I stopped guarding my heart ten years ago.

My grandpa died unexpectedly when I was 17. Suddenly, the man who poured hours into knowing his grandkids through zoo outings, cheering at T-ball games, and yard work together was gone. It was the first loss I had to process like an adult. In a lot of ways, I think it’s what made me really grow up.

One of the things I remember most about those tough weeks for my family is my own reeling over the fact that I didn’t tell him often enough that I loved him. I probably hadn’t said those words since I was small enough to be carried from the seat of his giant pickup truck to the steps of the house, my face smeared with the ice cream he’d buy me at the slightest request.

And they were all I wanted to say.

As with all significant events in my life, I bought a new journal, hoping for a fresh start and new inspiration. I didn’t end up writing much in it, but I wrote one thing in there that has been written on my life since: I will never withhold the words I love you. When they are true, I will speak them. This applies to family, friends, boyfriends, puppies, and strangers.

I made that small commitment with a heart that had been ripped open by new grief. I didn’t even really understand what I was saying or if it would stick. But it did. I’ve gone back to that open-hearted idea over and over in the past ten years. Every time I want to shut down emotionally, every time I’m feeling bashful or embarrassed by my affections, every time I’m scared I’ll love something I can’t have, every time a wave of unexpected grief knocks me down again, I go back to that scrawled choice. I’m committed to a whole heart in all relationships, not just romance.

See, I grew up in a Christian culture where the idea of “Guarding Your Heart” was not just in vogue, but an obsession.

When a teenage peer would gigglingly admit a crush, us girls would question whether she was “guarding” her heart and remind her of Proverbs 4:23. When she’d cry over losing that crush, it was more proof that “saving” your heart for your future spouse was the only way to go. That was the only way to really avoid pain in romance.

We went to conferences and read books where they told us exactly how to “guard our hearts.” We learned rules like: don’t allow yourself to have crushes, wait and pray, never be alone with the opposite sex, don’t go out on taco dates, only dress “modestly,” don’t have a romantic fantasy except for that Mr. Darcy/Jesus one, etc. We ripped giant paper hearts into pieces and agreed that they could never really be put back together and felt sorry for everyone who had squandered their limited love on mere boyfriends.

Until I discovered that you can’t shut down part of your heart and not shut down all of it. You can’t block all the negative emotions and still have enough space for the positive ones. It’s impossible to have a life overflowing with love in all areas when your heart is blocked up with fear and shame.

I get the appeal of the “Guard Your Heart” message.

It offers us a pain free life if we follow the rules, and that sounds really great. It promises us that if we don’t have crushes, or at least don’t admit them, if we never say ‘I love you’ first, if we act detached until the last possible moment before commitment, if we just get married instead of dating, we’ll never have to experience heartbreak and we’ll be okay. It guarantees in a neat, repeatable phrase that we will be in control.

But it’s a lie.

At the root of any balanced, healthy, true relationship, at the heart of every heart, is vulnerability. And vulnerability can’t exist when you are focused on living out a particular set of rules. The rules for “Guarding Your Heart” are both fear based and ambiguous and, as with most relationship rules, ultimately produce shame, not health. They breed shame because we can’t live up to the ideal put for us: that we can be whole people while avoiding the potential for pain. Shame and vulnerability are antithetical concepts; they cannot coexist.

“Guarding Your Heart” is a system that perpetuates shame – the very thing most destructive to what it promises us – healthy relationships.

In addition to crippling shame, the “Guard Your Heart” rules offer us a false understanding of relational results. They tell us that the best relationships don’t involve pain, or only allow it in specific, controlled instances. But the best relationships actually offer us the safety and love to explore the full variety of human experience and be present in all circumstances, even the uncomfortable ones. They offer us opportunities to actively grow, to recover from pain, and pursue love.

All relationships invite our hearts to walk through disappointment and joy, the more intimate the relationship, the greater the capacity for both those things.

If you really want to be in healthy relationships, stop “guarding” your heart and start using it. Walk through the mistakes you will inevitably make and learn from them. Find a community of people who are practicing vulnerability. Fill your heart full of the love that makes it come alive, full of grace, full of determination to walk with pain rather than around it, and you will be much better off than any heart that has been merely “guarded.” If you want to learn vulnerability, allow God to really truly love you, exactly where you are, with a love that disintegrates shame.

My capacity to love has grown exponentially since I stopped guarding my heart.

I’ve experienced heartbreak and pain, disappointment and devastation, I’ve been nearly enveloped by darkness and I have lost my faith. I have loved people who have hurt me. I have hurt people who have loved me. I am still walking out the difficult steps of particular grief and some days it hurts like all the swear words.

But, I’ve discovered that my heart is stronger than pain. My ability to wholeheartedly love and be loved is ever expanding. I have felt so much joy, peace, affection, freedom from shame, and I have found a faith worth living out every day. I can proclaim my love without fear. I have a heart that is full of redemption.

I have a heart that is unguarded and absolutely alive.

Speak up! Have you ever tried to “guard” your heart? How did it work out? What does living whole heartedly look like for you?

[photo: A Literal Girl, Creative Commons]

  • http://twitter.com/mattschaar m@

    “Every time I want to shut down emotionally, every time I’m feeling bashful or embarrassed by my affections, every time I’m scared I’ll love something I can’t have, every time a wave of unexpected grief knocks me down again, I go back to that scrawled choice. I’m committed to a whole heart in all relationships, not just romance.”

    Incredibly timely thoughts, Darrell. And sadly, those of us that are on this path of vulnerability and authenticity need to accept the disappointment that many people really aren’t. There’s a bevy of corks plugging that flowing spigot of love that emanates when we accept our heart’s condition before God and others.

    Disclaimer: I’ve found Brene Brown’s writings on the subject of authenticity to often be more palatable than those written in Christian self-help. But what her writing did was open my eyes to the true degree of authentic love Christ exhibited toward each of us — and to realize that if I can pin my hopes on Him to carry the burden of my authenticity, then perhaps I won’t be so disappointed that other’s can’t, won’t, or don’t — nor can I, fully, do the same despite my desire to do so. It’s a journey.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks, M@! I was introduced to Brene Brown’s work this year and have been eating it up. She’s speaking amazing truth and has great research and presentation.

      You present such an awesome boundary here and I’m so on board: “I can pin my hopes on Him to carry the burden of my authenticity, then perhaps I won’t be so disappointed that other’s can’t, won’t, or don’t — nor can I, fully, do the same despite my desire to do so. It’s a journey.” This hope in Christ allows us to see other people as people and love them regardless of whether or not they become like us or the way we’d like them to be. This is a primary tenant of giving up control and finding freedom. Thank you for sharing. You encouraged me!

