(un)Guarding Your Heart: The Reality of Costly Love

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” –Ephesians 5:1-2 (NASB)

My mind yet again is on love.

Last night, I read an update on a friend’s blog about having to let go of the child they were hoping to adopt. I recently had the opportunity to take photos of them simply for their personal keepsakes and memories. We spent a good part of the day together, and in light of all of the time I’ve spent editing images of this little one, looking into those big beautiful eyes, joyous smile, delightful little hands, and glowing cheeks, I found my own heart melting. How I wished the situation could be different for my friends! But less than 6 months after meeting this little one, they have to say goodbye. It’s simply heartbreaking

Take Care to “Guard Your Heart”

Once I finished reading her post, I found my heart growing increasingly sad for them, but soon after I remembered a conversation we had later that day. When our session ended and we were packing things away, we started talking about what the future held for their family and this little one. It was definitely uncertain and the outcome didn’t look like it was going to be in their favor. They said that during the process, some had advised them to be careful to “guard their heart” and not get too attached, but my friends balked at this idea. These people may have meant well, but what a bunch of rubbish! After all, if my friends were going to care for this little one, to love this child, how could they truly do so with detached hearts?

My own heart swelled with admiration and kinship at their response. You see, I agree with them. I told them that I thought “guard your heart” was one of the most notoriously misused verses in Proverbs, and I’m growing to hate the abused phrase and its unwittingly pretexted meaning.

What Does it Really Mean?

“Guard your heart…” What do we really mean by that? As a single woman, I often hear it used as a well-meaning warning or the end of a cautionary tale, “…and then he ended up hurting her. See, she should have guarded her heart.” Ugh. Every time my stomach would turn. But why?

I think it’s because when someone says “guard your heart,” it usually means shut down your emotions, hide your real feelings, don’t be vulnerable, limit how much of yourself you are so that you don’t get hurt/wounded/whatever. Each time you do get hurt, you’re not doing a good job of guarding your heart and it means you won’t have your full heart to give when you actually do need to use it (whenever that might be…), so make sure you guard, guard, guard! After all, it is <pause for effect>… “the wellspring of life”!

Yes, I know. I’m being a little cheeky, but I think this topic deserves some cheek. I think with our well-meaning attempts to console broken hearts and counsel friends and family with wisdom, we’ve removed this verse from its important context.  The “guard your heart” verse is couched in a true story about a seemingly reckless, prodigal God who loves unreservedly, with abandon and without hesitation.

Called to a Different Road

“Guard your heart…” Let’s be real, God never called us to self-protective, self-serving measures, looking out for ourselves alone and not for the other. The reality is that God calls us to love like He loved, humbly, fully, freely, wisely but never guardedly. Let’s review: Do you think that the same God who consistently pursued the wayward, faithless bride of a people (Israel) was “guarding His heart”? Who created men and women with the choice to love Him or turn their back on Him? Who gave His only Son to die though we did reject Him?

No, God calls us to a different road, a way of living that means our death and His life coursing through our veins. Just like Paul reminds us how God demonstrated love: “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-11). Jesus died for the ungrateful, the unfaithful, the broken, the outcast, the selfish, the sinful… us. He didn’t hold our failings against us (2 Corinthians 5:18). And He did it because He loved us. It cost Him everything, but Jesus humbly poured Himself out in obedience, even though it meant His death on the cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

Following Christ means we will suffer (1 Peter 4:12). Loving like Christ means we will be called to give to the point of discomfort and pain, all while entrusting ourselves to God, the One Who judges fairly (1 Peter 2:2-25). Anything short of this is not love. Plain and simple. Maybe it’s “a fancy or a feeling,” to recall a quoted line in Sense and Sensibility, but it is not love. Based on what God says about it, love that doesn’t exact something from you, cost something, no matter how it appears is not really love at all (1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1).

Wrestling with Wounds and “Shoulds”

As I reflect on my own life and the bruises, wounds, and pains I’ve experienced, a very real part of me thinks, ” I should have ______________” to avoid it. Fill in the blank with whatever suits you:

I shouldn’t have been so open with him – at least that’s what other people keep telling me. I wish I had done things differently.

I should have just avoided that girl and shut her out once I discovered her failings could hurt me, then I wouldn’t feel this aftermath of pain.

I should have just kept to myself instead of going out of my way to reach out to him. He didn’t even respond.

I shouldn’t have given of myself to so-and-so because maybe she didn’t really deserve it – after all, what did I get in return?

I shouldn’t have let myself care so deeply for him. In the end he just disappointed me…again. Now I’m left with a broken heart, and what’s worse is that I still care about him. I’m struggling with that, and it’s my fault.

Sound familiar? You’re not alone – I can relate. Yes, these feelings and thoughts are real, but we need to ask: Does any of that sound Christ like? How much of it is focused on Him? How much of it is preoccupied with self? Think about Him saying these things about you.

Uncomfortable, isn’t it? But the beauty is…

He never would.

And that is what I’m discovering is love.

Love Is…

In Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says love is something radically different than what we conveniently believe (when we’re on the giving end that is). He says not only to love those who love us, but to love those who could care less about us. He says to love those who mistreat us, gossip about us, even hate us. Christ beckons us to bless those who curse us, to pray for those who make us feel used, to give of ourselves to those who can’t (or won’t) give to us in return. Then He likens all this to how the Father is with us, the One Who abundantly loves, gives, and forgives those who seek Him and those who won’t give Him the time of day.

And then He tells us to do the same.

And It’s Costly

Love is risky business: It costs everything. But think of what it would be like if you loved like this. How much freedom would it bring? Recall the times you saw people love like this. How much hope did it stir? Imagine how our world would look differently if we loved like this. How would people respond?

In our world, our society, we would be called fools to love like Jesus does, but in God’s economy, what is true wisdom the world often deems foolish (1 Corinthians 2). We must remember that His wisdom is not our natural way of living. Let us rather be called “fools” for His sake than “wise” in the eyes of man.

I’ve been pondering this quite a bit and asking God to help me love like He does, and I realize to love like this means it’s going to cost me. I have to die to myself and let God’s Spirit empower me to love like this (Galatians 2:20; 5:16-24). I’m human just like you. I have difficulty with loving others too. Sometimes I do well; at others I fail miserably. I simply can’t do it; I feel like the struggle in my flesh too great to master.

But praise God! Through the atoning, redeeming sacrifice of Jesus and the gift of His new life, He made set us free to live like this, love like this (Ephesians 1:3-14). God knows what He’s asking is hard and that we can’t do it alone, so He gives us the power to do it. The work and the fruit of the Holy Spirit in us, Christ in us, enables us to love others with the love of God. We can expect to fail…often, but we keep running to Him for the strength and grace to try again. As we love God first, fully and truly, dying daily as we take up our cross, seeking Him and His Kingdom in our lives in response to the Great Commandment, we will see Him transforming and enabling us to love others in miraculous ways. We’ll even want to! And it’s our love for Him and for one another that the world needs to see so that they can come to Jesus and experience His transformative love too.

So, please, please – let’s have no more of “guarding your heart” as a thinly-veiled excuse for self-protection. Instead, let us seek refuge for our hearts in the Rock that is higher, the God Who is stronger, the faithful and righteous King, trusting Him to love and hold our hearts as we boldly, humbly empty ourselves in response to His leading.

One thought on “(un)Guarding Your Heart: The Reality of Costly Love

  1. So true, Sheree! Zach and I have talked a lot about how Jesus doesn’t model self-preservation at all—rather, He gave of Himself whenever He could. By the way, LOVE how structured your blog posts are. Sheesh, girl!

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