I’ve managed to get my heart broken so many times in my three-days-shy of thirty-three years of life that I’ve lost count. The first was half a lifetime ago. He had Charming-potential until he started dating my best friend. She was the second, hindsight painting her perhaps unfairly as the villain counterpart. Heartbreaks are subjective, the turmoil equal to the cumulative investment.
These were only the first of many (hindsight writing them much smaller roles of course, in light of subsequent events that would far surpass their investment value). In college, after losing two friends to tragic accidents and another to suicide, the world broke my heart. After college, there would be more soured friendships, more post-boyfriend recoveries, and even career disappointments.
Our hearts break when we lose the object of our investment. In her twenties, my mother lost her mother to a failed procedure, and her little brother to cancer in her thirties. The more candles on our birthday cakes, the more of our own losses come to mind as the examples build. Love, death, illness… they all break our hearts.
Divorce is not an alternative to heartbreak, but rather the ultimate heartbreak. When I was married, two hearts became one before God. Electing to sever that tie was a death-sentence of sorts. In the months leading up to filing the papers, my journal daily detailed that internal battle and spiritual struggle. A few short months after leaving my husband, I stopped writing altogether. Perhaps, once severed, I really didn’t have the heart for it.
Perhaps, once severed, I became more protective of what was left of it. I didn’t cry at movies anymore. I held new friends at a distance. And when I did start dating, I picked a guy for the simple fact that I couldn’t see it going anywhere. I believed that I was guarding my heart by protecting myself from cumulative investment, thereby avoiding future turmoil and keeping my heart intact.
And hadn’t God had a hand in breaking my heart? I had trusted Him when I entered this union. If He knew all things, He knew this would come. How could I trust him with my future now? It was unconscious at best, but I kept God at a distance, too.
Though I was no longer reading scriptures, the proverb still surfaced then, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV). My friend Chuck reminded me of this verse at the gym today, putting it into context and challenging me to consider the weight of its implications.
As a lover of language, I have the utmost respect for the significance of individual words, and I could not be contented to debate the significance of such a sentence without first returning to the original Hebrew nor leave the abstract “heart” without attempting to make it concrete. Like the physical organ that is central to our body’s functions, the Hebrew word for heart (לִבֶּ֑ךָ) is the mind, the will, and the emotions.
The heart is the core of who we are. When Solomon spoke these words, he was offering wisdom to his son about the direction one chooses. Other translations say, “Keep watch over your heart,” like a sentinel might keep watch over a city. A sentinel doesn’t build protective walls, he guards them.
If Solomon were advising me about how to have wisdom in choosing my path in my post-divorce life crisis, I think he would have cautioned me much the same way. Guarding my heart didn’t mean that I should build up walls to protect me from all the potential brokenness, failure, loss, and disappointment that might lurk beyond them.
After about an hour Googling lexicons, translations, and articles extrapolating the meaning of this verse, I stumbled upon a commentary that left me speechless as countless erroneous dots in existence were instantly connected. It was as though the most expansive, elaborate connect-the-dots portrait of my life was suddenly complete, and who has words when that happens.
In it, Phil Johnson explains the implications of this verse: “So you need to protect your heart with all diligence—to keep it from becoming dry and empty, poisoned and polluted, or stagnant and bitter. Because if your heart is wrong, everything else in your life will show the effects of it.”
If you’ve ever been so dejected that you poured an extra glass of wine, you understand the almost sub-conscience desire to numb the pain. In the aftermath of my divorce, I became numb. And I thought that I was protecting myself, I thought myself quite clever at the discovery; I could avoid turmoil by steering clear of emotional investments.
But just as a glass of wine numbs you to pain, it numbs you to every other emotion as well. In my futile efforts to build up imaginary walls that might not actually do anything to protect me from future heartache, I was unwittingly looking away from my post. While I was building walls, emptiness and bitterness were poisoning the waters of my heart. When the dots were connected, my portrait was a sad, broken woman who had far undershot her potential.
Forty-eight weeks ago, I started writing again. Each night that I position myself criss-cross apple sauce on this white wicker love seat on the front porch of my rented bungalow, I examine my heart – my mind, my will, my emotions. My laptop becomes a mirror, and I have to face myself. I wrestle with moments and memories and metaphors.
By grace, that connect-the-dot portrait is now outdated. The repeated act of writing reflects a cumulative investment in myself, and the pages typed out over the past year paint a different portrait. In a sense, when I began writing again, I began truly guarding my heart, beginning by identifying the bitterness and fear and disillusionment that I saw reflected in my earlier entries.
Everything in my life shows the effects of it, and in light of the commentary that so captured my attention, it makes sense. In writing nights examining the core of who I am, I began a process of ridding myself of the poison. The walls I so painstakingly built eventually came down, and it was my writing that eventually connected the dots of me and Charming.
And I’m interested in Charming because I can see a future with him. My heart is no longer stagnant, bitter, or numb. When he visited this weekend, we had a picnic lunch at a nature park. Afterwards, stretched out on a blanket, he read to me. The sun was not as warm as his touch. I felt hope and joy and peace as I looked at him. That’s the best way I know how to make the abstract heart concrete.
This is the portrait of my life now, one in which God drew near to me when I stopped holding Him at a distance. Building walls only served to cheapen the quality of life. While the turmoil is equal to the cumulative investment, so too is the alternative: joy and hope and peace.
And if your heart is right, everything in your life will show the effects of it.