Is Guarding Your Heart for Girls?

“Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”- Proverbs 4:23 (NIV 1984)

As a single woman, I recently reflected on this verse which I have often heard used in the context of dating relationships. It is usually addressed to young women in purity talks as a kind of feminine counterpart to telling young men to guard their eyes.

However, Solomon wrote this passage, not to women, but specifically to his son. Maybe we need to look at this passage a little closer before applying it to modern situations. In the ancient Hebrew context, the heart was not just the seat of emotions, it was the very being of a person, the source of emotion, will, character, etc. Solomon says that the instruction to guard your heart is “above all else”. This is not a gentle encouragement to be careful about emotional intimacy; this is a vital command. How can we effectively guard our heart (being)?

Wisdom– Looking at the context, Solomon is talking about the importance of wisdom. He also gives specific instructions to his son for avoiding what is evil and doing what is good. Following these wise instructions will protect us. Note that in other passages in Proverbs (7:25 and 23:26), the son is warned not to let his heart be inclined toward an adulteress. This is technically a relationship, but I do not think Solomon is forbidding his son from feeling affection for a woman. He clearly wants him to stand firm against temptation (sexual temptation being a good example because it is so powerful).

Armor– I have recently been studying the armor of God as described in Ephesians 6. Which part of the armor covers the heart (your being)? The breastplate of righteousness. Doing what is right will guard our character and our conscience. How can we do what is right and keep a pure heart? By guarding it according to the Word of God (Psalm 119). Notice again the imagery of guarding or protecting. We can only effectively guard something when we are alert to what is attacking it. Ephesians tells us we are fighting against (and guarding against) the spiritual forces of evil. Be prepared!

Prayer– Philippians 4:7 tells us that when we pray, the peace of God will guard our hearts (and minds). We can seek God’s help in living a pure life.  We can pray for wisdom, we can pray for a better understanding of the Word and the battle we are facing, and we can pray for spiritual protection.

Repentance– Even when we have not kept a good guard up, and the enemy has broken in, God is able to restore our hearts.  After David committed adultery and murder, he wrote Psalm 51 and prays to God to give him a clean heart. We know God answered this prayer and David was still called a man after God’s own heart.

As a single woman, I do want to guard my heart, not against emotional attachment, but against sin. (And yes, for those considering the typical interpretation of this passage, I do see the wisdom in being careful in intimacy and I do want to have self-control over my emotions. I simply do not want to limit the passage.) I definitely want the men around me to be guarding their hearts. I want it to be said of the man I marry “young man, … you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.” (1 John 2:14) Stand strong, brothers and sisters in Christ. Put a vigilant guard over your heart, that the enemy cannot sneak in and destroy you.

 

Photo by Henry Hustava on Unsplash

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A Change in Schedule

Many people have asked me how I feel about being in Guadalajara another year. Honestly, if feels right. Yes, I miss things at home, but I am so thankful for the opportunity to put more effort into improving my teaching and the opportunity to invest in my relationships here for a while longer. However, I knew that there were going to be some things I would need to change right away. Last year, I had a lot of stuff going on, including tutoring every day after school. This year, I am setting boundaries and only tutoring on Mondays and Wednesdays. I think it will be beneficial for the students to have tutoring in a group and also for me so that I have time after school on the other days to prepare for classes before resources and the printing room close.  See my other blog post. =)

Last year, I tried to have my personal time reading the Bible and praying in the morning before school. It just did not work for me. I like having that time in the morning…at about 9, not 6:30. Then, I would come home from school exhausted and get online. Now I am coming home from school and just resting in my upstairs room and spending time with God before I even turn on the computer. It has been so refreshing. So thankful we are not bound to a certain time or way of worshipping God. I am also thankful that rest is a good and biblical activity.

