Christian colloquialisms come and go all the time. Remember WWJD? And the “Relationship, Not Religion” movement? Anyone who has been in a youth group or gone on a Singles’ Retreat in the past decade has probably heard about the importance of Guarding Your Heart. But what does this even mean?
Don’t get me wrong. As a Vulcan-like INTJ who has been wounded and rejected more than I care to remember, I’m all about guarding my heart. Especially if that means not letting people in, not really caring about people and generally being a hermit with barriers so thick and vicious, they put Maleficent’s wall of thorns to shame. I’m all about emotional walls. And physical walls. And avoiding human interaction as much as possible.
Only, I’m pretty sure that’s not what God had in mind with this whole guard your heart thing. A lot of Christians define guarding your heart as being slow to emotionally invest in relationships (particularly romantic relationships) until you know the person really well, some level of commitment has been established, etc. It can be interpreted as suppressing emotions so that one doesn’t get swept away by feelings, which come and go and change. “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9) – so don’t trust it. Trust your brain; reason; logic.
Again, as an INTJ, I’m all about discarding my feelings and relying on my mind, especially since I’ve been hurt. But Bryan has been challenging me on this. He recently asked me, “Did Jesus guard his heart in the way you describe it?”
No. No, he didn’t.
Jesus loved unconditionally. Unreservedly. He ate with tax collectors and prostitutes – the perceived scum of society – even though they could offer him nothing in return and rather, this action put him at odds with the influential Pharisees. Jesus healed a group of ten lepers, knowing that only one would even come back to thank him. He invested time and energy and his legacy to a group of disciples who would betray him, abandon him, misunderstand him and deny ever knowing him. Was Jesus foolish and unwise? No, he is omniscient. But he chose to love and serve the unlovely and ungrateful not because of what it would do for him, but because of Who He Is. Because love is the better way.
In the book of Philippians, the Apostle Paul prayed for the church at Philippi, “that your love may abound more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may discern the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Phil 1:9-10).
When we talk about the intensity of love, we tend to contrast it with intellect; it’s just crazy, indescribable emotions. But this is a naive perspective. Knowledge fuels the affections. Love seeks increased knowledge of the beloved. And Paul prayed that the Philippians would have an informed love – love that would abound more and more with knowledge.
Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love God and love people. God wants to simultaneously appeal to our intellect and to engage our emotions. God cares about what we do, based on how we feel. God cares about the motivation behind our actions. Some people would say that love is a verb; love is actions. But these actions are not love; they are simply vehicles through which love is expressed. Love is the motive behind what we do. And the motive matters. Imagine a husband who is faithful out of duty, versus a husband who is faithful out of a passionate love for his wife. This is the difference between suppressing our emotions and engaging them.
So how do we reconcile guarding our hearts and loving unreservedly? In the original Hebrew, the word used for heart (leb – לֵב) actually meant the seat of decision making. This word for heart encompasses all of the inner man: the mind, the will, and the heart. So we are called to love, but to engage in an informed love; to engage our emotions in living out a love that abounds more and more with knowledge.
“I have been challenged and changed, reminded that love is that simple answer to so many of our hardest questions… We often ask God to show up. We pray prayers of rescue. Perhaps God would ask us to be that rescue… We are only asked to love, to offer hope to the many hopeless. We don’t get to choose all the endings, but we are asked to play the rescuers. We won’t solve all mysteries, and our hearts will certainly break in such a vulnerable life, but it is the best way. We were made to be lovers bold in broken places, pouring ourselves out again and again until we’re called home.” -Jamie Tworkowski