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Guarding Your Heart Isn't Very Christian


Guarding Your Heart Isn't Very Christian

Jonah Venegas

by Jonah Venegas

The main gist of this whole "guarding your heart" facade is supposed to be this: if you don't get too close to someone in the early stages of a relationship, "giving too much away," is usually how it gets phrased, then you'll walk out the relationship with less pain if it happens to not pan out. That might be a nice idea to start out with, but it really starts to destabilize when you throw in the parallel Christian notion that casual dating is bad and that you're always supposed to date with the goal of marriage. (I could write another whole blog post on the flaws of that, but I digress). The problem with this setup is that those two ideas are completely antithetical. It's not possible to simultaneously "guard your heart," aka basically hold a person at arm's length in the initial stages of dating while also dating with this laser-focused goal of getting married eventually. I might only have one year of therapy school under my belt, but it's enough for me to tell you that's not how things work relationally whatsoever.


This is also fascinating, because even C.S. Lewis wrote that, "to love at all is to be vulnerable," which goes against the core notions of "guarding your heart," as many of us had understood it growing up. Great, if that's not it's actually supposed to mean, but I guarantee you that's not how 95% of us understood the phrase in middle school or high school in church basements.

But here's the other thing. When you really get down to it and start examining what "guarding your heart" is supposed to mean, what you're going to find are really selfish motivations at the core. Part of the inherent (though usually unspoken) promise of the idea of "guarding your heart," is that if you do that, you're not going to have any relational woes and that if the relationship doesn't pan out for whatever reason that you're going to emerge largely unscathed. Essentially, the philosophy of "guarding your heart" is relational insurance, and that's wholly disgusting to me.

Sure, actually being vulnerable and actually learning how to love someone selflessly might be more painful in the long run as you allow yourself to truly open up to another person, but if the goal of this "guarding your heart" garbage is that you never experience pain in relationships gone wrong, then you have some significant growing up to do, my friend. This line of thinking degrades romantic relationships to a very basic transactionary state that most Christians would vehemently disagree with: I won't hurt you if you don't hurt me. Let me tell you again that's not how relationships operate at all.

essentially, the philosophy of "guarding your heart" is relational insurance, and that's a really selfish motivation

I think a big part of the lie within this "guarding your heart" nonsense is the implicit promise that if you do everything "right" in your relationship, then everything will work out the way you want it to and you'll have that fairy tale happy ending. Unfortunately, that's generally not the way life works itself out. And that's not to say that it's anybody's fault.

Sometimes the person you think you love with your whole heart doesn't love you back. Sometimes tragedies happen. Sometimes life itself just happens and things don't pan out the way you thought they were going to. And sometimes, it's not anyone's fault, but if you subscribe to the "guarding your heart" philosophy, then you'll often see people gaslit for NOT "guarding their heart" closely enough in a relationship.

This is usually in response to people who get hit really hard emotionally by rejections in relationships or relationships that have broken down. Their sadness, grief, and sense of loss are all completely, absolutely normal reactions to relationships that aren't going to move forward anymore, but they get shamed for feeling those emotions under the guise of a victim-blaming "you didn't guard your heart" type of dismissal, and that's cruel.

completely normal emotional responses of sadness, grief, and sensations of loss are often dismissed under a blanket statement of "you didn't guard your heart"

For whatever reason, people who have bought into this notion of "guarding your heart," seem to think that if you did everything just right that you're not going to experience grief when a relationship ends, and that's a flat out lie. And for a long time, though I had rejected the initial premise, I kept wondering why I hadn't "gotten over" this past relationship after what I felt like was a reasonable amount of time. But processing through this entire criss-crossed mess of relationship Christianisms started making me question what "getting over" someone really meant.

I think a lot of us would be quick to jump out and say that "getting over" someone means you don't think about them anymore, that you don't have strong emotional reactions to them or things associated with them anymore, and all kinds of things like that. To a degree, I think that's partially true, but at the same time, I think I assumed that getting over someone meant that ALL my emotional ties and responses to him would just evaporate into thin air, that I'd feel absolutely nothing towards him anymore. But when I stopped to think about THAT, I realized that's a pretty unhealthy expectation.

I've come to realize that perhaps I'll never have a zero percent emotional reaction to things associated with this boy, because at one time in my life he meant quite a great deal to me, as did the things associated with him. Similarly to how people will say that anger within relationships means that people still care, I think the same is true for grief in a parallel way. You're still going to experience some level of grief and angst at certain times over certain people, because on some level those emotional connections never fully go away. That's perhaps the one snippet of truth within the notion of "guarding your heart." But that's not a bad thing, because our goal shouldn't be relational insurance or relational anesthesia. 

on some level, those emotional connections never fully go away, but that's not a bad thing

Feeling emotions, even the ones we typically label as negative, isn't a bad thing. It might not feel good to be experiencing sadness or grief or loss or pain, but that doesn't mean we stifle them or try to avoid them by holding people at arm's length or refusing to acknowledge that we once cared about a person or even loved them deeply. Because this type of pain isn't bad in and of itself. It's simply a reminder that someone used to mean quite a lot to us, and most of the time, the hurt is also a sign that they still do. That's not bad.

But I think we've been socialized to believe that feeling this kind of pain is bad because of this "guarding your heart" bullshit. It seems to say that you shouldn't feel pain if you "did everything right in a relationship." And I think there's also a part of it that says you're somehow "losing" if you still care about someone, or care about someone deeply, even after the end of a relationship, as if the relationship was a battle to be won or lost. And that's not Christian.

We weren't meant to live numb lives. We were meant to feel and to feel deeply, both the joy and the pain. And giving everything you have isn’t a sin. It’s not a bad thing. It’s not unwise. In fact, I think we really start to live like Jesus when we’re able to open ourselves up and love more fully and more authentically, without always putting walls up. I’d rather be like that, even if it leads me to more heartbreak along the way.


So, yes, I got my heart broken (real talk) back in January, but if I had to go back in time, I’d probably do it the same way. Why? Because what do you really gain by “guarding your heart” anyway? Suspicion? Paranoia? That’s not how I want to live. I’d rather trust people and love openly.

Because I'm tired of this weird, fake “Christian” approach to relationships that prioritizes self preservation above all else. That’s cheap and selfish and not the way Jesus lived his life. And I’d rather imitate Jesus and learn to convince myself that I will fall in love again than live in a bubble that doesn't let anyone in.

So, love abundantly. Share yourself and your heart openly. Let people in. Get your heart broken because you put yourself out there. Live a little. We weren’t meant to lead tidy, sterile, pain free lives. We were meant to get into the dirt with the people we love, and yeah, that means we're going to get hurt now and then, but those are the things that make life worth living.

I'll end this long, rambling post with one of my favorite quotes I've ever read, because I think it encapsulates a lot of the not-so-shiny places in life (and it's not even Christian, go figure).

We rip so much out of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything - what a waste!
//Call Me By Your Name

So feel a little deeper. Let people a little closer. And stay soft always.


Posted with permission. Original found here.