Guard your heart above all else,
for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23
As I look back over the past year I realize that God has been taking my heart and reshaping it. Have you ever found yourself quietly living an anthem that you didn’t plan to live? A melody that you can’t quite remember when you began composing? Note by note it forms the rhythm of your life.
It wasn’t a single moment, a particular sermon or an article I read, but guarding my heart became my subtle anthem. Like a song stuck in my head, Proverbs 4:23 whispered in my mind again and again. The words were Biblical and true, taught me many lessons, and saved my heart from a lot of pain. But in my fallen mind, I took this beautiful melody and lost the rhythm, I hit wrong notes, and it became a broken assembly of noise. A gift from God intended for good, but twisted and reshaped by my own brokenness. I pulled this verse outside of the context God spoke it into.
Instead I bottled emotions and feelings. Joy and pain, love and hate, I stored it all inside. I was afraid to feel, afraid to dance, afraid to love, afraid to laugh, afraid to cry. This created a struggle between my heart and my hands. Even in my journal I would paint a picture of what I wanted my life to be or what I thought it was supposed to look like, with only little drops of the emotion in my heart bleeding out. I built walls and callused my soul. Maybe I was simply scared of pain. What I couldn’t see is that if you don’t allow yourself to feel pain, how can you expect to experience joy? I lived in the chains of my own heart, refusing to give God the key.
I know I’m not the only one. I’ve seen my friends and others in the church go through the same thing. We think church is supposed to be solemn, Christians are supposed to have it all together. We find ourselves living the lie of the broken paradox that we can’t express joy because the world is so broken, yet we can’t express pain because God is so good.
This is so far from the life Jesus wants to give us. The shortest, yet one of the most powerful verses in the Bible says “Jesus wept” (John 11:35). Paul tells the church to show love by weeping with those who weep and to be happy with those who are happy (Romans 12:15). We see Jesus practice extravagant compassion throughout His life. The world IS broken and God IS good, but we can express both. We can see the beauty in sunsets and simultaneously admit the ugliness of sin. Jesus displayed that lesson in His life and death. How have we strayed so far from this picture?
When we read Proverbs 4:23 in context of the whole chapter, we see that God is asking us to listen to His instruction and store His words in our hearts. That doesn’t mean we build a fortress around our heart and refuse to let any feeling or any person in. It means we dig into our Bibles and learn who He is and let our hearts rest in that truth. Then, we give God the key and let Him hold the hammer to break down the walls we’ve built. We stop running from His will because it has the potential to hurt us. Instead, we choose walk in obedience, trusting that with Him guiding our hearts we are safe in His love. We live in true freedom, experiencing whatever life brings in the light of grace.
God showed me this through children dancing at church, through letting people in who loved me deeply and letting myself love them too, through worship, through a friend reminding me of the true meaning of this verse, through my theology class, and even through pain. God has demolished the walls I had built inside my heart. I smile a lot more. I’m getting much better at dealing with my anger, heartache, and sadness. I’m not afraid of my tears anymore. I dance even when it embarrasses me a little. I let myself love and say “I love you” more often. I praise God by laughing and jumping in rain puddles. I’m following His voice, even when what He says sounds crazy. Most importantly, I’m continuing to know and love my Savior and locking His words in my heart. I am still far from perfect and still find myself hitting those wrong notes sometimes, but I am confident that this melody of freedom in Christ is pointing me towards whatever He has for me next.