As a single Catholic navigating my way through relationships with the hope of finding someone to call home, I often hear this advice: guard your heart. Last time here on TFG I wrote about the gift of receptivity, which is, essentially, openness. In order to receive love, I must be open. So my question is how do I guard my heart while also being receptive?
The heart is valuable; it is our centre, so it is worth guarding, keeping safe. Proverbs tells us, “Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life.” (Prov. 4:23) Keep in this sense doesn’t mean to not discard. Instead, think of a castle keep which is a fortified tower. So to ‘keep your heart’ means to protect and, well, guard your heart.
But how do we do it? What does it look like to guard our heart? Does it mean to be closed, paranoid, paralysed? I don’t think so. That sounds like fear to me. We are called to love: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” (John 13:34) and there is no room for fear in love.
It is true that when we open ourselves to love, we might also be opening ourselves to hurt. Our instinct can be to retreat into that fortress and pull up the drawbridge. But we are called to love, not protect ourselves. Yes, we may experience hurt, but there is growth and learning to be gained and I believe our capacity for love grows every time we give it.
Guarding our hearts can be a misguided attempt to exert control over our lives or a situation. I think that happens when we rush ahead of God, instead of allowing Him to show us the proper time and person. Matters of the heart require that we also engage the mind. We can be prudent and have good boundaries and lean not on our own understanding (Prov. 3:5-6). We can abandon our hearts to God, not to another person – until we know, through proper discernment that it is right to share ourselves with that other person.
Perhaps guarding our hearts is not meant to keep our love locked in, but rather to keep sin and temptation out. For women this may be particularly relevant, because many of our temptations come through the heart. For example, watching romantic movies might make us long for heroes and Prince Charmings and to be swept off our feet, instead of finding the joy in our ordinary daily life, or, we may love our children so very much that we resent any other person who has a place in the child’s heart. It can also be very tempting to accept the affection of someone other than our spouse when we’re feeling lonely or unappreciated. Be on guard against sin and temptation, not against love.
I recently came across this quote from CS Lewis, writing about the heart: “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.” (Four Loves) ‘Vulnerable’ is a scary word, Mr. Lewis, but so is the image you paint of the dark, airless casket!
Dear Reader – particularly you single-but-hopeful readers - instead of being unbreakable, let’s be vulnerable. Let’s be prudent. Let’s love as God leads us to.