In 2015, I trekked into Manhattan after work for a date in The Village. I remember how my face held a permanent smile almost the entire time. He had been thoughtful enough to plan a surprise-filled date. He held the door for me and stepped to the outside as we walked down the street. I immediately saw that he was intelligent and kind, well-traveled, and funny. From the first words spoken, he doted on me and I wanted that feeling more than I wanted to deal with the other less-glamorous realities.
I put the red flags on the backburner. I had no interest in what was going to happen down the road, I wanted the right now. I wanted to keep enjoying spending time with a man who (finally) thought the world of me and actually showed it.
It took two months for things to unravel. His abandonment issues, lack of trust, and addictions boiled over and brought the short-lived relationship to a heightened and final end. I was crushed even though we'd only been dating for a short while.
The writing was on the wall early on but I'd left my heart way too open and my head on a shelf. It took falling too fast a few too many times to really get the hang of guarding my heart and contrary to popular belief it's freer and much more intentional than we've been taught.
Guarding Your Heart 101
"Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." (Proverbs 4:23 NIV)
Contextually, this nugget of wisdom is applicable to all aspects of life. However, it has especially been embraced in dating and relationships. We love to instruct each other to guard our hearts. The only problem is, we misshapen what that actually means.
Imagine you're driving through one of your favorite alluring neighborhoods on a sunny day. The streets are lined with masterfully trimmed oak trees and the homes tower above you.
As you drive, you notice the newest home setting back off of the road. You can tell it's nearly finished but you can't see all the details you were able to see for months prior during its construction; a gate has been erected surrounding the property. As you pass, you strain to see how those floor to ceiling windows turned out but the gate obstructs your view. You're a bit annoyed but simultaneously in awe of such a beautiful home. I used to immediately and exclusively view the gate as a defensive force to keep out the inevitably bad people and things ready to take advantage of a beautiful new property. While that assessment isn't wrong, it is incomplete.
The Purposes of Guarding Your Heart
- To keep out the people, things, and experiences that mean harm.
- To allow in all of the people, things, and experiences that mean well.
- To set a standard so others know how they must approach or (if their intentions aren't aligned) not to approach at all.
- To protect your focus and freedom.
To many, guarding our hearts is a manipulative game of cat-and-mouse, always calculating to make sure that at best we don't get hurt and at worst we hurt them first. This actually robs us of the ability to guard our hearts. Being more concerned with never getting hurt than with experiencing life and love fully and wisely, pushes us toward romantic extremism and self-sabotage.
Many of us are blind to the reality that what we do to protect ourselves, the poorly intentioned gates we erect to keep hurt out, actually leave us open to more hurt than we could imagine. Those gates may keep out some hurt, but when that is our only intention, we prevent love and relationship and wonder and happiness and creativity and our futures from flowing in.
How To Purposefully & Intentionally Guard Your Heart
For others of us - like my former self - guarding our hearts is the hardest thing in the world to do because we're so starved for affection, affirmation, and attention that we think it's love the first time the possibility presents itself. We don't temper our excitement with a critical eye, prayer, or wise counsel. We write off red flags as things that can be fixed later instead of warnings.
We doom ourselves to becoming the architects of our own broken hearts because we have not mastered wisdom in love and life.
Guarding your heart is:
- Being so spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and physically in tune with yourself, God, and others that you can see/feel clear what is meant for you and what is not.
- The ability to accept what is best for you even when you don't necessarily want it and the ability to let go of what will bring nothing good to your life no matter how much it intrigues you.
- An act of intercession on your own behalf.
- The mastery of discipline.
- A current choice for a long-term reward.
Guarding your heart is the discernment and proactivity that allows you to experience life and love for what they are and not what you want them to be. Guarding our hearts healthily allows us to feel what we need to feel when we go through the tough stuff. It allows us to be able to process it with clarity in God's presence and the company of those who love us instead of isolating.
Inside of wisely-intentioned heart-guarding stands a belief in your worth and your choices. This will allow you the freedom to walk away from anything that does not serve your best self with no feeling of loss or regret.
Featured image by Getty Images.
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