  • Aurora

    It would help if you explained what the proverb really means so i don’t walk away thinking the Bible is crap.

    • Sarah

      Once I read that guarding your heart as the bible asks, is to guard it from sin, like anger, greed, etc. or out of your heart you will become those things and hurt other people. If you let good into your heart, it will flow out of you and bring life.

      • http://twitter.com/claygirlsings Janice S

        This is the way I was taught as well. Guard your heart should not mean don’t let love or anyone inside. It refers to being on guard and not letting just anything in without discernment. Including, but not limited to, bad thoughts, anger, bitterness, malice, gossip, etc.
        I can even understand telling a preteen or teen to guard her heart from adolescent boys who have no idea about love at that age. It’s sad when churches keep teaching that as a way of life even for adults.

      • Mojo

        It’s interesting to note too that the ancients (wrongly) believed the physical heart was the source of thoughts and emotions. They hadn’t quite figured out what the brain was yet. So often when the bible and other ancient texts say heart they actually mean the brain or the mind.

        In the context of the chapter which focuses on the intellect, you could paraphrase what it is saying as “Protect your mind. Fill it with good things like wisdom and knowledge and keep it from evil. For out of your mind comes the essence of your life.”

    • http://www.michaelvuke.com/ Michael Vuke

      Think of it this way: We are to “guard our hearts”, but not in the way that we have been told to. The version of ‘guarding our hearts’ that is taught is more akin to ‘sequestering your heart and locking it away’, which is wrong.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Hi Aurora, I’m sorry if I gave you the impression that I think the Bible is crap. I definitely don’t think that!

      My friend Joy at Love and Respect Now has a great focusing more on this scriptural passage and I’m sure you could find some other excellent commentaries as well! Check out what Joy has to say: http://loveandrespectnow.com/2011/06/ask-joy-guard-your-heart/

  • Sarah

    God used this to speak to me right where I am today. thank you for being His instrument.

  • http://twitter.com/Goolahgirl Sarah Faith

    Good message but it sounds like you’re disagreeing with scripture. I have a theory about guarding my heart: Jesus guards my heart and mind by His peace when i submit all my worries and requests to Him. WE guard our hearts and thus slowly kill them. Let Jesus do it and we can have peace as we learn to love like He does. Scripture reference for what I’ve said is: Philippians 4:6-7

    Grace and peace, Sarah

    • http://twitter.com/mattschaar m@

      I don’t think she’s disagreeing with Scripture, Sarah, rather she’s lamenting the way we’ve bastardized the concept of it by presuming tons of self-help writers, pastors, and Joshua Harris have this one nailed down. :)

      • http://twitter.com/Goolahgirl Sarah Faith

        I just want to point out that I don’t think she IS disagreeing with scripture, but she needs to clarify that, since she references scripture from the beginning. From one blogger to another, I love her heart in this! But she needs to explain how it’s Godly for her to walk in this conclusion for her readers.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=512733537 Eve Marie Barner Gleason

      Phil 4:4-7
      “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

      • NG

        Exactly. I wish I had learned the ‘guard your heart’ a bit better than I have. Even while Christian, I have managed to fall in love so deeply and passionately, only to have myself cruelly rejected and shamed. I wish I would have been more discerning – the pain was absolutely NOT worth it, and there was nothing good in it, either for me, or for the man.

        Everyone keeps on telling the same ‘do not shut your heart’, and of course, we should not become dried up and bitter. But emotional attachments should be deserved only for those who are trustworthy. The devastation that unhappy love brings – and all the rejection and judgement – is absolutely not life-giving; it wastes your energy and only destroys.

        True love brings life, false emotional attachements bring death.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Hi Sarah, thanks for commenting! I’m sorry if this didn’t come across clearly, but my intention was to disagree with poor scriptural interpretation and shame-based application of scripture, not scripture itself. I have a very high view of the word of God and hate to see the Bible reduced to catch phrases or single verses that are supposed to explain some very complex things.

      The way we tend to use the “guard your heart” phrase or the way I was taught the “Guard Your Heart Rules” had very little to do with the actual scripture tied to it. There are some great commentaries out there explaining this verse, and my friend Joy at Love and Respect Now has also done a great video post that focuses more on this scripture passage: http://loveandrespectnow.com/2011/06/ask-joy-guard-your-heart/

      That said, there just wasn’t space to include a lot of scripture in this post. I appreciate bloggers who are focusing on that, but my focus here is usually more about my story and experience. I’m grateful that there’s space on the internet and in the church for both types of columns! :)

      • Sarah :)

        I like this clarifying comment. I read your article, and to be honest, I didn’t really agree – not because I think you’re wrong, but because it doesn’t vibe with my experience. I would reject (and I think, was taught to reject) all those things you describe as unbiblical, but for me, growing up and being told to “guard my heart” always seemed to be in the context of something like: “don’t go overboard with your romantic emotions on relationships before you are able to really pursue them. Don’t go to home base emotionally if you aren’t available to go there physically (able/old enough/ready to pursue marriage)”. Of course, I’m an extrovert, and I’ve never struggled with sharing parts of myself, my emotions and my life, but with OVERsharing or – yes, getting too emotionally attached to males with whom I should not have (had) a romantic relationship.

        So anyway, I’m not disagreeing with your point. But, I do think your point does not apply to me. And maybe other extroverts – who knows. I don’t know what its like to be an introvert at all.

  • Ruth

    Thanks for sharing, Emily!

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you for reading, Ruth!

  • http://twitter.com/bwitt722 Brianna DeWitt

    I think Proverbs 4:23 gets so abused. Who decided it should be applied solely to relationships, and specifically to romantic ones? It seems to be much more about wisdom and discernment in all areas of life. Discernment may lead us to say no to certain relationships, whether they be friendships, dating relationships, or others, but fear of being hurt shouldn’t be our reason for doing so.

    From personal experience, I almost walked away from a friendship because I was hurting so badly. Try though I did, I couldn’t find anywhere in the Bible that told me to STOP loving a friend out of self-preservation–because it’s not in there. Mother Theresa’s quote seems to fit well here: “I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.”

    • http://twitter.com/mattschaar m@

      It’s true, Brianna — there’s no exit strategy. :)

      However, I think Matthew 18 is attempting to clarify just how much we are expected to invest in a relationship in the midst of disagreement. It gives us guidance as to the two-way nature of tumultuous relationships; in this instance, it seems apparent that if one party refuses to acknowledge that they have wronged the other, it requires escalation with the ultimate and final solution being separation.

      As a personal example, I walked away from an extremely painful situation after repeatedly telling someone that her actions were hurting me; when she presumed the fault was with my own interpretation of her intent, I realized that it was time to set a clear boundary, and because we didn’t have many mutual friends that could witness this situation, the opportunity to elevate the situation to a higher order wasn’t possible.

