On Guard: Learning How to Guard Your Heart
Often times my heart is an open book, laid out for all to see. I am always ready for the next person to come up and read the mysterious, poetic contents that have been written with pen strokes of joy and pain. We are taught as Christians to be vulnerable with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I have always excelled in that skill and at one point I’d say it was my favorite aspect about the Christian lifestyle. Until now. Now at the ripe-old age of twenty-two I have had my fair share of disappointments, burned bridges, and bumpy roads.
I was so openly vulnerable with people, both male and female that what I thought was one of my greatest strengths became one of my greatest weaknesses. The pain and suffering that is coupled with vulnerability is staggering. I have learned during my college days that you can’t always jump into vulnerability head-first. When you are being vulnerable with an individual or even a large group of people, you are baring your naked soul. Every wound, every scar is laid bare and illuminated for people to witness. Your soft, tender, fleshy bits of fragile heart and spirit are left wide open, susceptible to spiritual attack.
So, do we abandon our practice of vulnerability with one another in order to avoid further anguish and affliction? Of course not. There is a smart way to go about vulnerability and Ephesians chapter six tells us all about it.
Put on the Full Armor of God
Ephesians 6:10-20 describes putting on a suit of armor that is meant to protect against evil forces. I read this passage many times growing up but I never quite understood it. What does it mean to put on the armor of God? Maybe it’s just me but I’m not quite familiar with how to put on invisible armor that would supposedly protect me from life’s disappointments, curve balls, and unmet expectations. When reading this passage just a few weeks ago I am reminded of something my best friend told me once when I was suffering from the painful consequences of an unbalanced relationship. I thought I was being vulnerable and openhearted while the other person was not reciprocating this spiritual willingness. I felt rejected, known yet unloved and certainly not wanted. She told me that vulnerability was good but that I had to guard my heart at the same time. This seemed contradictory to me. How does one guard their heart and yet be vulnerable at the same time?
We begin by standing firm with the belt of truth.
The disappointments and heartache we often experience after spiritual vulnerability leaves our knees buckling under the force. It’s hard to stand tall and confident. The belt of truth is a centering force. It makes sense that it is placed in the middle of our bodies, the source of our balance. The truth is our frame of reference in which everything about us and our lives is seen. This is the truth: that we are beloved daughters of God above and are unconditionally loved. We are worthy because we have been created in the Image of God and have been set free from our sin by Christ Jesus. Nothing we say or do could cause God to love us any less. This reminder replaces balance to my soul and I am better able to stand in the face of my own heartache. Those feelings of worthlessness and of being unloved vanish under the purpose for which I was made.
Put the breastplate of righteousness in place.
The breastplate gives further protection for one of the most important organs in your body. Give your heart good and proper maintenance. Take time to meditate and have quiet time. Converse with God on what has been bothering you lately and give it over to God in prayer. To me this means a lot of meditation on the bitter and angry residue that has been left over by the rejection of others. The rest of the body cannot operate without the use of the heart. It must be clean, free from anger, hate, and injustice. The heart needs to be clear in order to pump the blood to the rest of the body; trust me you can breathe easier when you remind yourself of the peace Christ has left for you instead of dwelling on the wrongs that have been committed against you. Think of forgiveness as the cardio workout for your heart. Do a little bit each day and you find that in the future the work of forgiveness will feel like nothing.
Fit your feet with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.
I’ve learned that remaining upset about the what-nots in my life take up quite a bit of emotional and mental energy. And it’s all wasted because being angry and bitter to the point of paralysis changes nothing. The readiness that comes with the gospel discusses what we are to do with our time-and that is to do Good. I realized that I was wasting so much time pining over the attention and affection of people who had no intention of giving it to me. I am better off making a truly amazing difference by utilizing my gifts and talents. The story of the gospel is of the nature that it will take us to many places, physically and spiritually. We must be ready. So put on that belt of truth and that breastplate of righteousness and you will be ready to engage with the world.
Take up the shield of faith.
Faith protects us from irredeemable doubt and the alternatives that the world offers us. As a society and culture we think we know a lot; that we have progressed beyond the dependence of the otherworldly in the arts, technology, and science. It is hard to be doubtful of the facts that we are presented with and easy to become uncertain about the hope the gospel offers and the ways in which to obtain it. It takes courage of heart to engage with a world that will most likely disagree with you and claim you are wrong; you’ll begin to doubt yourself. But have faith in God’s love for you and for the grace in which you are made free. Shields give us confidence and perhaps we can act more courageously knowing that we have a strong defense.
Take the helmet of salvation.
This is my favorite. It places emphasis on the head, the brain; knowledge. As an academic at heart I sincerely believe that knowledge is power. Those who possess the knowledge possess the power. So knowledge of yourself gives you power over yourself. Once you know who you are and are secure in your identity as a child of God then overcoming yourself and your vices becomes very possible. This is one piece of knowledge that we never have to doubt; we are made for something else, something bigger and it’s within our reach. It’s liberating; it’s the freedom that Christ has promised.
Take the sword of the Spirit.
Now we can fight back. We can stand our ground against that which opposes us. Numerous times in scripture the Word of God is referred to as a sword, a living and active thing. It has the ability to take the offensive and to take the defensive. When the truth begins to evade you and others use scripture to put you and your dreams down, go back to it with the belt of truth tight around your waist. This is your defense. The encouragement and hope I find tuck away within the precious stories of the Bible defends my heart against the attacks it currently is facing. Scripture and our interpretation of it is how God moves and acts within our world and within our lives. We must be well acquainted with it in order to reveal what God is doing right here, right now. This is our offensive. Though it may never be entirely clear, we will gain a better idea of where God is acting and where we must follow.
We’re women and we’re warriors; dressed in the full armor of God. We can outfit ourselves for battle without losing our ability to be vulnerable. Just be smart about it. Remember the armor of God and what each piece means. If you are feeling depressed, heartbroken, unworthy, or unloved after a time of vulnerability with others go back and put your armor on. For the next time be prepared when you plan on being vulnerable with another so that after you have done everything you can, you are able to STAND. Be firm, unrelenting and uncompromising in who you are and what you stand for. Fight for truth, justice, love, and beauty.