Guarding Your Heart and Other Indoor Sports

A recent comment on an old post made me suddenly remember that we had some unfinished business regarding the old “guard your heart” discuss we had a while back. There are lots of reasons that this phrase is troublesome depending on how you interpret it, but there was one big ticket item that I had meant to bring up.

The absolute biggest threat to your heart is not anyone else; it is yourself. Boundaries and walls are not mobile. Not only must they keep people out (think pushy, touchy guy), but also, they must keep you in. In my opinion this is the most simple way to never be shrill. These boundaries apply both ways. It is not like one of those police riot shields that help you run into crowds of angry people and then suddenly slam down a line you plan to enforce. It is about you submitting yourself to a standard that is outside of you.

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Now! Lest you all run off to be angry about this somewhere, taking the metaphor into places I meant not for it to go – this wall is NOT bondage. This wall is not made of uptight prudish and weird standards. It is not a wall that came about because of the extreme lustiness of men and wantonness of women. It is a wall built of wisdom and strengthened with humility. I would like for you all to erase any thoughts you have of rules about eye contact, or never liking anyone more than anyone else. This is not about trying to live in a world that is void of attraction, romance, or fun. This is not about spoiling your friendships or thinking too much of yourself. It is not about finding a way to get married without having ever become vulnerable. Let me try to explain in an anecdotal way.

When I was in college, I had an excellent relationship to my Dad (still do). I loved my family, loved my friends, and generally had a great time. Most of my good friends at the time were guys – they were by and large much easier for me to get along with. But – I was plain old stupid. I was young, I was naive, and I was having a good time. At no time in this, did anything happen that was inappropriate. My Dad didn’t want me to do things in one-on-one or two-on-two sorts of settings, and I didn’t. I would manipulate situations to keep things from being awkward, by inviting extra people or whatever. If things with one of my friends started seeming a little too something, I would just drop back for a while and wait until I felt like it was  fine again. During this time, I would talk to my Dad and brother about these things and both of them would tell me that I was being too friendly. I would diligently explain what I absolutely firmly believed : “We are just friends! Really!”

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My Dad, being the kind of wonderful man that he is, wanted for me to understand this myself. He wanted the standard to BE mine, and not his. And the reason for this is what I specified above. The wall is as much for the person inside as the one on the outside. It is no good to throw up a boundary that is not actually believed in. If my dad had done that – say by limiting how much I could see my friends, or how much fun we could have when together, or all kinds of things – I would not have learned the big life lesson that I learned. And the standard truly would never have been mine.

Now- lest you all think there is some big dramatic testimonial in which I ran off to Scotland with an unsuitable man, brace yourselves for a much more subtle twist in the plot. I believed in all the same things that I had been taught. I did not have a desire to lead on any of my friends. I did not want to litter my past with relationships that went nowhere good. I was happily abiding within the parameters that had been laid out for me. But what I hadn’t done yet was get it. I certainly thought I had, but I hadn’t.

My big turning point had absolutely nothing to do with anything scandalous. It was the summer, and I was the only young person living at home, and consequently the only person who stayed up past ten o’clock. These were the olden days of course. The internet was something that you could access if you were willing to put in five solid minutes of listening to what sounded like a donkey warming up for a recital. I believe we had cell phones, but I think you still pulled out antennas on them, after unfolding them like a pool-side lounge chair. I had an email account, but since the internet took such an amount of commitment to get onto, I only really checked it of an evening. Anyway, one of my guy friends was emailing me during the summer. The content of these emails was completely innocent, and completely not racy. But one night it hit me. I am sitting here in my pajamas, alone, late at night, writing to him. Why am I doing this? Beyond the “we’re just friends, this is totally just friendly” reasons that came to mind. What was I actually doing? It was at that moment that I saw my own behavior far more honestly. I had been living in the kind of mental state that leads people to cheat on diets. Between you and me, let’s not tell me that I am eating this cookie. Let’s keep me in the dark so I can still feel good about it.

Now – while this was no dramatic turning point, it was a turning point that had dramatic results. As the summer ended and school started up again, I was honest with myself. Had this little insight kept me from being able to chat with my guy friends? No. Had it made everything socially awkward and panicky? No. Was I spending all my time reading into everyone else’s motives? No. Did I suddenly notice an abundance of things that I was myself doing that I should not have been doing? Absolutely, yes.  I corrected these things,  putting the appropriate amount of distance between myself and various guy friends, and life went on happily, if a lot more boringly. Being honest with yourself about yourself is not always a party. It does, however, open up the field for a lot more fun.