      Perhaps we could apply Mother Teresa’s words to this situation thusly: when you’ve loved someone that’s hurt you, and there’s no more room to love them, then we may just need to find another hurting soul or two to pour our love into.

      • http://twitter.com/bwitt722 Brianna DeWitt

        That’s a good point. I DO think there are relationships we sometimes need to walk away from sometimes, and it sounds like yours was such a case. Every situation is unique, and requires a large amount of wisdom and discernment as to how to rightly apply the idea of “guarding your heart.”

        In my case, however, my reasons for walking away would have been motivated out of fear and a desire for self-preservation. I don’t think these are valid, wise, or even biblical, reasons for ending a relationship. “Guarding my heart” had become a scapegoat for avoiding a difficult situation that ultimately ended up being redeemed.

  • Sarah

    My grandpa died when I was 18. He sounds very similar to your grandpa. It was also the first big loss I had as well. I loved him so much and was so crushed by his death it made me completely shut down for a long time. Guarding my heart would’ve been a positive step at the time. Now that years have passed and I’ve experienced more I’m learning to live whole heatedly. It’s a process for me. Thank you for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/voluntaryaaron Aaron

    In my situation it was the ‘I wasn’t ready to get married so I’m not going to date’ and ‘why do I really need friends anyway’ since I don’t really like the Christian kids I knew. I wasn’t guarding my heart from anything but love and was opening it up to hardness and indifference. Now I suppose I am in the situation where I guard my heart closely against feelings of hate, anger, self-pity, but open it up more and more, to friendship, love, peace, beauty. Our hearts are supposed to be those things. With Christian women I am relatively unguarded because I hope we are both working towards beautiful things, in Him, whatever the end result. From our hearts flow the springs of life, flowing springs shouldn’t be shut up but do need to be harnessed and directed. Great post, Emily, had me thinking a lot about the last couple of years in my life.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you for this, Aaron. I respect the way you engage and have supported so many of these discussions with your thoughtful comments. I’m glad we’re friends! Thank you for recognizing that I’m not arguing for a boundary-less life, but a heart that is learning to recognize and practice openness.

  • Pingback: to guard your heart | onto the waves

  • HisFireFly

    “If you really want to be in healthy relationships, stop “guarding” your heart and start using it.” This is the command the Lord gave to me — and I continue to seek others who will live life in like manner. Fantastic post!

    • Emily_Maynard

      Love this, FireFly! Thank you for sharing. I hope you find many others who are willing to be vulnerable in the same way.

  • http://www.michaelvuke.com/ Michael Vuke

    Once again, you’ve knocked the ball out of the park, Emily! I’m slowly learning what you are talking about; for so long I was convinced that I would be a worse husband for someone if I had been in a romantic relationship with someone else. Yet we call Jesus the Great Physician–if he made a blind person see, surely he can heal a scarred heart.

    To those wondering about her advocacy of not guarding your heart even though Proverbs says too, I think it all boils down to being “As wise as serpents and gentle as doves”; don’t be foolish with your heart, but don’t sequester it either. When we in the American church advocate ‘guarding your heart’ we usually mean “lock it up in the middle of a castle where nothing can get to it that could ever scratch it”, not the appropriate guarding of “don’t be stupid with your heart”.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Michael, thank you so much for the complement. I’m glad I’m better at words than I am with an actual baseball bat! (hear that whiff? Yep, that was me not even hitting the ball. Except metaphorically. Okay, whatever.)

      I think the important thing to remember is that Proverbs isn’t saying “guard your heart” in the way we have simplified it to mean. It doesn’t mean “follow the rules and you’ll never have problems.” I believe the meaning and application is much closer to this: “If you really want to be in healthy relationships, stop “guarding” your heart and start using it. Walk through the mistakes you will inevitably make and learn from them. Find a community of people who are practicing vulnerability. Fill your heart full of the love that makes it come alive, full of grace, full of determination to walk with pain rather than around it, and you will be much better off than any heart that has been merely “guarded.” If you want to learn vulnerability, allow God to really truly love you, exactly where you are, with a love that disintegrates shame.”

      I think it’s vital that we first allow God to fill our hearts full of unconditional, radical love.

  • http://www.bethanysuckrow.com/ Bethany Suckrow

    I wish I had these words as a teenager, Em. Such good stuff here. I love you. :-D

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks, B! Your work is full of vulnerability and such beauty. Love you too. :)

  • http://www.cross-platform.org John Hanan

    I appreciate what you’re saying, that we need to love without reservation out of fear of being hurt. But suggesting that this can only be accomplished by living with an unguarded heart is a stretch, I think.

    Maybe I’m missing the subtext or something (I’m a little thick like that), but the idea you’re presenting here seems to be “If I guard my heart, I am safe and cannot fully love, but man cannot live without his heart and so it’s not something I can do. Since we cannot live completely guarded anyway, let’s live without guarding it at all, and we’ll wind up more capable of truly loving people anyway. Win-win. Even if we’re more vulnerable, we’re able to live and love better.”

    It appears to directly contradict Scripture, and removes Christ from the equation (if all that was keeping me from truly loving people and entering into healthy relationships was my own restraint – my own “guarding” of my heart, who needs God?). I don’t think this is where your heart is on this.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but you’re not advocating leaving your heart unguarded so much as unhidden. If we’ll trust Christ with the job of guarding our hearts – giving them fully over to Him and allowing Him to decide who gets to take possession of them – we are free to love others without fear of being truly hurt, without withholding the love that God has commanded us to share with our neighbors. Our hearts aren’t hidden away from the world, but also aren’t wide open to the pain and damage a life completely unguarded can lead to.

    Does that sound about right?

    • Emily_Maynard

      Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment! I’m really glad you’re interacting with this topic and many others. I’m sorry I didn’t present these ideas clearly in this case, because I’m certainly not meaning to advocate the very unhealthy heart relationship you initially took from this post.

      I want to move away from the extremes that would say we should “guard” our hearts in a way that ultimately shuts them down or protects them from pain OR the extreme that would say that nothing we do has consequences or that endless pain is best for us. What I advocate is that each person is able to use their heart and enter into relationships with wisdom and trust in their ability to give and recieve. I reject the ideas that are overwhelmingly negative towards emotions, attempt to shame those who love people they don’t marry, or are driven by fear. I found the common ideas behind the “guard your heart” message (a misinterpretation of scripture) to meet this criteria, and this story describes part of my move towards a more “whole-hearted” understanding of relationships and grace.

