By Kelly-Jayne McGlynn, Crosswalk.com
Editor’s Note: Crosswalk's Singles Advice is an advice column for singles featuring an anonymous question from a Crosswalk.com reader with a thoughtful, biblical reply from one of our single editors.
A phrase I hear thrown around my singles ministry, especially when it comes to dating, is “guard your/his/her heart.” I’ve heard it so much that it’s one of those things where you hear it so often that it loses its meaning, and it feels like it’s said as some sort of solution to everything.
What does this phrase even mean? I’m currently talking to a girl at church that I really like and I think I want her to be my girlfriend. But how should I guard my heart or her heart, since that seems so important?
Hi there! What a great question. I can really relate to frequently hearing this phrase and feeling like its meaning is vague or out of context. At least the general principle people are meaning behind it is emotional purity. I think it’s awesome that you are pursuing this as you pursue her! Let’s look more into what that looks like and how to apply it.
Where does the phrase “guard your heart” come from?
The phrase is originally from Proverbs 4:23. I’ll add the surrounded verses for context.
My son, pay attention to what I say;
turn your ear to my words.
Do not let them out of your sight,
keep them within your heart;
for they are life to those who find them
and health to one’s whole body.
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Do not turn to the right or the left;
keep your foot from evil.
The main gist that I get from this passage is a warning: be careful! Careful of what you say, what you do, what you focus on. And be careful to protect your heart, because everything else you do is determined by it.
This wisdom certainly doesn’t only apply to dating. It could apply to the kind of work environment you’re in, the company you keep, or how much time you spend on the internet. As Christians, we must be intentional about keeping ourselves from worldly influences or anything that could distract us from our walk with God. You can read more about this phrase here.
Although it doesn’t exclusively apply to dating, it definitely does apply. Why must we be so careful as we pursue new relationships? Because our hearts and our emotions can be a mess!
Jeremiah 17:9 reminds us “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”
Especially when it comes to romantic relationships, our heart and emotions are especially privy to not seeing straight. In our (totally natural) desire to be loved for who we are, we can have the tendency to jump into things too quickly and let our guards down too easily. Relationships are easy to turn into idols if we are not careful, and in the excitement of finding someone we click with, our emotions can get away from us.
Guarding our hearts can help prevent situations in which two people can get too close too fast and therefore idolize each other and fall into emotional impurity.
What does it look like to guard your heart in dating?
Emotional purity is just as important to God as physical purity. Ephesians 5:3 declares “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.” This passage goes on to say that anyone who lives by immorality, impurity, or greed is an idolater.
God takes purity, in all forms, very seriously!
Therefore, to keep our hearts devoted to God, we need to be cautious of receiving something from people that should only be coming from God: things like significance, meaning, constant company, final affirmation or belonging. Of course, we get these things from encouraging relationships, too—but ultimately, they need to come from God. We cannot rely on people for validation or meaning. They can’t fill that role!
So, emotional purity looks like protecting ourselves from this temptation. In the same way that spending too much time alone, late nights, lack of accountability, and proximity can lead to physical impurity, the same sorts of things can lead to being emotionally impure as well—as can deep talks about your whole life, sharing secrets no one else has heard before, talking every single day. These things lead to an intimacy that, if you’re just getting to know someone or just dating, aren’t for you just yet.
For me, guarding my heart looks like limiting how often I’ll talk to someone, not sharing with them deep fears or insecurities, limiting how much personal information I’ll share about my family or past, and even being careful to not talk about things that are really close to my heart (like poetry, my absolute favorite music, or why I love the beach so much). These boundaries help protect me from getting in too deep too fast and ensure that my validation is coming from God and God only.
I think for you, it would be helpful to take some time to think through what boundaries you need. If you’re someone who has a traumatic past and feel a deep need for comfort, putting up boundaries to not talk about those things until your relationship is at an appropriate place to share that (i.e. definitely not on the first date!) If you’re someone who gets really close to people by how much you’re in contact, be sure to not talk to this girl you like every day because that can get you attached very quickly.
Pray through what you need, get advice from people close to you, and then ask for accountability! We need accountability for our emotional purity just as much as we need it for our physical purity.
When you’re getting to know each other, remember you’re not dating yet. When you’re dating, remember you’re not married yet. And at all stages, remember that this person is not God!
I would like to point out that this scripture talks about guarding your own heart. Although we can talk about guarding the hearts of others, that isn’t really the intention of this scripture. It is up to every individual to guard their own hearts—no one can do that for you.
But of course, just as we don’t want to cause anyone to stumble in their physical purity and therefore practice modesty and boundaries, it’s the same for the girl you like. Get to know her, be her friend, but don’t go too deep too quickly. And every step of the way, keep surrendering to God to make sure it’s something that he wants, too!
More scriptures on emotional purity:
Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, not to awaken love until the time is right. (Song of Solomon 8:4 NLT)
Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem? (Isaiah 2:22)
If anyone causes one of these little ones--those who believe in me--to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea. (Matthew 18:6)
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5)
Kelly-Jayne McGlynn is the Family Editor for Crosswalk.com. She loves being able to combine her love for God with her love of writing, and highly enjoys being at a job where the debate over the Oxford Comma actually matters.
Disclaimer: any single editor replying to reader questions through this advice column is a Christian seeking God's direction through his Word. We are not trained psychologists or licensed professionals. As we explore issues with you, we will seek God's guidance through prayer and the Bible.
Have a question? If you have a question about anything related to living the single life, please email email@example.com (selected questions will be addressed anonymously). While we cannot answer every question, we hope you'll find encouragement in this column.
Kelly-Jayne McGlynn loves her role as Family Editor for Crosswalk. She sees the act of expression, whether through writing or art, as a way to co-create with God and experience him deeper. Check out her handmade earring Instagram and Etsy for more of her thoughts on connecting with God through creative endeavors.