When my husband showed up in town a year or two after I had tightened up on my behavior, it was very smooth sailing. I liked him right out of the blocks. I’m pretty sure that we were basically unbearable to be around (God very graciously arranged to have all my roommates falling in love at the same time, making us all able to stay friends through the process). There was no weird nervous twitching about being around someone of the opposite gender. I did not struggle with being too afraid to risk anything. But what was dramatically different was that my heart was not a liar anymore. I wasn’t covering up real motives with things that sounded better. My heart, my emotions were all in submission to something bigger. They were certainly not uninvolved, but they were tethered off. If something terrible had come up (like he was already married), my heart was not in a place that would have made up excuses, covered it up, or run away with him anyway. My heart had boundaries that were being maintained from the inside. A heart that has boundaries is a heart that is free to honestly love.

Now my real point is that this is far bigger than those few years of your life after you are old enough to have guy problems and before you get married. This is a life skill. I am still using it ALL the time. I don’t mean that I am battling off the suitors everywhere I go (although I’m sure you thought I was, what with the 8 months pregnant and the five other children in tow). I mean that learning to guard your heart applies to far, far more of life than romantic entanglements. It applies to moments when you need to be real with yourself about how selfish you are being. It keeps you accountable when you might be thinking about getting ugly with your children. It applies when you are working through annoyance with someone, or hurt feelings. I have known married women who clearly were not guarding their hearts as they should have been – when their husbands derailed and went Roman Catholic, the wives went right along as though they never believed anything anyway. Guarding your heart is not about isolating your heart in its own purity. It is about holding your heart- your own heart -accountable.

Many people have mentioned that guarding your heart is not a way to guarantee happiness or a good marriage. And that is certainly true – it isn’t. This isn’t a formula for success, or a works-righteousness endeavor. This is simply Christian living.

“Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” – Proverbs 4:23

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36 thoughts on “Guarding Your Heart and Other Indoor Sports

  1. wow!! Great thoughts! Thank you again. I truly hope you are all in the process of writing a book for mothers and daughters. 😀 Also, I would LOVE a post (sometime) about exactly what a wife would do were she appropriately guarding her heart and her husband ‘derailed’ into Catholicism?

  2. “Derailed and went Catholic”…that seems awfully judgmental of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

  3. Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    In the terms you have couched it, obvously with different experiences (or maybe the same experiences) attached, what you have written applies to men as well as women. As you say…”This is simply Christian living.”

    Well said.

    Christ’s blessings on you.

  4. Right on. Sounds exactly like me in high school. I broke a few hearts, and while I hadn’t broken any rules, I should have been more considerate by being a little less friendly and comfortable with my guy friends.

  5. I was pleased to read your thoughts about guarding your heart. But the comment about “the husbands derailing and becoming Catholic” was quite pitiful!
    Yes, I am Catholic! Even more wonderful is that my husband led us back to Rome!
    Peace and blessings!

  6. Yep, I was a girl who was too friendly with the guys (in a very platonic “brothers in Christ” sort of way) and probably even too friendly with my husband in the beginning. In fact, I was a classic needy bucket, but God somehow managed to take a heart that really did want to honor Him and put together a wonderful love story. However I sincerely wish I’d known this 10-12 years ago because of a great guy who ended up being a minor casualty of my unguarded attitude. I honestly had no clue, and in my case someone did get hurt.

  7. Very good words! I plan to use them to help think through an article on this subject that I read recently. Thank you.

  8. Another Catholic here. “Derailed and went Roman Catholic” is not needed. The only place the fullness of the faith can be found. There is much beauty to found in the Catholic Faith. You should check it out. I love your writings and your book- I found it very helpful but that comment was offensive.

  9. I really enjoyed your story and think it is great and true that we should all guard our hearts! Being Catholic, I think your comment was harsh about derailing. I would even disagree and say they were enlightened :).

    But your inferring that being Catholic means you don’t think. I would be glad to engage in a discussion about this. I am Catholic and follow all of the Church teachings and have done research on the ones that I had originally had misconceptions and doubt about only to be shown the truth.

    Even Christians attack Catholics…

  10. “Guarding your heart is not about isolating your heart in its own purity. It is about holding your heart- your own heart -accountable.”
    This is rarely stated so well. So many ‘little girl’ resources are about trying to retain some mystical purity that they are deemed to have. Of course there is some ignorance due to age that we can preserve until the right time maturity wise, but what you have said is spot on, we are born sinners and we need to be training girls (and boys) to guard their hearts and keep them in line with God’s Word, not just keeping them undefiled from the outside. Thanks!