Living United

This week, I have been thinking a lot about what it means to live in unity, specifically the unity of mind and purpose which followers of Christ should have with one another. It honestly seems really hard to me right now. This last week, with the murders of nine African-American Christ followers in Charleston, the debate over the Confederate flag, and the Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states, I have seen quite a variety of opinions and debates on social media and not a lot of unity. Some of these opinions have been wisely and gently stated, some have been very honest and raw, some have been rude or hurtful, and some have been well-intentioned, but patronizing. To me, the internet did not seem like a safe place for a few brief words which might, unknown to me, have hurt a friend or almost definitely caused dissension and arguments.

I have certainly been thinking about these recent events and what my personal response should be as a Christian, but even more so I have been thinking about how to preserve the unity of the body of Christ, even when opinions differ to the extremes (or not so extremes). How do I live in unity with someone who has decided to follow Christ and relies on His grace, yet behaves in the way I would not expect a believer to behave? That different behavior might be a hotly debated issue like sexuality, extra-marital sex, or drug abuse though honestly, I also find myself confused and uncomfortable around Christians who consistently complain, gossip, joke crudely, or find pleasure in entertainment that glorifies something wrong. I often feel like I am being judged for not joining in or supporting a certain activity even when I am not judging them, just abstaining for the benefit of my own conscience. I want to be united with these believers because we are told to be united, yet it sometimes feels like our purpose is not the same, as if we are no longer on the same track. We are supposed to be one-minded in following Christ’s example and obeying his command to make disciples from all nations. What do I do in that case? Do I ignore what they are doing and act like I do not have a problem with it?  Do I point out to them where I have been convicted in a certain area in which they might have to check themselves (only in certain situations with certain people after much prayer)? Do I acknowledge to myself that they are off track, but fight to see their good points and exhort them? Do I move on and try to find more like-minded friends? That seems like the easiest thing to do at times. Maybe my response would be different in each instance?

I do not know how it is supposed to work yet. I do know that it is the Spirit’s job to convict and draw together and that I also somehow have a part in encouraging and exhorting the church. But wow, isn’t the Spirit sweet when you can really sense it emanating from another human being? That is what helps us live in unity, the One Spirit. I Corinthians 12:13- “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body-Jews or Greeks, slaves or free- and all were made to drink the one Spirit”. Let’s stay full of the Spirit, always striving for unity, willing to overlook personal offenses, thinking about how Christ is appearing to the world through us. Romans 8:5b- “but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit”.  (Actually, all of Romans 8 talks about this)

Taking “No” for an Answer

“For what no?” I hear this from my students often when they are trying to say, “Why not?” I suppose that none of us really like to hear “no” and we all want to know why we cannot have something or if there might be an exception. It becomes really annoying to hear it from the students, but adults probably do not realize how much they do it as well. Accepting “no” graciously really is a sign of maturity.

This week, I was expecting a final meeting with my coordinators at work which would allow me to have a self-contained classroom next year. Having my own classroom, instead of only teaching Language Arts for both classes, has been something I have been praying for since January. I made it a personal goal and put in a many hours of work to research different methods and strategies to make my teaching better. This year has been really humbling because I have had to find out so many things for myself and I have been mystified by many things with which trained teachers already had experience. I have often felt unqualified and inadequate, but worked hard so that I would not feel that way anymore. At my meeting, my coordinators told me they are really nervous to allow me a self-contained classroom because of my lack of training. They were also worried that I would not have time to do all of the work I would need to in order to successfully run the self-contained classroom. In short, I received a “no”.

It was hard. However, I was relieved about how I took it. I thought back on the last time I was told “no” about something major I had really wanted. I took it personally, I questioned, I felt completely worthless and fell into depression for a time. This time feels different. Yes, I am disappointed, but I could handle being told that I was not ready for the next step yet. I am okay with waiting and doing some more work. I am okay with the fact that I am not perfect. I feel like I understand 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 better than I did a few years ago. In this passage, Paul talks about a weakness he battled. He asked for it to be removed three times, but God continued to say “no”. It seems that it was through this Paul learned to boast in his weakness because he came to see Christ’s power in it. Before, I could not really wrap my mind around boasting in weaknesses. Yes, I knew it was something we were supposed to do, but my weaknesses always made me feel miserable, they never gave me joy or pride for the Lord’s sake. I think I just caught the very beginning of what it must mean to delight in a weakness because God has the opportunity to work in you and show His great strength.  I am looking forward to next year and being a little better as a Reading/Writing teacher. I am glad to know that He is pleased with me and He will be glorified even when I am weak.

