“When over the years someone has seen you at your worst, and knows you with all your strengths and flaws, yet commits him- or herself to you wholly, it is a consummate experience. To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
– Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
Before I continue, I’d like to say that my opinions are my own and not the position of any relative or organization I may be connected to. This is important for me to say over and over because I find many times that my opinions are not only quite different but challenging for many. This is not a bad thing. I don’t think God expected humans to be in agreement about everything. If He did, He would have made us more alike, removing the 1% in our DNA that account for the diversity of people. He also would have made our cultivation more similar so that our experiences, lessons, and environment, all contributors to us developing a certain way, would lead us towards the same conclusions. We know that even this is not completely true. In my own family, among my brothers and I, are three very different people with different points-of-view, despite growing up in the same home. I don’t believe the point is to think the same way, act the same way, dress the same way, and want the same things. I believe that the point is to love one another despite not thinking the same way, not acting the same way, not dressing the same way, and wanting different things.
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
– Proverbs 4:23
I’ve been working on a piece (more like a series now) that has the working title of A Leader Not a Prince. A Partner Not a Princess. What inspired me to write it are observations on certain beliefs about how a relationship “should be” that I think are simple-minded, narrow, taken out of context, and, many times practiced with a double standard.
The goal is not so much to refute or debate popular belief. I think people are free to believe in whatever they want, for better or worse since our beliefs shape our decisions, but nonetheless, we’re free. My goal is more to share what I’ve learned from my own explorations of these popular ideas so that we all may have a better understanding of what they mean and give us ideas on how they can be practiced properly.
One of the ideas that comes up a lot, especially among girls, is this idea of “guarding your heart”. The thinking goes, because girls are “weaker” or more sensitive, they should keep their heart super-protected from guys because they might get hurt and, again, being more sensitive, they don’t recover as well.
I can start by poking holes in this kind of thinking but I’d like to begin with the verse that is so popularly quoted: Provers 4:23
Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
– Proverbs 4:23
The first thing we should understand about this verse is that it was actually written by a father to his sons. So the verse isn’t a passage on how “the more sensitive gender” can keep herself from getting hurt. It’s much more meaningful than that. It’s a dad telling his sons, “Desire wisdom. Embrace wisdom. Guard it.” It’s not that ladies cannot or shouldn’t apply this verse, it’s just important to understand the context before believing an interpretation.
To guard something means to watch over something to protect it. In order to guard anything, we first have to understand what that “something” we’re guarding is. If we keep guarding an empty heart then let’s not wonder why we’re empty. We guarded that. If we keep guarding an insecure heart, we’ll have insecurity. If we keep guarding a proud heart, we’ll have that too. Same with fear or foolishness or whatever else. It’s not enough to just “guard your heart”.
The verse actually tells us what to guard. In Proverbs 4, guarding your heart isn’t about guarding your emotions or feelings as many people understand the verse to mean. The verse is actually self-explanatory a few verses before verse 23:
v.20 My son, pay attention to what I say;
turn your ear to my words.
v. 21 Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
The author, probably Solomon, was saying, “Put these wise sayings in your heart.” then goes on, in verse 23, to tell them to “guard it”. More than emotions and feelings, he was teaching his sons to have a wise heart and to make sure their heart remained wise.
To have a wise heart means to have good judgment.
“Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.”
– Frank Outlaw
To a Christian, the wisest thing anyone can do is to put their faith in God. That’s what good judgement is in the Christian sense.
Many people know this. It’s taught a lot. Yet despite this, a lot of us will have miserable lives, despite high religiosity, simply because our faith has not caused us to develop the necessary character to achieve our hope. A faith that does not lead to the development of godly character is not biblical faith but a superstition – and God does not promise to answer our superstitions. Faith has more than just a belief component as we understand that word today. The word belief actually is a compound based on PIE *leubh- “to care, desire, love”.
When we’re called by God to believe in Him, we’re not just called to know that He exists, but to care, desire, and love Him. That puts a whole new dimension on things. It means that believing in God, having faith, is not so much about trusting Him for stuff but having a desire for Him.
What does this have to do with Proverbs 4?
The way a Christian applies Proverbs 4, the way he ensures good judgement in his or her life, is by loving God most.
It’s not so much about kissing dating goodbye, or “not giving too much”, or a Christian version of quid pro quo. It’s about making God most important and laying our lives down to him that the rest of our thoughts, words, and actions are now governed by love for God. Our love for God becomes our scale to judge things: we do things and don’t do things because we love God.
So do we go on that date or not? I have no idea what you should do. You have your own brain and your own heart. But we all must check if our thoughts, words, and actions, our habits, and our character are consistent with our proclaimed love for God.
Should we trust them or not? I have no idea again. We should check if trusting them is consistent with our love for God. Meaning, if trusting them causes me to sin, then I shouldn’t fall.
Should we risk? I have no idea again. Check if risking is consistent with our love for God. Meaning, if the risk is out of disobedience, then we shouldn’t do it.
