For a few years now, I’ve been wrestling with the idea of emotional purity (i.e., being pure of heart) and what it really means to guard the heart, and the most prominent thing I’ve realized is that it’s a really unpopular and misunderstood subject.
The Bible tells us to watch over and guard our hearts, but do we really know what that means?
I would argue that guarding your heart has nearly next to nothing to do with other people. That is, while we need to be wise about who and what we invest our hearts in, we don’t necessarily need to guard our heart from other people as if they are the enemy—we need to guard our heart from the toxic emotions, thoughts and internal strongholds we form that will choke the life out of it.
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)
There is a difference between wisely watching over our hearts and hardening them to other people. They are not the same thing. Bitterness, offense and envy can sneak in like a crippling, life-stealing epidemic—often during times in which we think we are “guarding” our heart.
Bitterness and offense look good on no one; jealousy and envy are a putrid shade of green; and un-forgiveness is pure poison.
But you already knew that.
You also know that culture tells you to “follow your heart.” I can’t remember when it started, (probably because it was long before I was born), but it’s a message that’s been riding the sound waves of music, movies and other media on repeat for quite some time now. It’s an attractive message, because it appears to be giving us all the freedom in the world to be whoever we want and to do whatever we want.
But what that message isn’t telling us is that sometimes our hearts lie to us.
The Bible even tells us that the heart can be deceitful and difficult to understand at times:
“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)
Sometimes, our hearts feed off of the voices in our minds that speak lies to us. Sometimes, our hearts are too blinded by hurt to see the whole truth of the matter or what’s really going on. Sometimes, our hearts lead us astray—far, far away from even a glimpse of the actual truth.
(And sometimes our hearts are simply too selfish to see anything but our own pain and frustrations, and so we take offense to things that we really don’t have to.)
We can’t always trust our heart, so we shouldn’t always follow our heart.
I’m a major advocate for leading the heart—because, frankly, our hearts are flawed. They’re broken. They’re scarred. They’re lied to. They’re cheated on. They’re neglected. They’re abused. They’re manipulated. (This is a list that does not end.)
Honestly, they need a little leading now and then. Sometimes that’s the only way to healing.
But of course, we are human. We will have ugly emotions. They are inevitable—but they don’t have to stay long.
The problem lies in the point where we keep these emotions on repeat and start to give them dominion of our hearts—where they start to take root, with our heart a mere host.
The problem lies in the point where we start to take our emotions as truth.
Emotions are not truth. Emotions are reactions. They are capable of being justified. But they aren’t justifications in and of themselves. They are simply reactions to truth—or what we think is truth, but may not actually be the truth.
With a little diligence, I wholeheartedly believe we can choose the course of these reactions. Not overnight. Not in a week. Maybe not even in a year—but with constant and earnest effort over time.
With constant and earnest effort, we can choose to see all perspectives of a situation before we react. With constant and earnest effort, we can choose to not take offense and move forward. With constant and earnest effort, we can choose to forgive and give restoration a chance.
We can lead our hearts out of bitterness and into healing; we can lead our hearts to forgive the unforgivable; and we can lead our hearts to purity.
In this life, total emotional purity is not possible, but emotional purity in and of itself is beautifully attainable, freeing and life-giving—and I will take that over bitterness any day. I pray that you will too.
“Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (Proverbs 4:23)