  11. Good Morning ladies!
    I see I touched a nerve with the Catholic comment, so let me explain a bit. First of all – I am Protestant, and not simply by accident. I actually believe it. So the fact that I would see going Roman Catholic as a derailment should come as no surprise. However, that was not the point I was making. The jab (which was completely intended) was not towards Catholics as a lot, but towards those women I have seen who embody all of the slander that is thrown at women who believe in submission.
    Let me quote myself, with some emphasis to show my point “when their husbands derailed and went Roman Catholic, the wives went right along AS THOUGH they never believed anything anyways.”
    I am talking here about women who could switch their entire statement of faith based on nothing but what their husband was doing at the time, and they would not even pause to think about it. I would have as much trouble with the process (although clearly not the destination) were it to be a Catholic woman going Protestant only because her husband did.
    I was speaking of the women who could give no testimony to their reasons beyond submission – whose hearts were apparently never in the worship the first place, but in their husband’s pocket.
    We are Christian women, and while we happily believe in submission, we believe in a lot more than that also. We believe that your relationship to God should always hold your heart. And when it does, you will not be so easygoing about major religious shifts.

  12. That was a tremendous elaboration in the comments, Rachel. Thanks for the whole package. What a good post.

  13. I understand what you are saying Rachel, and agree with it. I guess what I was intending with my question was more a ‘practical hypothetical’. If a husband ‘did’ become catholic how does a protestant wife confront that? I guess in essence, how does one confront something gracefully with their husbands (especially if the husband refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem). What does submission ‘look’ like in this situation?

  14. I thank you and your mother and sister for this blog. I do come to it daily for guidance. Having said that…

    You intended the slight towards Catholics? I don’t know that that’s going to help your blog’s ministry in the long run. If you have people on the fence (regarding belief in God in general) who come to this blog for guidance, that approach to spirituality may very well push people to the “wrong” side of the fence. Although your clear conviction in your own beliefs is impressive, it is not convicting for others if you can so easily dismiss other denominations as a “derailment”. The “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality presented so cavalierly here is the same attitude that fuels religious warfare in other parts of the world. I believe that evangelism does not need to take the form it did in this post.

  15. The “Catholic” comment did not seem so much like a jab at Catholics as a jab at wives who are not being spiritual helpers to their husbands.

    Though I am still single, I see a live-and-let-live tendency in myself that could produce of me just such a wife. Like “Kcaarin” I would appreciate pointers, examples, etc., of how not to be that way but to be proactive and submissive at the same time.

    By the way, Mrs. J., I just finished “Loving the Little Years” for a church book study and it’s wonderful. Good job! 🙂

  16. I appreciate this post, and wish I had been taught this as a young woman. I, also, was thrown off at the catholic comment. Like Kcaarin and Erin H. above, I would love some pointers from either you or your mom about what to do about the submission question when your husband “derails”.

  17. “I have known married women who clearly were not guarding their hearts as they should have been – when their husbands derailed and went Roman Catholic, the wives went right along as though they never believed anything anyway.”

    Maybe the problem lies with your church’s teaching (and lack of grace received) rather than with the women who are trying to follow those standards set before them?
    Like a cross without the Body…there is no substance there.

  18. The Lord gave me a quirky sense of humor when He made me. I can’t help smiling every time I read a comment, followed by “<<Croquet, anyone?"

  19. I really enjoyed this post. How important it is that we guard our hearts in ALL things, and not just matters of “romance.”

    Thanks also for your comment elaborating on the “Roman Catholic” remark, but I would be so curious to hear more, speaking as a woman potentially facing a very similar situation, where does one establish the boundaries between submission and standing firm in MY faith, and practically what are the differences between a husband wanting to convert to Catholicism and a husband wanting to move his family to, say, a different denomination within the Protestant church despite his wife having disagreements with much slighter doctrinal points? That is to say, what things, to you at least, make the RC church “wrong” enough for a wife not to consider submitting? I fully understand you didn’t intend to open such a can of worms. 🙂 I am only asking because the comment is oddly practical for me at the moment, and I would more than love to hear your reasoning.

