“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
When I first came across this passage, I was a freshman in college, having recently undergone the worst heartbreak of my life to date. I read it, and wished I had come across it years earlier, so that I could have avoided so much pain in the first place. And then I made a resolution: I would live by this verse, so that I would not be hurt again. I would guard my heart above all else.
I metaphorically took my heart, locked it up in a very safe metal chest, and buried it deep like treasure. Whenever anyone would threaten to dig up my box and get into my heart, whenever I could develop romantic feelings for someone, I would berate myself for not keeping watchful enough guard over my heart. After all, if the Bible said to do it, I should be much better at it than I was.
Then, just the other day, I was reading a book given to me by one of my high school students, and this verse came up. Maybe it was a product of the books I’ve been reading recently, tales with knights and magnificent walled cities, but for the first time it struck me that “guard” in Proverbs 4:23 can have an entirely different meaning, and it struck me as a picture:
Imagine a large city, a beautiful city, made of white, shining granite. The streets are clean and lined with trees and perfumed flowers. The architecture is elegant, with arches and lovely engravings. Life fills the city–everything about it is infused with vivacity. Around this city, there is an indestructible wall with numerous gates to let people in and out. The gates do not make it vulnerable, though. There are guards posted at each one, watching to keep enemies out and let allies pass in and out at will.
One’s heart, I think, should be like that city: Beautiful, pure, vibrant, alive, even as it has been made by the love of Christ and the will of the Father. In this healthy heart, other people can come and go, as relationships wax and wane and as you and others move about the earth. The guarding of your heart comes from this: Not willingly or wittingly allowing people who will wreak damage on your city to have free reign in your heart.
Then I thought, there are two ways we can guard our hearts like this. We can be always alert, making ourselves the guards at every entrance. For a while, this could work, but it will end up being exhausting. I imagine it will leave us depressed and jaded, always judging people by whatever is our standard for “safe,” and when we accidentally let in pillagers and arsonists, we’ll be left with a razed, robbed heart.
Or we can entrust someone else with the guardianship of our hearts, someone trustworthy and good. As we know, “in all things God works for the good of those who love Him” (Romans 8:28); that no one can stand against us if He is for us (Romans 8:31); that He is faithful and loving (Deut. 7:9; 1 John 4:8); that He never sleeps or grows tired (Ps. 121:4). It seems that the Lord is the very best option for someone to guard our hearts.
This is frightening. I know that I do not always want to give God complete control over who is allowed into my heart. Sometimes, I’m nervous about what He will do with this power. On the other hand, I know what a mess I’ve gotten myself into, trying to guard my heart on my own. I know I cannot do it. So it is time to take a leap of faith, to surrender my city into the hands of the One who created it.