As an emerging adult, I was taught that one of the most faithful things I could do as a young Christian woman was to guard my heart. That meant preventing myself from falling in love, especially with anyone who could lead me astray, and it basically resulted in me not dating because no one sinless came along. And I was relatively fine with that—I had a lot of other things on my metaphorical plate, so this freed up my time. But mostly I wanted to follow the Bible’s wisdom of not giving away my heart too easily because I loved God, I wanted to obey God, and I trusted that God’s advice would protect me from getting hurt. And I definitely didn’t want to get hurt.
Many years later, I was resisting falling in love with someone, and a Christian colleague of mine asked me why. I had many answers, all of which my colleague shot down, and the most eye-opening and memorable was his response about me guarding my heart out of faithfulness to God and fear of getting hurt.
He said that despite quoting a biblical verse, what I was describing was not actually biblical, not actually something God asked of his people. Out of the entirety of the Bible, “guarding one’s heart” comes up only once, and it is about keeping oneself from leaving the God who created and loves you for something less worthy. I was not leaving my loving relationship with God for a romantic relationship with a human person—in fact, the man I was interested in also loved God. I was simply trying to figure out whether to bring the three of us together.
Furthermore, my colleague said, the overall message of the Bible is not one of self-preservation but one of overwhelming, sacrificial love, exemplified in the life and death of Jesus who took the greatest risk possible by loving all of us. As God’s people our primary concern is not reducing our risk of getting hurt, but loving like Jesus did, accepting the possibility of getting hurt in the process.
Of course, we don’t throw all caution to the wind and risk everything important to us without weighing the costs. We try to choose romantic partners who
- treat us and others kindly, and
- share our deepest values and purposes (like our faith if we have one)
And in that process we recognize that we still might get hurt (Jesus certainly did), and that that might not only be ok but perhaps part of a bigger story of redemption and healing.
The danger of guarding your heart is potentially missing out on the tenderness, intimacy, and sacrifice of God’s story written into your’s. It’s potentially missing out on God’s healing of your past relational wounds. It’s potentially missing out on all the other invitations God has for you to love others radically like God does. But remember—just because you stop “guarding your heart” doesn’t mean you stop stop guarding your mind—continue to heed warning signs, wisdom from trusted community members, and the guidance of your Creator every step of the way.
If you have been preventing yourself from falling in love solely out of some misrepresented understanding of “guarding your heart” like I was, I pray you will find some courage and give your heart a little bit of freedom. May you find yourself on your own healing journey within the grand story of redemptive love.