Guard Your Heart: A Commentary
Updated: Jun 19
Today I’m here to chat with you about one of my personal favorite phrases from my Jesus Culture upbringing: Guard your heart.
“Guard your heart” has been super prevalent in my life recently, as I discovered about a month ago that I am terrified to open myself up to anyone who isn’t going to be my husband. Furthermore, I’m terrified of having a husband! Ha! So what’s a girl to do with that conundrum than dive into the internalization of youth group lessons and blame church?
This is a half joke. But here we go.
Evangelicals LOVE the term “Guard your Heart.” The concept is based on Proverbs 4:23 “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” This verse is actually so beautiful I’m super pissed the message was tainted so heavily in my learning about it.
Guard Your Heart = Don’t have boyfriends who won’t become your husband.
I’m not kidding. Really! That was the message!
Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it is the wellspring of life (New Heart English)
For if you have boyfriends who won’t lead to being a husband, you’ll be giving away pieces of your heart to boys like cheap candy at the Taney County Veterans Day Parade and then what will you have left over for Jesus? The Jesus who deserves YOUR WHOLE HEART. Furthermore, the more boyfriends you have that don’t end in marriage, the less of yourself you’ll have for your future husband.
Well shit. Betta guard dat heart, MJ.
So how does one go about guarding their heart aka not having boyfriends who will distract from pursuit of the Lord/preparation for future husbo when your teenage heart/libido wants nothing more than to have lots of boyfriends? Well, I had two options really:
Stay away from the D entirely until I was ready to get married. Then I'll get all the D!
Date a guy that was so obsessed with Jesus, I had no opportunity to be distracted from G-O-D because our entire relationship centered around Him (God). This was called dating a “spiritual leader” and would definitely lead to marriage. Who cares if you have nothing in common? You both love Jesus and that is enough.*
*These kinds of relationships usually ended when one person in the relationship realized they were bored to tears by their bf/gf , but instead of just saying that, they used the excuse “You’re distracting me from my relationship with God" to break up.
In high school, I fell mostly into the first category. I didn’t allow myself to have a boyfriend until I turned 18 because 18 seemed like a good age to start prepping for marriage. So naturally I dated the baddest boy in school because Grease ruined us all. Then I calmed down, got serious about this husband search, and dated a nice #spiritualleader who is now a General Baptist youth pastor. At least I think? Idk his goatee would suggest so.
By college I knew remaining single until God magically sent me a fiance` was not going to happen. 1. I’m impatient 2. I’m horny. So I settled for the “Let’s have a love triangle with Jesus” romantic life until further notice.
The problem was my college boyfriend was super hot. And super Catholic. Which was not ideal for a mostly-Baptist-raised preacher’s daughter.** Regardless, I was for real obsessed with my boyfriend. And the more obsessed/in love I became with him, the more time I wanted to spend with him and not Jesus. This can’t be good! Does this mean my boyfriend is not being a spiritual leader? Does this mean I should get a new boyfriend to whom I’m not at all attracted and sort of bored with so that spending time reading my Bible is more appealing than making out or getting lady boners while watching him perform at A Capella concerts? Probably.
**Imma do a whole blog sometime on the Baptist/Catholic beef. It’s mostly one-sided as the Catholics have the Pope so what competition is there really?
I broke up with him right after a mission trip to Indonesia. Because Catholic boyfriend simply had too much of my heart. That part of my heart needed to be handed back to Jesus and protected for my spouse. I mean, what if Jesus wants me to move to Indonesia to spread the Gospel forever with my future husband (who def can't be Catholic) and I never know because I am too busy loving my current boyfriend? Must. Break. Up.
Guard your heart with all vigilance, for from it are the sources of life (NET)
What followed was 2.5 months of GRUELING heartbreak. I often had to excuse myself at work to have total sobbing meltdowns in the inventory closet. I told my boss I felt “trapped” (#Drama. I was the fucking Cabana manager at a Marriott. Trapped? No bitch, you just sad) and needed time off. I listened to “Not a Day Goes By” by Stephen Sondheim on repeat. I deactivated my facebook so I wouldn’t see pictures of us. By the end of the summer, I was like “This is some bullshit.” And we got back together.
