If you live in New York, you’ve probably seen this artwork scattered on sidewalks throughout the city. I’ve been staring at it under my feet for months now. I actually first spotted it shortly after getting out of a relationship, and it felt like some sort of sign made just for me. Mags, you should have protected your heart better.
To this day, whenever I walk past it, it makes me think. It might seem like silly graffiti, but for me, it’s one bit of sidewalk art that really resonates. It speaks the truth.
We’ve probably all been told at one time or another to protect our hearts. We women especially are often advised to be careful, to watch what we say, to make sure we don’t reveal too much. In relationships, let the man do the work. Oh, and never let your heart run too far past your head.
Usually the advice comes from a well-meaning place. It’s rooted in Scripture, after all.
Throughout my life, I’ve had a tendency to be very open with my heart. I let people in. I share my deepest desires and beliefs, as well as my sins. I care deeply for the people I am close to. I like fostering emotional intimacy with people, and I’ve definitely let my heart rule over my head. Don’t reveal too much? We’re already way past that.
Sometimes this unguardedness has resulted in great pain—when the other person’s heart is not equally as open, or when the level of emotional intimacy isn’t mutual. I’ve experienced this hurt not only with significant others, but with friendships and family, too.
So around the time I started seeing this artwork, I made the conscious decision to be more cautious with my heart. I’ve told myself that I can’t let people in until I can really trust them. Until I know their intention and investment level. I have to protect myself from getting hurt again. If the Bible tells me to do so, then surely this is the right move.
But what happens when you begin to so fiercely guard your heart that you close other people off? What happens when you prevent other people from loving you, from praying for you, and from investing in you because you’re more concerned with keeping your heart free from any bruises or blemishes?
I really don’t think that’s what God had in mind when he commanded us to guard our hearts. Yet it’s what I’ve been doing lately. I’ve encountered pessimism, an attitude I am not used to experiencing. I’m pessimistic that people won’t reciprocate and open their hearts to me when I do so with them. These feelings have fostered a sense of fear about letting new people close. If I open up to someone again, they can choose to walk away. New York City is such a transient place—if I get close to someone, there’s a very good chance that person may pick up, move, and leave me behind in the near future. I have lost count of the friends I’ve said goodbye to in this city, and I’ve only been here for three years. This year, I’m in a new neighborhood with a new community and a new church congregation. I can be open to new relationships, or I can keep a fence around my heart.
C.S. Lewis writes,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
It is better to have lost love than to never love at all. Any relationship, any love requires vulnerability and opening your heart. Ultimately, I think the best way we can interpret “protect yo heart” is by giving our hearts fully over to Christ. If I give my whole heart to Him first, rather than any human being or object, He will protect it. He is making in us new hearts, full of His spirit, His love, and His wisdom. He will remove our hearts of stone and give us hearts of flesh, that we may walk in his way and obey Him.
Transition and change are facts of life. People come in and out of our lives for particular seasons, and I really believe we can learn something through every relationship we have, regardless of how long it lasts. This doesn’t mean we will never be faced with pain or disappointment. It does mean that God is working in our hearts through it.
I’m in the middle of a book by Jennie Allen (don’t worry, future blog post on that one to come), and she talks a lot about living a life of reckless faith. She says that if we believe that heaven is real—and we live our lives like it is—everything changes. When we know this life is only for a short while and eternity with Jesus is on the other side, amassing a few scars here on earth seems significantly less painful. We know He will redeem our brokenness in exchange for beautiful and unblemished hearts.
I’m praying against bitterness and pessimism. I’m praying for vulnerability and openness. Now whenever my shoes cross over that bit of sidewalk art, I see it as reminder to pray. I pray that I guard my heart in the way Jesus intended—by giving it completely and undivided to Him.