On Guarding Your Heart

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Dear Darla,

So I think the next issue I would like to cover, if you would be so kind as to keep on reading, is the importance of guarding your heart. That is simple enough to say, but actually doing it can be quite the challenge.

You were brought up in a biblical home, and you have a really good relationship with your dad, I am happy to note, and so this will be easier for you than it is for many girls. But you will still have to be intentional about it. You cannot do this on cruise control. It is not something that happens all by itself. In fact, when left all to itself, the opposite thing happens.

Precisely because you have a commitment to traditional roles for men and women, you know that the man is expected to take the initiative in a relationship, and the woman is expected to be the one who responds to him. She ought not be the one who asks him out on a date, for example, and she ought not to be the one who proposes. So far so good. But there are ways that you could “initiate” something, even if it is just going on in your head, that can cause no little difficulty for you.

So imagine two lines down the middle of the room, and we have all the guys on the far side of one of the lines, and all the girls on the far side of the other one. Nobody is in between the two lines, and we will call that the zone of vulnerability. Getting into the zone of vulnerability means that if you get into the zone you can’t get out of the zone without getting hurt.

But it is not as though living in the zone is a bad place to be—every married couple lives there, for example. That zone is not a prohibited zone, but God has said that He doesn’t want us living there unprotected or unsecured. That is what the covenant does, that is what wedding rings do. When a couple is shacked up together for a few years, and then they break up, all you have is a divorce without the attorney’s fees. But the emotional and spiritual damage are not dependent on the fact of attorney’s fees.

When you fail to guard your heart, what is happening is that you are drifting into the zone. Now this can happen overtly when a guy and a girl are being stupid, and they are in a dating relationship for five years. If you do that, there is no way to stay out of the zone, and we probably ought not to say that they were “drifting” into the zone. It was more like the zone was a pool and they were cannonballing into the deep end of it.

But a girl in your position is more likely to drift into the zone. This can happen different ways. First, it can happen inside your head through daydreaming. Say an eligible young man starts attending your church, and he joins your college and career group. Ten of the young women can start imagining all sorts of possibilities for him, and four of those young women talk about those possibilities for him that they have imagined. You can think that their conversation is tedious and silly, and still be affected by it. “What if he. . .” Imagining all sorts of scenes and scenarios would be an example of not guarding your heart. If he asks another girl out, and you are disappointed but shake it off in half an hour, you are doing fine. If he does that and you are devastated, that means you daydreamed yourself into the zone. And there is an in between. Say you are not devastated, but you are certainly more disappointed than you ought to have been, and the half hour is more like a week . . . that’s something you really want to avoid in the future. So guard your heart by guarding your imagination.

Incidentally, one way of guarding your imagination is to monitor your consumption of romance novels and/or romcom chick flicks. I am not saying that they have to be considered sinful (although some of them are), but a steady diet of them is nothing more than pornography for the emotions. And just like sexual porn, it distorts your understanding of the world. All it will do is make your heart goopy, and it is really hard to guard a goopy heart.

All it will do is make your heart goopy, and it is really hard to guard a goopy heart.

You want to be preparing your heart for when the right guy shows up, and that means you must guard your heart until he does.

But let us grant that the reason you don’t want to guard your heart is that not guarding it is, for the moment, fun. Or consoling. Or reassuring. Or fun. That is, it is fun until it crashes.

Another way to drift into the zone is to have a circle of friends that you get very comfortable with—they are like a pair of your favorite slippers. Life is easy around them. There are three guys in this group and three girls. You get along well, and you do lots of fun things together, and nobody is dating exactly, but you do see each other three or four times a week. Movies at somebody’s apartment. Frisbee golf. Ice cream socials at the church. You are “the gang.” At some point, some of you are going to start drawing invisible lines above your heads, and that creates invisible expectations in your hearts—the ones you are not guarding.

