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