      I don’t believe that the healthy response to the message of “guard your heart” is to “never guard your heart,” and that’s why I didn’t say that. I believe the alternative is growing in maturity by using our hearts. I describe what I mean by this here:
      “If you really want to be in healthy relationships, stop “guarding” your heart and start using it. Walk through the mistakes you will inevitably make and learn from them. Find a community of people who are practicing vulnerability. Fill your heart full of the love that makes it come alive, full of grace, full of determination to walk with pain rather than around it, and you will be much better off than any heart that has been merely “guarded.” If you want to learn vulnerability, allow God to really truly love you, exactly where you are, with a love that disintegrates shame.”

      What I’m proposing instead of “guarding” or “unguarding” is rooted in experiences, growth, and healthy boundaries. Boundaries are essential to mature personhood and the personal autonomy that God gives each of us. They are for our benefit and the benefit of our communities. I’d suggest reading the book “Boundaries” by Drs. Cloud and Townsend for a fantastic primer and explanation of these concepts. If you prefer to use the terms “hidden” or “unhidden” heart, go ahead, but they weren’t the words I chose to use.

      I agree with you that for Christians, relationship with Jesus is essential to our growth and health.

      Hope that helps clear up a few things rather than muddying this conversation more. Again, this is a huge topic and there is much room for discussion of terms, practices, etc. I’m all for that, as it builds mature personhood and faith in each of us.

      So glad you’re joining in!


  • Brooke

    You just hit on something CS Lewis said in The Four Loves. He wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

    I know that in my life I’ve allowed my heart to grow hardened rather than to risk love. It’s sad that we view love, not just in the romantic sense, as a risk rather than seeing the beautiful and rewarding aspects of it. I don’t think one of the first questions God will ask us at the gates of heaven is “How well did you guard your heart?” But I do think he’ll ask us, “How well did you spend yourself in the name of love?”

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks, Brooke! I love that Lewis quote. It definitely influenced my original decision to open my heart up 10 years ago. I keep going back to it and would have included it in the post but, you know…there’s always more to say! (M@ mentioned Brene Brown, who is a more recent influence on this topic for me, but absolutely amazing! Have you checked out her work on vulnerability and shame?)

      I’m grateful for a God who invites me into both boundaries and giving.

      • Brooke

        I’ve seen a TED Talk of her’s but I haven’t read anything by her. Adding to the amazon wish list now. :)

        • Emily_Maynard

          Meeeee too! Library. :)

        • http://twitter.com/KellyW2010 KellyW2010

          Wee bit of advice: buy and read now, don’t save for a wish list. Amazing work on shame, vulnerability and resilience! (I thought I heard shades of Brene in this post, well done!)

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  • D

    I’ve guarded my heart for my entire life. A home life disrupted repeatedly by divorce really helps build those walls. It worked really well until I realized that it was only working in the sense that it wasn’t working at all.

    I recently met a guy who has become a very very dear friend and I decided that I wanted to be open and honest in this friendship in a way I never had been with any guy ever. It’s constantly a learning process and he hurts me and I most definitely have hurt him. In the end, though, I know that we are open/honest with each other and that we both love each other. When he told me he loved me in response to my saying the words, I cried with joy and wonder at the way God has blessed our relationship. And while I don’t know where we’ll both be in a few years, I do know that I can enjoy the time I’m spending being unguarded with this person. I’ve never felt as blessed as I feel when I’m able to share with him and know that he loves me. Our relationship has become a reflection of God’s love and I pray that He is glorified in our two unguarded hearts.

  • Steve martin

    I thank God that Jesus didn’t guard his heart, but poured it out, for those who hated him.

    We ought do our best to live our lives outward, as painful as it often is.

    Thanks, very much.


    • Emily_Maynard

      Thanks, Steve. I appreciate you reading and I’m glad you enjoyed it.

    • http://twitter.com/JasonPCC Jason Price

      Jesus did gaurd his heart. John 2:24…But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people

  • Kim M.

    You are my favorite. I appreciate your open heart and awareness so much. I really hope that I run into you someday in this tiny town called Portland.

    Thanks again for your vulnerability, this was exactly what I needed to read today.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Kim, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m amazed that this piece spoke to you. It’s surprising how much goodness happens when we’re willing to be vulnerable. I’d love to run into you.

  • http://everydayawe.com/ Stephanie Spencer

    Part of the problem is that we misunderstand the word “heart.’ The Israelite people, to whom the book of Proverbs what written, would not have understood heart to mean the same thing we do. This note on Proverbs 4:20-27 is from the ESV Study Bible, “‘Heart’ in Proverbs regularly refers to the center of one’s inner life and orientation to God, from which a person does all thinking, feeling, and choosing. Taking words of wisdom into the heart is vital, and wisdom’s presence in the heart is worth guarding because out of the heart flow all the thoughts and words and choices of a person’s life.” I do not believe Proverbs 4:23 is about vulnerability. I believe it is about the wisdom of living according to God’s standards and not the world’s, which means being thoughtful about what is influencing us.

    I applaud you for pointing out the way connecting this verse to emotions & vulnerability in relationships is damaging.

    Unfortunately, this is a lesson I didn’t learn until after I was married. I kept all my emotions guarded, and had to learn to unlock them. (I wrote about that awhile ago for Good Women Project. If you’re interested, here’s the link: http://goodwomenproject.com/emotions/learning-to-let-go-of-my-emotional-suitcase).

    • Butterfly

      Thank you for explaining this!! ;) Everything this article says rings so clear and so true, but I left asking God, well what DO you mean about guarding your heart then? What is the truth here!?

  • http://twitter.com/leslietulip Leslie Tulip

    Emily, this is wonderful. I couldn’t agree more. I would not trade my past heartbreak and devastation for anything. I loved and even if it didn’t last, and it was worth the pain in the end.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Thank you, Leslie. I’m so sad that you’ve experienced pain. But I’m grateful you don’t see your love as wasted or used up. Your learning and loving is beauty. It is redeemed.

  • http://twitter.com/Smay15 Stephanie May

    This is absolutely fantastic. I love every word. Emily thank you for breathing truth back into something that we just say when we don’t know what else to do. This is a message that needs to be heard- especially by me.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Wow, Stephanie, that is so insightful! “Something that we just say when we don’t know what else to do.”

      You are so right. We uses phrases like “guard your heart” on each other when we’re uncomfortable interacting with our own hearts or pain or the person in front of us experiencing pain. Let’s join in on the tough work of vulnerability. Maybe starting with something like, “I’m uncomfortable and I don’t know what to say, but I will stand with you in this situation.”

      This looks and feels like redemption to me.

  • InciteFaith

    I watched this video from Joy @LoveRespectNow http://loveandrespectnow.com/2011/06/ask-joy-guard-your-heart/ and it changed how I viewed guarding my heart. As a single, guarding my heart has always been a priority until I realized the more I guarded it, it isolated me from community. The more open and exposed my heart has been, the more it has deepened my love for others. So, I definitely relate to you.