As I write my thoughts down, I see areas in my life that I have not done a very good job in “guarding my heart”. That’s the very human side of me, the side that wants to maximize comfort, security, and pleasure and minimize risk and cost. As I reflect on this, I’ve found that Christ’s idea of wisdom, loving God most, and the world’s idea of wisdom, maximize gain and minimize pain, are sometimes mixed up in my head.
To love God, in the way God defines love, is to lay my life down for others. That flies straight in the face of maximizing gain and minimizing pain. How can we expect our relationships to reflect God’s life-laying love yet follow the world’s formula of maximize gain and minimize pain? We can’t. Like I wrote before, if we settle with our pride and fears, we’ll end up with our pride and fears.
Does that mean we don’t guard ourselves from getting hurt or getting tricked?
Um, no… I never said that. Would getting hurt or getting tricked be consistent with our love for God? I don’t think so.
Guarding our hearts means watching over, cultivating, and protecting our relationship with God, making our desire to please Him greater than our desire to maximize gain and minimize pain, and in doing so we develop godly character for we become more like the one we love most, and as we become more like Him, we become wiser (for God is omniscient) yet we also become more loving (because God is love), and we do this without fear because, as 1 John 4:18 says, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.”
To guard your heart in the Biblical sense is not fear-driven or gain-driven, it’s faith-driven. We guard our heart to protect our love for Him. That’s the question we should be asking ourselves over and over: Is what I’m doing faith driven? Or am I fear and gain driven? Answering that honestly is an important first step in decision-making.
NOTE: my views are my own and not the views of any institution I am affiliated with nor necessarily of the people I’m related to.
What a difference one year makes.
I’m sitting in my hotel room in Yokohama overlooking the bay. It’s a nice spot to have devotions, read, and shoot off email. In an hour, I’ll go to the gym, follow that with breakfast, and get some work done before I do a little shopping and maybe spend time at the onsen across the hotel. Listing down my schedule for the day, thinking about how nice this family vacation has been so far, I keep having this recurring thought: “I wish Yasmin was here.” She had to renew her passport and that look longer than we thought.
While taking her home after work last week, she said and asked at the same time like women do, “I don’t think you’re going to miss me.” and I stupidly answered, “Maybe. I’m not really the missing type.” Which upset her briefly until she asked me about it and I explained myself. I appreciate that about Yasmin. She gets emotional like any girl but she’s able to pull herself together and, after doing that, is willing to explain to me what she’s feeling instead of leaving me guessing about what I did that was stupid. I think it’s highly immature to expect people to always know when they have hurt you. If something is really important and needs resolving, don’t make people guess and stew, go talk to them openly and with the intent of restoring more than proving. Now if it’s really not that important, let go of it. Pride, fear, and the great activator of both, pain, make us forget that loving someone means wanting them to flourish. If our getting hurt makes us forget that intention then it shows our main concern is ourselves.
I wish Yasmin was here.
I’ve learned a lot from her, about how light it can be to forgive and let go, to be tough yet gentle, and I’ve learned a lot from being contained in a relationship. Being in a relationship is like entering a beautiful garden with someone, with the most amazing everything that seems to go on for miles, only to find yourselves in the middle of a war zone with scorched earth, crumbled walls, conflicting sides, yet when you journey past that, in the middle of that war zone, is a garden even more beautiful than the one you entered and more expansive, only to find that in the middle of that garden is another darker war zone, then another even greater garden, and on and on like living in a Matryoshka that keeps getting better. How can being in a relationship defy physics and get greater and greater as one journeys inside it? By going deeper, and as we persevere through the good and the bad, we find even more beautiful things. Of course that’s if the person has a beautiful soul. And I believe there are people with dark ones.
Being in a relationship is a journey into the center of each other, passing both marvels and horrors, yet, like Jules Verne’s novel, driven by a sense of desire to know what’s inside. I like one article I read that said that the point of adventure was to leave your comfort and security to attempt something great, not to give in to despair during seemingly hopeless situations, and not to be complacent about the world and be trapped in the philosophical, but to change it through disciplined and intelligent action. In a world where almost everything has been mapped by satellites, where the future is routinely predicted by actuarials, ultra-sounds, prophets, experts, and analysts, where comfort and security have become the basis for wisdom and prudence, it is easy to forget the beauty of mystery and adventure. Maybe that’s one reason why many, if not most, relationships today fail. Maybe we’ve made it too much about journeying into our “best life” as defined by our individual desires for securities and comforts, and maybe we reinforce this by making selfish and fear-based criteria for a partner. Maybe this is why many relationships in areas incredibly saturated by the wisdom of books, blogs, workshops, and talks, don’t last.
Maybe, in our effort to get things right, we’ve removed the mystery and adventure, and in doing so, removed the discovery that makes being in a relationship beautiful.
Maybe in our obsession with finding “God’s perfect choice” we miss out on the privilege, responsibility, and beauty of the “faith choice” – a decision made in God-given freedom, motivated by God’s empowering love, assured by God-pleasing faith, and resulting in God-glorifying obedience. And I don’t think those two are mutually exclusive but one in the same.
I resolved a long time ago to remain in perpetual adventure, to live by faith, not by sight, especially with the big things, like a journey into the heart of someone you love.
Ok, that’s enough writing. Time to get the day going.
I wish Yasmin was here.