Why I Don’t “Guard my Heart” Anymore

Stephen and I were going to get married. Well, there wasn’t a ring or anything. And OK, we weren’t actually dating. But we would get married one day, I was convinced of it.

When we weren’t spending hours alone together, we were with our shared group of friends. We texted each other inside jokes while we were in the same room. One night, as we sat pressed together on the couch, he wrote a song for me on the guitar.

In our small campus ministry, who-likes-who was always everybody’s business. I overheard the whispers: “What’s going on with Stephen and Sammi?” When the bold ones asked me directly, I brushed it off cooly. “We’re just friends,” I would say. “I think I like him, but I’m trying to guard my heart.”

According to me and my group of friends, “guarding your heart” meant:

  • Do not give away “pieces” of your heart to anyone other than your future spouse.
  • Do not allow yourself to feel affection for someone too deeply, to prevent future heartache.
  • Do not talk to the opposite gender about anything personal, spiritual or emotional.
  • For girls: wait patiently for a guy to pursue you and keep your true feelings hidden until he does.

So, in the name of guarding hearts, Stephen and I stayed friends… until we weren’t friends anymore because he started dating someone else.

In spite of trying to protect it, my heart was shattered. I then immediately felt shame. I had let him in. I had been too vulnerable. I had gotten too attached. This is what happens when you let your guard down, I told myself. 

It’s the same message I got from the Christian books I read, from my Christian friends, and from the Christian culture surrounding me. They all told me that heartbreak was the result of some kind of deficiency in my faith.

But can we take a look at the verse where “guard your heart” actually comes from? 

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

“Heart” in this verse means our “inner man,” our soul, the deepest part of us. In context, the verse is telling us to be vigilant in protecting our identity, to keep ourselves from corruption and evil. It has nothing to do with dating. When we use it to mean, “Be careful not to crush too hard on the cutie in your history class,” we are cheapening a deep and important biblical concept.

I hate to break it to the purity-ring-wearing-I-Kissed-Dating-Goodbye-reading crowd, but guarding your heart is not a magic formula to avoid heartbreak. 

So, let’s re-examine “guarding your heart.”

  • It isn’t biblical to say that our hearts can be broken into pieces and that we can never get back the parts we give away.
  • It isn’t biblical to run from or hide our emotions.
  • It isn’t biblical to refuse to engage with half of God’s people because we are afraid of leading them on or being led on.
  • It isn’t biblical for a woman to feel stifled to express her feelings for fear of “initiating.”

Extending forgiveness is costly. Turning the other cheek stings. Having compassion on the harassed and helpless is difficult and complicated. Not to mention loving our enemies. Do you think we can walk away from any of these commands unscathed?

The only way to truly keep our hearts protected is to never love at all.

When I look back on my friendship with Stephen, I do have regrets. I regret placing my confidence in him desiring me. I regret trying to make myself into the kind of girl he would want instead of being myself. I regret placing myself under a rigid set of rules without examining their soundness with Scripture.

Though I don’t regret falling for him, I regret never telling him how I felt. Not because I wish we would have been together, but because that’s what it means to love.

Telling him would have opened me up to rejection and pain. But you know what? It would have been worth it.

Photo (Flickr CC) by Nicole Cas.