    You’ve been getting a lot of praise around the blogging community and I see why. Keep speaking up Emily. Your words matter.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dbrennanj Dan Brennan

    Beautiful, Emily! We have so much in common. :-)

    • Emily_Maynard

      Isn’t that amazing, Dan? I am so grateful for the friends I have found on this journey. I thought I was very much alone, but it turns out my voice is just one in a majestic chorus.

  • http://twitter.com/beckydobyns Becky Dobyns

    This is lovely. Rather than Jesus telling us to ‘guard our hearts’ by ourselves, He rather gives us the ability to love FULLY and without FEAR. Something I’ve been meditating on a lot lately is Philippians 4:4-8. Part of it says, “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. AND the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” So God’s intent is not for us to shut down out of fear of pain or memory of past pain. Instead we are to rejoice in Him and His nearness, never be anxious, love with full hearts, and trust HIS peace that transcends all understanding to guard us, rather than trusting in ourselves! By leaning on Him, we can then pour fully into others. I was watching a great Beth Moore video the other day in which she basically said that it is not fully trusting God if we just trust him to let the thing we most fear never happen to us. Rather, it shows true trust and faith when we obey and love fully and trust that even if the thing we most fear happens to us, HE will be ENOUGH.

  • Emily Wierenga

    oh girl. i just want to jump up and exclaim hallelujah. i was so broken as a child over all of the guarded hearts that wouldn’t open up to mine. thank you, for proclaiming freedom in this place. sharing.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Oh, Emily, thank you so much. I am jumping up and down with you. This is a redemption song. Thank you for the reminding me of the consequences to others when I shut down. There is much value to be seen if we are open to it.

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  • Kylie

    I too, grew up in a community that preached “guard your heart”. I can remember thinking “what does that even mean? That doesn’t really sound like it’ll produce a healthy relationship.” In an attempt to fit in, I went along with the message and attended the conferences. Now, as a single twenty-something, I look back on my attempts to guard my heart and how shallow those relationships ended up being. The relationships that have taught me the most and have made me who I am today are those ones where I chose to be vulnerable. We understood the importance of honesty and as a result, connected on a deeper level. No, we aren’t together today but it is not because I didn’t guard my heart. After years of “living” out of a guarded heart, I have found that I wasn’t really living at all. Raw emotion is not guarded. Today, I am still experiencing pain from buried wounds but rather than keep them guarded, I am learning to express them and bring them into the light to be dealt with. An unguarded heart can be truly lived out of.

    • Emily_Maynard


      Thank you for sharing your story here. I’m so sorry you experienced pain and went against your intuitive guidance in an attempt to follow “the rules” of Christian relationships and shut down your heart. You expressed my hope perfectly when you said: “I am still experiencing pain from buried wounds but rather than keep them guarded, I am learning to express them and bring them into the
      light to be dealt with.”

      It’s only when we unguard that we can experience healing from the pain. We let go, not into oblivion, but into the safe arms of a God who longs to see us and heal us.

      I’m grateful you’re here, Kylie.

  • Rebekah Snyder

    I. Love. This. So much.

    There was a time in my life when my unguarded heart was shattered to pieces by a man I thought I could trust. As I poured out my grief into my mother’s lap, I asked her why it hurt so much. Her response? “Because you love too deeply.” But somehow I didn’t get the impression that loving too deeply was a bad thing, especially when she followed it up with the words, “It is always worth it to love.”

    She was absolutely right. I’ve never been good at guarding my heart. I much prefer loving with abandon… even if it breaks me to pieces in the end.

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  • Raeyna

    I have recently begun my first foray into the world of dating, and my mother and all the other authority figures in my life have been lecturing me on how wrong it is and how I need to be ‘guarding my heart’. This article really helped me try to figure out what exactly I wanted to explain to all these people; that my relationship with God is strong, and that I want to live, lose and learn because that’s how life works. I really do love the person I am with, but like I learned in sunday school with one candle that has the power to light all the others, love isn’t a limited resource. One day I will love someone enough that I will want to spend my life with them, but I won’t know what that looks like at 14 years old. (and I love your description of outgoing introvert. I think that fits me really well :)

  • Ber

    The word “guard” is more like “keep.” the same word in proverbs 27:18 about keeping a garden (a fig tree.). Think gardening (fertilizing, weeding, daily tending) the heart…. Intense. Not laissez-faire. Fruitful.

    • Emily_Maynard

      Love this image of gardening. It requires that we invest and engage rather than pull back, shut down, and protect. Thank you, Ber!

  • Secret Disciple

    This is great Emily. Thanks for giving me the language to describe my own walk out of fear into the freedom to love.

    Love is risky and wherever it is real it involves pain. You would think Christians would be OK with that considering that our primary example of love is Jesus being tortured to death, but for some reason we have these ideas that life in general and love in particular can be safe.

    I’ve shared the life of the unguarded heart with a handful of friends over the past half-dozen years and although we have often been misunderstood and criticized by our churches the beauty of living this way has made it all worthwhile. I will be writing some of the stories over at http://disciplineofthesecret.blogspot.com/. I will look forward to reading more of your stories to.

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  • Hannah Schaefer

    I have struggled with finding an answer for my self on this topic for many years, but one breakthrough I discovered was the book of Hosea – his wife runs away and hurts him over and over, yet he continually invites her back and into the deepest, most vulnerable parts of himself. That’s love right there.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Amen! Amen to this! I do NOT guard my heart any more- like you said, it’s all fear-based. Don’t tell a guy “I love you”, gotta stay distant and cold toward my boyfriend until he asks me to marry him- but I never understood how any guy could possibly decide to marry someone who was distant and cold.

    Fun fact: Proverbs 4, the part about guarding your heart- that’s the advice that “the teacher” is giving to his son. About like, wisdom and making good choices and stuff. His SON. Not a group of youth-group girls who must be taught to fear their boyfriends. Geez.

  • http://www.adamshome.blogspot.com Erin Adams

    There are so many critical insights here, Emily. Thank you for writing this!

    What do you think of using Prov. 4:23 in this way, that became the mantra for never getting hurt? Wasn’t the “heart” usually referring to the center of thought in when used in the Old Testament? Not the center of our emotions? I know Good News Translation isn’t widely popular, but isn’t this more what the idea is? “Be careful how you think; your life is shaped by your thoughts.”

    I guess either way, all the add on sureties that you are calling out here are NOT indicated in the verse. I agree with this line so much – “At the root of any balanced, healthy, true relationship, at the heart of every heart, is vulnerability”. Yes!

  • http://lovingfromtheinsideout.blogspot.com Connie

    “I am still walking out the difficult steps of particular grief and some days it hurts like all the swear words.” As you know…Yes. Me too. Oh and I don’t think anyone feels like they said “I love you” enough to the one who is gone. (Not minimizing–just sharing.)

