Originally published Monday, 23 May 2016.
Above all else, guard your heart....
Everyone has one. It’s price tag that hangs around the doorknob that opens the hallways of your heart. For some, that price tag is high and trust is given sparingly. For others, the door swings open on its hinges welcoming all into the warmth of intimacy. Most of us respond to those who sojourn through our life somewhere in the middle, with perhaps a little less extremism on either end of the spectrum.
I must confess that I tend toward the open-door policy. I have been learning, however, that the cost of my heart is worth more than I originally understood.
When I was little, I was the only kid on the block until fourth grade - then a new girl just my age moved in down the street. I was so excited! We made friends... well, sort of friends. I don’t know if you ever had this kind of experience as a child (or perhaps even as an adult) where you look back and wonder what in the world you were doing having a friend like that, but this is one of those experiences.
I lived in an upscale neighborhood in the home of my deceased great-grandmother. We didn’t “belong” in the area, and I felt it just about every day. I’ll spare you all the details, but both this girl and her mom would regularly ridicule my state of living. While we were playing, this friend would shriek if I got too close to her dolls. I wasn’t allowed to touch them because I was too poor. She would ask if I was hungry, find her way to the kitchen and then eat cookies in front of me. When I asked if there was enough for me too, she would say that she would have been happy to share except these cookies were only for rich people. I would avert my gaze and let her finish her snack, feeling terribly sheepish.
Her mother would look me over, either upon my arrival or departure and ask me where I got my clothes, knowing full well they were hand-me-downs. She just wanted me to have to admit it out loud so she could fuss about it. The list went on and on. Yet I continued to go to her house to play with her. I wanted a friend and the cost of my friendship was mighty cheap.
I wish I could say that I put away that kind of thinking once I moved onto junior high or high school... or even college. But I did not. Graduations did not erase this standard operating procedure from my make-up. I would brush off such offenses as if they didn’t really mean to do or say those things.
Slowly, I realized what my grandmother meant when she said, “Those people aren’t friends or else they would act like it. Those people are just acquaintances.”
Years have passed, and I’ve been making some slow but needed changes. I still tend to relate to people with an often-too-wide-open heart, but I have learned something very important about my heart. And yours too, for that matter! My heart (and yours) wasn’t cheap!
You are not your own for you were bought with a price... 1 Corinthians 6:19
The price that paid for my heart and yours was the death of God’s only Son, the Prince of Peace and Savior of the World. I am not my own, so it isn’t up to me to decide how others can treat the heart Jesus paid for.
Too often we allow ourselves to endure unnecessary wounding in relationships because we figure that it is our duty or because it brings us to a place of humility or servitude that honors Christ. While there are a plethora of verses that instruct us to take up our crosses and follow Christ (who undoubtedly suffered wrongly at the hands of sinful people) to bear one another’s burdens, there is much needed discernment in applying godly wisdom to our relationships as well.
I recently discussed a personal situation with a dear sister in the Lord about whether or not to continue the status quo of a relationship that always left me tattered. After all, in 1 Peter 3:17 it says that we ought to suffer for right. Maybe I was just supposed to let it happen? This true friend reminded me of a valuable point. The context of that verse happens to be your witness. Humility and grace are always required. Sometimes these virtues are the most crucial part of our witnesses and need to be magnified in situations where we might end up getting treated unfairly for the Lord’s glory. Other times, however, a spoonful of truth and healthy boundaries need to get stirred in with grace and humility.
Here are some verses that describe situations we ought to avoid in our relationships:
There are six things which the LORD hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers. -- Proverbs 6:16-19 NAS
Do not associate with a man given to anger;
Or go with a hot-tempered man,
Or you will learn his ways
And find a snare for yourself. -- Proverbs 22:24-25 NAS
He who goes about as a slanderer reveals secrets,
Therefore do not associate with a gossip. -- Proverbs 20:19 NAS
But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler — not even to eat with such a one. -- 1 Corinthians 5:10 NAS
In light of these verses, I’ve had to realign some relationships. People I dearly loved but had violent tempers did indeed end up creating sticky snares in my life that God wasn’t calling me to be part of. I also learned to give less of my heart to people addicted to gossip and slander. In each of those circumstances the individuals were professing believers. They were not open to any correction and did not change that facet of life (and often got worse) over the course of years. If we truly reckon that we are not our own, then regardless of how much we might love a person caught in such activities, we must realign our interaction with them because our Lord tells us to.
When we consider how we are not our own (oh! such a foreign concept us!), we must also reckon that sometimes offenses will come our way and they too have been sifted through our Father’s hand. Because we don’t own the rights to our hearts anymore, our Father instructs us to forgive. He allows us to choose whether we will cling to grudges or grace. But in the end, if we are really following Him, the choice has already been made.
It is a tricky tightrope walk that applies with balanced verses like:
But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, and because He did not need anyone to bear witness concerning man for He Himself knew what was in man. -- John 2:24-25 NAS
Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong. -- 2 Corinthians 12:10 NAS
Personally, I can’t find that balance on my own! I need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in this area of life. As I have been growing in the realization that my heart really isn’t cheap (regardless of how I treat it), I have acquired a few practical tools:
1. Pray! Talk to God about every relationship you invest time in. Pray before you go to visit/chat with a friend, pray during your visit and pray afterward. Pray, pray, pray about your relationships!
2. Check with someone whom you know has your best interest at heart. My hubby would often share concerns about certain people in my life who ended up being people I would have to put in Grandma’s “acquaintance” category, no matter how much I wanted to make them a soul-sister.
3. Recognize that all your friends and family members are indeed human and will let you down - you will do the same to them too. So don’t make perfection the price tag for intimacy.
4. Recognize that if you feel lonely in the friendship department, it might be because God wants you to lean into Him more right now instead of being distracted with people. Cultivate your relationship with the Lord first and foremost!
5. When offenses in relationships do come your way, ask the Lord how He wants you to respond. Forgiveness is a given, but perhaps He isn’t requiring you to remain so close or maybe He wants you to lovingly confront the other person. Check your motive for being close to the person. Do you just really need their approval or is this a healthy, Christ-centered relationship?
6. Lastly, consider how your relationships center around God. The relationships that have Jesus as the center (ie. we talk about Scripture, pray for each other, etc) are the ones that are most precious. So apply grace liberally in those relationships.
Finding balance in relationships isn’t easy! But at the end of the day, our heart belongs to our Lord! It is of great worth to Him, and no longer belongs to us. He is the author of that well-known verse, Guard your heart above all else for from it flows the issues of life Proverbs 4:23. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got enough “issues” without adding more because I didn’t follow my Father’s good instructions for relationships.
May we all grow in wisdom to know the true cost of a heart and guard it with honor.