That’s the short story anyway.
After that breakup, I decided to stop buying into the narrative that guarding my heart meant hoarding all my love for this Jesus guy (he sounds like a real attention whore if you ask me) and only given out to men who don’t excite my sexy parts too much.
I eventually got past the ridiculous idea that I need never be distracted from Jesus (lots of things now distract me from Jesus. Namely, Christians who support Donald Trump) by dating. I also got past needing my boyfriend to be a spiritual leader or a “godly guy.” I fully accept that no “man of God” would want to marry me and that is A-OKAY.
Despite overcoming all of this, I never released the belief that boyfriends-not-turned-husbands would permanently damage me; somehow stealing parts of me to be less of a person to my person. About a month ago I told my older sister:
“Opening myself up to love means opening myself up to complete betrayal. Trusting another person with my whole self and vulnerability means they can also crush it at any moment. I can’t. I would not recover.”
I blew my own fucking mind with that revelation.
My journey to New York and the personal/spiritual overhaul that followed (see: previous blogs) should have totally eradicated this ridiculous belief/practice in my life. But what’s crazy about years of conditioning is it takes A LOT of self-awareness and mental discipline to uncondition. So these things keep showing up in my life and I’m like “What the hell, Mattie Jo? You aren’t a 16 year old in youth group anymore. Fly free. Eshet Chayil, bitch!”
So, I’ve been militantly guarding my heart for about 28 years. I’ve spent most of my dating life dating guys I know for sure I’ll never like enough to go beyond a third date or total fuckboys. Even with Zorro (serious boyfriend 2016), I subconsciously knew there was an expiration date to our relationship. It would have to end, but it would have nothing to do with me, my inadequacies, and/or not being lovable. I could open myself up completely to him and know that at the end of it, we’d break up because of an ocean, not because of me. He’d never get the chance to hurt me.
This is how “guard your heart” manifested itself in my life. I know for other single-in-their-20s-and-30s-Christian-women, it looks different. Maybe you’re terrible at casual dating because you were only raised to be “courted.” Maybe you can’t allow yourself to like a guy who “isn’t a Believer” because you’re hung up on someone else’s definition of what you’re supposed to be attracted to #equallyyoked. Maybe you don’t believe you’re worthy of love and/or hate yourself because “great Christian guys” don’t like you (take it from me, homegirl. The GCG is hella overrated).
Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life (Christian Standard Bible)
But look, we’re adults now, not kids in youth group. So we gotta own the fact that we are all victims of our own bullshit at this point. And it’s keeping us from experiencing all kinds of love.
Here’s what I think Proverbs 4:23 actually means. Your heart is deeply affected by so many things day to day. How we spend our time, energy, the words we speak, the boundaries we set, the physical work we do, etc...all affect our “well-spring of life.” This work, despite what I was raised with, has literally nothing to do with a man.
This work is actually way more fucking difficult than abstaining from boyfriends. Managing oneself without strict definition of right and wrong is a full-time job. Especially when you were raised to believe everything is black and white, God's absolute truth or Satan's lies. I say, as long as I am committed to this vigilant/responsible managing-of-self effort, who gives a fuck if my next boyfriend ends in marriage?
Maybe this next dude shows me cool new restaurants in Brooklyn. Maybe he's willing to cuddle with me 4 nights out of the week so I get a break from always sleeping alone. Maybe he shows me that I can have amazing sex where my pleasure is a priority (WHAT A THOUGHT). Maybe he takes me to cool concerts or helps me be a better listener or just fucking live in the moment.
Or maybe I do fall in love and he cheats on me. But because I’ve done the necessary work of guarding my "well-spring of life", I know I’m not damaged or broken because someone else fucked up. Or maybe I fucked up! And now I have to tools to look at my behavior and correct it. All of this is valuable. And a lot cheaper than a wedding. Or a divorce.
So I guess what I’ve found is that … in earnestly guarding my heart, I’m actually opening my heart.
Keep thine heart with the utmost of care; for out of these are the issues of life (Septuagint Bible)