    I SO WISH I could say that my Ron’s death had a similar effect on me–specifically the “I’m going to always say ILY from now on” or, in broader terms, embracing life……But it didn’t. I think the reason for that is: I was JUST beginning to truly address issues from my childhood when I met him. Pretty soon my life became about him. And then he died–and my life became about that. And–the WORST THING got added to all the crap that was already there. I’m talking about multiple layers of trauma and the resulting, unresolved STUFF, and the near-lifelong depression. Depression cuts down “embrace life.”
    I have lived more years of my life than I can count just. soldiering. on. Deciding to live because the alternative is no good. Realizing the hell I would put those who love me through if I chose that alternative. (And sometimes all I could think was: “Damn, I hope they’re grateful.”)

    The rays have started to peek through (cross reference the end of this post: http://aroadlesstraveledblog.blogspot.com/2013/02/rip-doc-joe.html) but I still have a LOT of work ahead of me.

  • Anna

    Thank you, this is a good article. As a homeschool mom I’ve been exposed to all the “guard your heart” teachings. At gut level I always knew there was something wrong with them. The whole premise of religious homeschooling is to never let anything bad happen and your kids will turn out perfect. Which is a lie many people I know have enthusiastically bought into. The more extreme “courtship” rules are one of the latest fads of this fallacy. Thanks for clarifying some of the misconceptions!

  • http://kingdomjourneys.org/hughroberts Hugh Roberts IV

    Great blog! I’ve been feeling the exact same way about guarding your heart and recently wrote a blog on it as well.

  • mattmikalatos

    This is beautiful, Emily, and exactly right. Love requires vulnerability which opens us to hurt. Thanks so much for this.

  • wordofawoman.com

    Here is to living with an unguarded heart; The scariest and most beautiful thing of all

  • http://twitter.com/angry_asian Lan

    i guard my heart not because it is fragile, but because it is precious and i want to protect it.

    having said that tho, i have no qualms telling people that i love them, that i need them, or that i am not weak because i am loved.

  • http://www.wix.com/kendallland/iamkendal/ Kendall

    Entering into what Richard Rohr refers to as “the second half of life,” I find now that all the ways I “failed” to guard were the moments of great growth and living – the kind that remind you life doesn’t follow rules. I made a fool of myself plenty of times as a kid and in my twenties by going more with my gut than the cultural status quo. I didn’t have many (especially in the Christian realm) that affirmed it, and I also didn’t know just how valuable those experiences were in teaching me to grow up, and now teach me how to be a better husband. Living as open and vulnerable as it takes to be so unguarded with my heart is still hard but rich even more so at this point in life.

    Aslan kept asking them to go further up, further in. In other words, God seems intent on invite us into more of the playground, and so much of the christian culture that perpetuated the cautious relational approach seemed to beg us to stay only in the sandbox and never learn the joy, and fears, of the rest of the playground.

  • http://twitter.com/MorganRainer Morgan Rainer

    I love that rays of grace are starting to peek through clouds of judgement. I am thrilled that vulnerability and open honesty are being encouraged over emotional suppression and secret shame. I stand up and clap at the voices of my generation who are bold enough to write their stories and their experiences and the lessons they learned. We need more stories, not more self help books. http://theveryworstfeminist.wordpress.com/

  • http://www.facebook.com/Griffith.Vertican Griffith Vertican

    hmmm interesting article… the author Emily Maynard makes a valid point about not letting our hearts become closed off to others and instead remain vulnerable even if means risking heart break. However, on the other hand she seems to be conflating the idea of having boundaries in a romantic relationships with having a closed heart that is not open to loving people in general. She states “The rules for “Guarding Your Heart” are both fear based and ambiguous and, as with most relationship rules, ultimately produce shame, not health.”

    But in my experience, I have seen far more devastating effects in the lives of my friends who had no guard whatsoever on their hearts. What happens in far to many of these relationships is they begin to say things like “we love each other, so its okay that we are sleeping together…” or “if you really love me, you wouldn’t hold back your physical affection.” But this sort of ungaurded romantic love comes with a high price. Not only on a emotional and physical level, but also on a spiritual one. Simply put, nothing destroys a Christian’s testimony or walk with God with such severity as those who have failed to guard their heart in a romantic relationship context (see 1 Corinthian 6:18-20 and the story of King David 2 Samuel 11 and 12)

    Where Emily has gotten off course is her use of the word “love.” In the Greek there are four different versions of the word: agápe (Godly love), éros (romantic/sexual love), philía (brotherly or friendship love), and storgē (natural love for offspring, such as parent and child). Emily’s mistake is in promoting unguarded éros love with her “boyfriends” as being just as necessary as having an unguarded agápe love toward’s Jesus and others.

    So in sum, we should keep a guarded heart when in it comes to éros, but an unguarded one when it comes to agápe.

    As the Apostle Paul would say “Owe nothing to anyone–except for your obligation to love one another.”

  • Steven

    I also disagree with this caricature if what people mean when they say guard your heart.

  • Pistol

    I heard a sermon recently on guarding your heart. It was all about how submitting your heart before the Lord is a part of guarding it. When we keep our hearts submitted to God, they remain soft and moldable. The real tragedy being a stony heart, not a heart that has been hurt by pain. The tragedy is when we let pain harden our hearts rather than taking the pain to God so our hearts can remain maleable despite painful circumstances.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Griffith.Vertican Griffith Vertican

    Okay here is something I really would like to know [please insert friendly and respectful tone]… what does (Emily) think the correct interpretation of Proverbs 4:23 is? I get that she doesn’t like the ‘legalistic’ view, but what I didn’t get was what she thought the correct interpretation is. Is it her current position that being vulnerable means that its “okay to sleep together” so long as you are being emotionally transparent in your romantic relationships?

  • Marianne

    I understand your point and agree with a lot of what your saying. I think we should reject fear in all areas of our lives, but I also believe you can guard something without being consumed by fear that something bad is going to happen it. Good parents guard their children but they don’t fearfully obsess about all of the bad things that could happen to them. I think guarding our hearts isn’t always the fearful, controlling thing you’ve made it out to be. Sometimes it’s the best way to care for ourselves. I would never say crushes are bad, but when I develop an interest in someone, part of me can enjoy that feeling so much that I start seeking every opportunity to feed it by being around him, finding out about his life, talking about him, thinking about him, etc. I realize these sound like the words of a stalker, but they also sound like the words of your average woman/girl if she’s honest with herself. So, for me, guarding my heart is exercising some self-restraint in those things because my imagination can get ahead of reality and I can end up with expectations and feelings that have far out-stepped reality. That guardianship doesn’t produce shame and it doesn’t come from shame. It also doesn’t hinder my relationships in any way. I still allow myself to enjoy the relationship as it develops, and I’m still willing to be vulnerable and loving when I feel those things. This kind of guardianship over my heart actually helps me live in the moment and enjoy my current relationships instead always dwelling and obsessing over future possibilities. I know you were addressing something different, but I feel like you kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater. Really, the fear-based, shame-inducing, control-obsessed variety of guarding your heart that withholds affection in current relationships is just one form that guarding your heart can take. There are healthier forms, and the example I shared is just one of them.