Photo is my own of the glorieta (round-about) in our neighborhood.

Darkness Hides more than Defects

This year, I have had the opportunity to experience many new things culturally. Last week, I had my most stretching cultural experience yet, and I probably didn’t need to come all the way to Mexico to experience it. I went to a bar with some friends with whom I had just eaten dinner. Feel free to ask me about that, it is actually quite funny now looking back on it because I just held an empty cup the whole time so I didn’t look too out of place.

After we left, we had to go into an Oxxo convenience store to withdraw some money for the taxi home. The bright fluorescent lighting was quite the contrast to the dark bar with pulsing colored lights. I was with three other teachers and two Mexican men from one of their churches. One of the guys looked at us and said, “Wow, you girls are a lot more attractive in this light!” He had been sarcastic and joking most of the night, but now he defended himself and insisted he was not teasing. Aside from the girl who goes to his church, he had just met us that evening and we’d eaten our dinner outside so he actually had not seen us in the light.

It made me think about how while darkness can hide defects, which offers some security, it cannot make something beautiful. In fact, the darkness does not just obscure blemishes, but also true beauty where it is present. Hiding in the darkness will nullify the beauty of appearance and character. Light and truth reveals beauty, not just gives a poor illusion of it like darkness does. Children of light, let your light shine before men. (Matthew 5:16) When a lamp is lit, you do not cover it. You put it on a stand and it reveals and illuminates everything, the good and the bad (Luke 11:33). The light of the gospel will reveal hidden sin which is embarrassing to reveal, but it will also reveal the beauty of the gospel and the wonderful splendor of Christ in us.

Photo from unsplash.com

Reduce and Reuse First!

This past week I discovered something I had never heard of before- zero waste living. I stumbled across a blog last Saturday and have not been able to stop thinking about it since. Since then I have searched around and found other blogs and websites that promote this and I am more and more blown away. The concept is that people live their lives in such a way as to create zero waste for the landfill. Zero as in none. How on earth do they do this? They say no to everything prepackaged in plastic, they are intentional when shopping to avoid unnecessary packaging, they buy second hand, patch and repair things that are broken, they recycle packaging they cannot avoid, and they compost. One of the families shows a picture of a mason jar of true trash (unrecyclable) that they had to take to the landfill after one year of filling it. http://www.zerowastehome.com/2014/11/whats-in-our-familys-jar-of-annual-waste.html

Now my family has always been somewhat conscientious of being responsible for the earth. We recycle paper, cardboard, cans, etc. We buy a lot of stuff secondhand and we do not do a lot of impulse buying or eating out. We do the minimum, but it amazes me how some people see us as really dedicated. I remember once being in a class of 40 people when teams of three were giving presentations and had to give a handout to each person. After the class, I offered to take any of the handouts people did not want to the recycling bin. I got some strange looks and people asked me if I was part of the Green Team student organization. No, isn’t it just a no-brainer that we should recycle 450 pieces of paper that people looked at briefly in class and are not going to look at again?

I do not know if I could ever be completely zero waste, but I have been convicted that this deserves more attention. I am going to try to find a place to recycle in my neighborhood. I am not going to get plastic bags from the store anymore, but bring all of my own totes (which I discovered actually make carrying groceries back home a lot easier since the totes are so much bigger). I am going to start looking for glass jars of food instead of plastic bottles or jars. Something I learned while browsing these blogs is that plastic can only be downcycled a couple times, not truly recycled. http://www.zerowastehome.com/2010/03/zero-waste-homes-last-resort-recycling.html .

