1 Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.
The first date probably isn’t the right time to profess your love to her… But after a few dates you should let her know where you see the ‘relationship’ going. Whether it’s towards exclusive dating and pursuing a serious relationship or ‘just being friends’. Dragging things out as long as possible in hopes that you’ll find someone more interesting is not fair to her and certainly isn’t protecting her heart. The point is, YOU take the risk of defining the relationship – not her. Don’t make her wonder where she stands. When you know it’s over – end it, respectfully.
Encourage & point to Christ
I once heard that it was best to keep your spiritual lives separate in a dating relationship – to not become dependent on the other person. I also, more recently, read that you shouldn’t pray together – at least not ‘deeply’. The thought was 1) That if things didn’t work out in the dating relationship one, or both people, would abandon God or your faith as well 2) That you both start to wean off pursuing God and instead primarily pursue each other. That, generally, was probably the worst advice I’ve ever heard.
While depending on a boyfriend or girlfriend to be your spiritual leader and confidant is not a good idea (I’m talking about early on in dating – not when you’re closer to marriage), it certainly IS a good idea to put Christ at the center of your relationship. You both should be on a similar track of individual growth towards being more Christ-like. You both should grow in Christ along with your mentors and close Christian community, but you should also be growing together, as a couple, with Christ as the leader. There’s that popular pyramid/triangle example where both people are points on the bottom of the triangle and, in the relationship, they are travelling up towards the top point – aka. Christ.
Heed 1 Corinthians 8:9
Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak.
Being accountable to, and in fellowship with, spiritually mature people is super important. It gives you an outlet to ask questions, get advice, receive encouragement, and be disciplined if you’re going off track. You might as well get used to being uncomfortable. Often times, those uncomfortable conversations with mentors are the ones that are going to bring new light to your relationship; ultimately making the relationship better.
As Proverbs 27:17 says:
As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.
It’s not hopeless
If you think you’ve already blown it… If you’ve already given your heart away too many times and ultimately had it broken that many times… If you’re cynical about the possibility of someone out there caring for and actually sticking with you. If you’re lead girls on. If you’ve taken things you shouldn’t have taken. You’re not alone.
FIRST, surrender your heart to the God who delicately ‘knit you together in your mothers womb’ (Psalm 139:13), whose ‘love endures forever’ (Psalm 136), and who will never let you go. Ever. (John 10:28-29, Deuteronomy 31:8).
Just be smart
Many of the above suggestions can go both ways. Guard your own heart but also guard each others hearts. Be cognizant of the fact that your actions and your words impact people.
Go live your life. Go have an adventure. Go love on kids, and old people, and the less fortunate. Give yourself. Freely spread agape love to those who need it. Work on yourself. When you’re ready, take a chance and get in a relationship (or don’t, ’cause singleness is a gift, too) and enjoy the other person! But for the love of Pete, stop giving so much of your heart and soul away, so quickly or so much, to people just because they’ve shown you interest. Recognize the importance of a pure heart. Save the ‘real stuff’ for someone who has their heart abandoned to Jesus… who works to earn your trust.. who you feel confident has guarding your heart, and pointing you to Christ, higher on their priorities than anything else.
We love because he first loved us.
-1 John 4:19