  • Cillendor

    This has a good message, but what is the meaning of the “guard your heart” refrain in the Song of Songs? It’s not just that one verse. It’s the mantra of the book, and it’s in the Bible for a reason. Do we just ignore it completely, or have we simply been misinterpreting it all these years as part of the conservative backlash to modern dating? Unless I missed something, you don’t really explain this, but it is important to solve.

  • C

    I think I was definitely brought up in a “guard your heart” type manner. I think it was unknowingly that I bought into it, as I recall it was never really referred to as “guarding my heart”. Back in my day it was just that there were some things that “you just don’t do”. Opening up to guys in particular was one of the things “you just don’t do”. I’m at the dating age now, and I just can’t seem to open up. Generally the opportunity for openness is so candid and unexpected I don’t have time to tell myself to let my guard down a little bit, and I just end up sitting there with someone who feels like they can’t get in and they eventually just give up. I think that I see too many girls in this society that are unchaste in their quickness to let guys in. I do think it leads to a lot of hurt, however I do also believe there should be a certain degree of an open heart in everyday life. Any suggestions, Ladies, on how to open up easier without being unchaste and wreckless?

  • xMxEx

    I’ve always interpreted “guarding my heart” as guarding my mind and/or soul. Guarding the things that make me who I am- the important things that influence what I say and do.

    The bible references our heart in many different places but in many of them- I believe it was confused in interpretation and in turn changed our perception of the verse. The bible asks Christians to Love above all else. Love unconditionally. With all our hearts. God emphasizes that Love is the most important thing. I could give you numerous verses on Love.

    So in Proverbs when it talks about guarding our hearts- I don’t think it’s referring to our capacity or ability to love at all- which is what we associate with our heart- I think it’s talking about guarding your heart, mind and soul from worldly things. Another point: you can love without giving your heart away. There are all kinds of Love. In other verses it mentions that our heart is deceitful above all things but it also says that where our treasure is our heart will be also… Then we have “Love the Lord your God with all your Heart…” I think this is where God is talking about our capacity to Love. We are supposed to love without judgement. Love unconditionally. But also Love purely.

    In today’s society “Love” has been manipulated to mean so many different things. It has obscured the meaning so much that we have 12 year-olds “in love” and teen pregnancy, and kids that think they have to be in a relationship to be happy or accepted so they do anything to stay in one. I’m only 18 and I’m just beginning to learn what Love really means. As a senior in high school I can’t say I’ve ever been in a real relationship. I wanted to be accepted once- and I learned that it doesn’t work like that. That’s not what Love is.

    The bible reveals to us the greatest Love story of all- which is Jesus dying on the cross. That is the kind of love I’d like to show the world. When Jesus says that the greatest in the kingdom of heaven are children- we’re told that we must love like children. There’s so many instances I could name to associate with Love and what I think it really is- The verse about guarding my heart- I don’t think it’s telling me to harden my heart against the world and prevent pain. Pain is apart of life. Love is Limitless if you have a pure source. Just my opinion. I know I’m long winded- but thanks for reading if you made it this far. (:

  • Jess

    You’ve got me thinking about what the Lord really intended for that passage. I wonder…the ESV says it this way: ” Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” I think that in some ways the word “guard” (along with many words that Christian culture defines wrongly and throws around so flippantly) has been tainted with images (like your friend in the video showed us) of gates and towers that we erect to protect us, as you say, from pain and suffering, when Jesus is meant to be our strong tower. I like what you said in another post about Jesus standing with us where we are, and I think it applies here too. Not to flee from pain but to sit with Jesus in the midst of it and to know that he is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

    I wonder…because I think the wrongful interpretation of this verse has been a major stumbling block in my life and has caused a married guy friend to have a serious talk with me because he didn’t think I was open to marriage, even though it is something that I do long for. So I’m trying to just process what it could really mean…could it have more to do with guarding not against people or pain but, like your friend alluded to in her video, tending the gardens of our hearts in a watchful manner? To me, that means staying connected to the Vine who is our source of life, staying connected to activities and people and practices that give us life, and not letting anything take root in our hearts that would poison the springs of life that flow from us. Bitterness is the culprit that immediately comes to mind, but I’m sure there are more. Lust. Any manner of self absorption. etc. etc.

  • Trey S.

    I been guarding my heart since freshmen year of high school (now a sophomore in college). Never had a relationship. And how has it worked out for me? I am honest to say that it has been great! It was not because of the message I heard about “no dating” or anything similar. By junior year, my parents gave me the permission to date. But when I wanted to, I pulled back. Why? Is was not because I feared of letting my guard down but because I knew I was not ready and sometimes I knew the woman was not ready. To this day, I am still guarding my heart and I am fine. When it comes to relationships right now, I do not learn by experience or being vulnerable but by observation both from elders and people my age who are christians and non-christians. I observe, I take note of it, and I apply it to myself of what to look for and when to be ready for a relationship. Am I saying I am against dating at a young age? Noe. I went to winter formal and prom and have been on group dates, fun dates, GYRADs (Get Your Roommate A Date). But if I am actually interested in someone, I pray to got if this is someone I should get involved with and look at myself to see if I am actually read financially, maturely, and spiritually ready. Proverbs 4:23 is in the Bible for a reason as well as other verses similar to guarding the heart and trusting in God (Proverbs 4; 3:5-6; 7:25). The verse and other verses are straight to the point but go beyond than the fine print.

  • Hannah

    This is so goooooooooooood.

  • Lovewisdom

    That application of “guard your heart” has always bothered me because it was so grossly out of context. I once heard a young man use it regarding a relationship in a way that was much more biblical. He spoke of desiring to “guard HER heart” by being careful not to lead her (for his own ego, pleasure, etc.) into thinking he was more interested than he was -being careful that his actions and words toward her were not deceptive, but honestly and truthfully communicating intentions so as not to wound her unnecessarily.

