“Guard your heart!”

The well-intentioned although ill-spoken dating advice I received growing up. This token piece of wisdom, along with “don’t do anything you wouldn’t do in front of your grandmother” were the only guideposts to direct me on an already confusing Christian dating journey.

But what does guarding your heart mean anyway?

No one ever explained what I was guarding my heart from so I concluded to guard it at all costs. Eventually, I learned the hard way that guarding your heart meant protecting it from brokenness. Boys were often the culprit of my bruised and broken heart so as I continued dating I held my heart close to my chest, rarely, if ever revealing it to anyone.

Then I learned about boundaries, physical boundaries, emotional boundaries, and spiritual boundaries. Dating felt like a long list of to do and not to do, a roadmap to follow that would ultimately lead to marital bliss.

Do guard your heart.

Don’t cross the line.

Do establish boundaries.

Don’t get hurt.

I was hurting more than ever. I felt disconnected from myself and in relationships. My friend and author Allison Fallon wisely refers to this feeling as “divorcing from yourself.” We can’t be intimately joined to anyone if we’re divorced from ourselves. If relationships, dating or otherwise, are about demonstrating the fullness of Christ then we’ll never accomplish wholeness if we’re missing pieces of ourselves.

We can’t achieve wholeheartedness if we’re busy holding back pieces of our hearts.

It turns out the full reference for guarding one’s heart comes from a verse that’s talking about guarding our hearts against evil. Last I checked Proverbs 4:23 doesn’t mention guys who want to grab a cup of coffee and get to know us better.

It’s safe to say people and relationships aren’t evil. Most people are just doing the best they can with what they have. It’s time to stop hiding behind misconstrued advice that justifies our tendencies to avoid vulnerability. It’s no wonder we’re so lonely or frustrated or dying for connection. We construct our whole lives behind the comfort of the walls we build to keep our hearts safe.  

If we desire genuine connection, the type of connection designed for us, then it’s going to take courageous work to be vulnerable. We have to expose our hearts knowing that real intimacy comes with a risk of getting hurt, but it’s a risk certainly worth taking. To be known to the fullest degree, with our flaws and messes and quirks and habits, yet loved in spite of those things, is the greatest gift of all.

There’s no breakup or bad date or anything that could make me want to miss out on being known and accepted and cherished for who I truly am ever again.

This doesn’t mean we wear our heart on our sleeves and throw it around to get bruised and beat up. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our hearts are precious and should be treated accordingly. But instead of locking our hearts up and throwing away the key in the name of boundaries, it might be time to take a different approach.

It’s time to slowly start peeling back the layers to those who have earned the right to watch our unfolding.

Who we’re becoming is the best thing about us. It’s time to invite people into that process and finally allow ourselves to be known. It’s high risk but an even higher reward.

“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