Say you are particularly good friends with one of the guys, and the formal status that you and everybody else have assigned to this relationship is that you are “just friends.” That’s all you could ever be, right? That is because nobody has said or done anything romantic. But you are close to him, closer than a brother. And one day, when the two of you are having coffee at some joint—and it is not a date—he says something like, “Look, just thought I’d check . . . we’re just friends, right?”

What are you going to do then? What can you do? You are not in any position to stand up at your table, bosom heaving, in order to cry out, “No, no, Trevor! Let me bear your children!” Suppose you realized in that moment that you had indeed fallen for him, and he had just gotten confirmation from you that you were “just friends.” And believe me, many guys are stupid enough, even the smart ones, to think that having had such a conversation settles a matter like that.

This is a controversial subject for some, but you would be right to gather from what I have written that I believe that one-on-one male/female friendships are not a possibility. At the very least, it is a safe bet for you to act as though they are not a possibility.

You might ask how you were supposed to guard your heart in circumstances like that. The answer is simple, but it is only simple if you act early enough, and set your standards in place before you are maneuvered into places that pleasant enough going in, but which leave you hurt or devastated going out. Such places are called the zone of vulnerability.

Stay away from set groups that have even numbers of guys and girls. You want the gang to have five guys, three girls. Four girls, two guys. And in such groups don’t get so used to your friends there that you think you can just go to coffee with one of the guys and have it “not be a date.” Of course it is date. The fact that a guy and girl are industriously pretending to themselves that it is not a date doesn’t keep it from being a date.

Neither does it keep things from being sexually charged, incidentally. This is how “hook-ups” can happen between Christians, incidentally. They know they are not “in a relationship,” and so they hang on to that fact tenaciously, but this does not erase the sexual energy that both are carefully suppressing—until it explodes.

So how do you stay out of situations like that? Well, you do it by saying, “no, thank you.” He will be puzzled and say, “You don’t want a coffee?” And then you would say that you wouldn’t mind a coffee, but that you have a policy against spending any one-on-one time with guys. And he will be shocked and flabbergasted and all that. And he will say that all he wanted was to talk with you about something that happened to him that day, and how’s he supposed to do that? And then you would say that he could ask you on a date, and you would be happy to check with your dad. And then just look at him with a fat face.

What you are doing is refusing to get maneuvered into a nebulous relationship. If you are on a date, you are on a date, and you both know it. You don’t want to be sitting in some coffee bar while wondering to yourself, “What is this? Where are we?”

You should also have a policy against guys coming into your apartment if no one else is there. You have standards that you have set beforehand and you simply apply them. What this means is that you respect yourself. You are not unattainable, but you should seem unattainable to the guys.

Out in the pagan world, where men and women hang out together, and the ethical barriers are down, the women are easy. This is one of the reasons the men don’t commit. They are willing to use easy women, but they don’t want to commit to easy women.

The Christian version of this avoids the immorality (for the most part), but many times the girls make the mistake of being emotionally easy. And then the same thing happens on that level. They get emotionally used, and the men still don’t commit. The guys like talking to pretty girls because who wouldn’t? They need someone to pour out their troubles to, and mom’s not there.

You know this kind of thing is going on in the gang, for example, if a girl cleans up a guy’s apartment for him. Or if she takes it upon herself to cook a birthday cake for one of the guys. Or runs errands for him. Don’t be that girl. It’s low rent.

To repeat, you are not unattainable, but you want it to seem that way. This is not being snooty or snobbish. When it comes to one-on-one relationships with guys—I exclude your father and brothers and cousin—you should have too much self respect to drift into a place where you are emotionally available to men who have made no promises. You will spare yourself a lot of grief.

The last thing is this. Being able to do this is only possible if you are walking with God. The idea of “guarding your heart” refers to this vertical relationship with Him primarily, walking in the path of wisdom

“Keep thy heart with all diligence; For out of it are the issues of life”

Proverbs 4:23 (KJV)

The issues of life really do flow out of this. If you are walking with God, if you are close to your dad, if you honor your mother and imitate her, and if you listen to your uncle, your life will be pleasant in the land the Lord your God is giving to you.

Your uncle,