    A young man once gave a young woman that I love “green light” signals suggesting that he was very very interested in taking the relationship further. Knowing her interest in him, he engaged in interactions that became increasingly more intimate (appropriate if they had aligned with his intent). When he eventually communicated his true intent, it was to see if sitting close, kissing, snuggling, a warm embrace resulted in “sparks” for him. He intentionally increased physical touch beyond friendship as a “test,” rather than as an expression of his feelings. His kisses were Judas kisses of betrayal as they did not express his affection in any way – he wanted to know if there was a “spark” when he kissed her. His tests were selfish and thoughtless, leading to heartbreak for her and cementing a lie for him. He thought he got a valid answer, but since kisses are an expression of feelings rather than a test of them, his results were faulty and inconsistant -different for her than for him. His actions did not express his intent and were without regard for her heart.

    An appropriate application of the phrase with respect to relationships is to be careful that our words and actions match intent and that the intent of our heart is pure – that the motives are pure so that our communications in word and deed not deceptive, controlling or manipulative and do not give the enemy access either to ourselves or to the other person. -that we guard our hearts against motives that would use others for personal and selfish reasons (which always leads to hurt) …and we guard the hearts others in making sure that our communication is clear and honest. Yes, we still need to guard our hearts – but if we guard what comes in to them (selfishness, manipulation, bitterness, pride…) we can be completely without restraint regarding what comes out of them -we can love with abandon. However, we don’t achieve a pure heart through diligence and discipline but through allowing our heart to be changed as we sit in the presence of the one who can reveal our motives with the light of truth and purify our hearts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jen.loser Jen Loser

    It sounds a lot like Brene Brown! I love her! Great article!

  • http://www.facebook.com/amy.shinners Amy Shinners

    Everything is said very well, but I think the wrong definition of “guarding your heart” is portrayed here. Guarding your heart means to not give away every secret and deep aspect of your heart and the person you are to just anyone. Pieces of your heart should remain a mystery to your boyfriend and then your fiancée, only to be revealed over time through marriage to your husband. It means to not rush into a relationship doleing out your deepest desires and recesses of your heart to the person you are dating. Don’t give away your heart too soon in a new relationship (wait until marriage) or you will find your heart broken, feel that you gave away pieces you can never get back. Guarding your heart does not mean that you never say “I love you” to someone or never love others with a sincere heart or only half of your effort.

    Guarding your heart is a good thing to practice so that you do not reveal too much of your heart to someone who is only a transient part of your life, who has not committed to loving you and caring for you for the rest of your lives in marriage.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Theodoric-Derek-Nowak/779705787 Theodoric Derek Nowak

    Awesome article! Words women (and some men?) need to hear! Proverbs 4:23 speaks of guarding ones heart from evil and “[P]ut[ting] away from you crooked speech, and put[ting] devious talk far from you.” – Proverbs 4:24 It has nothing to do with personal relationships, only our relationship with God. One need not misquote the Word of God to change it. Blessings to you for showing women that Love is above all things and the sacrifice of self is at the apex of Christianity.

  • Anna

    Emily, thank you so much for your post! This was a huge encouragement to me and it definitely gets down to the root of things without all the spiritual lingo that so many Christians/Churches throw around. While I suppose the motivation behind it can have great intentions, it can create like you mentioned, fear and shame. God is more interested in us being honest, real, and transparent. And I love how you specified that the verse was for all things, not just romance (while yes, it can apply to that as well).

    I have one question for you and I would love to hear your thoughts. I know this post is more about your testimony and your story so I understand if you feel as if I am going off topic but, how would you explain this approach to unbelievers or those who are new in their relationship with God?

    I am getting married next May to someone I met at 15 years old. Although we went to different high schools, we were able to minister to so, so many people that had a twisted view of relationships. We are both in ministry now, and a large majority of the people we reach are unbelievers or are new to living for Jesus. The idea of “guarding their hearts” is foreign as they have not heard the so many sermons that most people are tired of hearing if they grew up in church.

    So for them, the topic of “guarding their hearts” for relationships, friendships, and even decisions they make is a very healthy one- at least for starting. Mainly, because it helps them not get involved with people/boyfriends/girlfriends that would not help their fragile relationship with the Lord (perhaps fragile isn’t the correct word, but I hope it makes sense). This is also because they could quickly fall back into the things they may have previously struggled with. (That isn’t to say that more mature Christians never struggle because we all know that’s not true, but at least most mature Christians have that stronger foundation and accountability).

    Anyways, I would love for them to eventually have a strong foundation with godly friends and mentors so that they can love with no strings attached to anyone they meet. Take chances, and learn that love is a sacrifice.

    Thank you for taking the time to read this, I really appreciate it. Keep up the awesome work and may God bless you and your ministry through your blog! I have recently started my own blog and have enjoyed it. Have a wonderful day, and I would love to hear what you think :-)


  • Job Gichana

    I find this to be a very small portion of guarding your heart, and a misinterpretation of the verse itself. I stay away from sin because I love God, I don’t just fall in love, and
    I can’t go loving every girl I see, if I truly love God and the sacrifice He gave on the cross for the remission of my sins.

    I must make up my mind.
    fill my head and heart with the word. engage with Jesus. pray. Trust me
    you won’t have time to think of some things. Have the passion of Jesus
    for souls. If I want a certain lady saved, should really joke with her
    heart or help her to be strong in Jesus?

    Christians let’s be serious. If we stop guarding our heart what then shall we be guarding? And should we say God didn’t know when he ordered us to guard our hearts?

  • RichardL

    I think this is based on a misunderstanding of the term “guard your heart” (from Prov 4:23 anyways), or perhaps it’s a reaction to how this has been wrongly taught.

    Prov 4:23 certainly doesn’t mean “shut the door of your heart to stop love flowing in and out” or similar. That’s more to do with masks and defence mechanisms employed to avoid the danger and risk of true vulnerability.

    A paraphrase of this verse might be “pay careful attention to what’s going on in your heart because it is the source of everything you are and do”. Anyways, in Hebrew thinking the heart is the seat of thoughts, intentions, the will, choices, not just emotions as in Western thought.

    I love the C. S. Lewis quote which puts it a lot better:

    To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” (C. S. Lewis; The Four Loves)

  • Doug

    I think you’re mistaken with this post, Emily – but not because the typical Christian “guarding your heart” culture is right. I think you’re both wrong. To “guard one’s heart” is not what typical Christian culture makes it out to be. We’ve maimed the beautiful Biblical idea of it, I think, into something a lot less healthy. And your article (and your perespective), Emily, is I believe a reaction to a poor representation of “guarding your heart” rather than the actual “guarding your heart” that the Bible recommends.

    My $0.02.

  • Semper Reformanda

    I offer a Biblical Sermon on the meaning of this section of scripture, it is so much more than sequestration of our feelings….


    The Heart of the Issue, Is the Issue of the Heart Proverbs 4:20-27

  • Semper Reformanda

    You may need the date of this sermon to find it: 09/08/2013


    The Heart of the Issue, Is the Issue of the Heart Proverbs 4:20-27

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