The thing I like the most about these blogs is that recycling is the last thing on their list. They are making such a difference in their consumption because they are actually reducing their use of packaged items or refusing them and learning to live without. Then, they are reusing items as much as possible before it goes to the recycling. Clothing that cannot be worn anymore is cut up for rags or napkins or other purposes. I think the reason Americans generate so much waste is not that recycling is unavailable or inconvenient, but because they are not willing to say no up front.

So how does this apply to Christians? Our earth is a precious gift from God. Yes, I do believe that it is cursed because of Adam and Eve’s disobedience to God (that was the first thing man did to harm the earth) and that the earth will one day be remade for His glory. However, while we are waiting for the renewal of the world, are we not still the stewards of the present earth? Most western Christians are not acting like it. There are quizzes you can take online, like this one http://footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/calculators/  that can give you an estimate of how much sustainable your lifestyle is. I took the quiz, and even with the recycling, reusing, and secondhand shopping I do (and the fact that I am currently walking to work and live in a house with solar power) it would still take approximately 4 Earths to support this kind of lifestyle for the total population. So let’s think about this. God created all people and loves them all equally. Political and economical issues aside, I think it is fair to say that God intended all people to have equal rights to food, water, energy, and other natural resources. Therefore, God did not intend us to live the way so many Westerners live. We are not only hoarding resources, we are wasting them and misusing them. We act like the earth is disposable and that everything is for us and we have no responsibility. Most of the blogs I have read are not written by Christians, which is a shame. Why don’t more Christians embrace this lifestyle as a testimony to their commitment to their responsibility as Christians?

I Enjoy Being Human

After twenty weeks of hard work, I got to take a two week break in Virginia. Sigh…It was wonderful. It was a very busy break and a lot of things happened, but I am not complaining in the slightest. I would not have wanted to miss any of the things that occurred. I got to celebrate Christmas with my family as usual, though I felt more like an adult since I asked for small, practical presents which I could fit in my suitcase. My family also got to celebrate New Year’s our traditional way with two other close families hanging out in a cabin in the woods for four days. It was nice to get away from the busyness for a little while and play games with each other and I do believe I am permitted to say that an exceedingly merry time was had by all.

Unfortunately, my break was not all pleasant memories. My dad’s mom passed away on break, which was a sad time for our family, but also a kind of relief because she had been battling Alzheimer’s for so long. I was thankful to be in the states and able to attend her funeral and be there for my grandfather and dad. On the other end of the emotional spectrum, a very dear friend whom I have known since elementary school was married and I was able to stand up with her as a bridesmaid and celebrate her next stage of life with a wonderful man. I also got to visit the preschool children I had worked with last year as well as the Sunday School classes I had taught and these visits were each really sweet, as only visits with children can be.

All of these memories from this past trip, the joyful and the sorrowful, felt needed. I know that I have times when I am intensely focused on academics, or career goals, or in intellectually wrestling with what the Christian walk should look like, but this break was a wonderful time to remember that I really enjoy being a human. Though the human race is fallen, being a human is a wonderful gift from God, reflective of Himself. Christ himself chose to share in it. Being human comes with a wide range of experiences, desires, and emotions. It is amazing to think that God instituted marriage and we can find great joy in it. We can also look forward to the day when the church will be wedded to Him! It is amazing that though death is a part of the curse, it is also a way of releasing the suffering to be in the presence of the Lord. This does not mean that death is easy to deal with or that there will not be pain for loved ones, but there is hope. Friendships can never be exactly duplicated or even sustained at the same level, but that is alright. Each relationship is a gift from God in its own way. We can grieve for past friendships and also keep living and look forward to new ones.

I am so thankful to be living now and I am anticipating what experiences, trials, victories, tears, and joys this coming year brings.

Photo credit to Brianna Barnwell