    Thanks for all the words of wisdom. I get very excited when I see new content on this blog, as I can count on it to be practical and grounded wisdom. 🙂

  20. i would like to comment as the woman who went to a Roman Catholic church because that is what her boyfriend believed. I did fit the description that author describes. I was in love and thought he was to. I was not appropriate entering into this relationship and should have taken the advise that lizziejank offers. I do think we need to attend to our beliefs and thoughts ourselves and had i developed this as young girl I and my son would have been spared much grief and anguish.
    I attended the catholic church for 2 1/2 years after i had been a protestant for 30 years. At first, it sounded very familiar and the same, the questions I had for my boyfriend who became my husband were answered by him to sound like a protestant i.e he thought the Lord’s supper was a memorial and did not believe what the catholic church teaches that Christ actually dwelt in the bread and the wine, yet 2 years later a priest gave a message supporting the catholic belief. As a protestant I belief Christ died once and for all and was risen on the 3rd day and sits at the right hand of the Father and is preparing a kingdom for me. He believed that if he didn’t attend church that this affected his salvation. I belief the Holy Spirit dwells in me, I do practice meeting with the saints, however it does not affect my salvation. Jesus Christ died for my sins it is not of work of my own, He did the work for my sin. He alone is my mediator I do not have to pray to saints nor do I get special privilege because I name my son after a saint. Hanging pictures of Mary and praying the rosary do not affect my relationship with Christ.There is much that is different in the catholic and protestant church. You believe Jesus Christ died for your sins GOOD that is what the Bible says. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved “is what the Bible says. I do not agree that the catholic church is the one true faith. I walk with Christ He upholds me not because I take communion, not because I gave to the church remodel fund. Not because I serve the church every sunday all of these are good things, however they do not buy my salvation and that is what was taught to me in my 2 1/2 years in the catholic church. So I think if you are protestant and your husband is leaving the faith you need to dutifully study your beliefs and motives and not willing go along because your husband says so. I think the Bible supports this when it says we are to love God first. We are called to raise our children faithfully unto God and to rely on God, if our husband strays we need to humbly pray and ask God to help us to convince our husbands to follow the helps God has given us the Bible, our Pastor. Maybe our discernment will be enough to make our husbands take a 2nd look. As someone who has failed at knowing and controlling her behavior i thank you for the information. For me , this is a new skill I must develop in my 40’s. I am no longer married to my catholic husband as he left after an argument about his sons birthday party. He would describe himself as a faithful catholic follower. That is my life experience and I hope it will be useful to someone who also thinks that catholicism is similar to protestantism that was not my experience.

  21. “A heart that has boundaries is a heart that is free to honestly love.” This was really well written – inadvertently acknowledged by the lack of criticism save for the Catholic comment (which as Rachel points out is about the woman, not the Catholic). I too might’ve knit my brow just a bit instead of laughing as I did had I not just read this (along with several of the comments): (Alison’s comment was most diverting.) I don’t know how many of you take Touchstone magazine (I recommend it!), but thought this befitting on this particular point:

  22. I’ve been away from this blog for quite some time, months maybe. Just wanted to share what a blessing it has been to read all the posts I missed. God is good to me to share His wisdom through all of you. It hurts my feelings a bit to see Lizzie be called a “bully” and be misinterpreted, but I am heartened to have assurance that in Christ she can certainly handle it! Love to all of you!

  23. If extending empathy, showing grace to a Protestant sister, is not part of Canonical Law, it should be. Sufficient rebuke — let us bathe in the only river whose streams make glad the eternal city of our King for He opened the doors of paradise to us, doing for us what we could not do for ourselves through His blood.

  24. Well said, Sheryl M. May the grace of Jesus Christ grant you all of your needs and life abundantly.

  25. I loved this post. I agreed with everything, up until the last second. “…when their husbands derailed and went Roman Catholic, the wives went right along as though they never believed anything anyway.” I get the point you are trying to make in that statement… but it is so loaded. I can’t help but think of the other posts I have read on here about following your husband. I recall the women I know who HAVE (rightly) followed their husbands into the Catholic church, with heavy hearts, but hearts that are trusting in God and still talking with their husbands about his decision (or who do eventually and happily follow him in the Catholic faith). Your statement also pokes at the idea that we are supposed to assume with you that the Catholic church is either false or simply not a good church. I’m probably making a mountain out of a mole hill, but your statement detracted a little from your overall post, since it struck such a chord with me. On another note, thank you for your beautifully worded post. I should stress how much I appreciate it and took from it, despite my qualm.

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