Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
My husband tells me that I am made of Teflon.
Not sure if this is good or bad, but I do agree that I have the rare ability to deflect behaviour directed to me that might be considered a personal affront.
Not so, however, when I was younger. I took everything to heart – the good, the bad, the ugly – and suffered for it. Such is the heart of the young: unweathered, tender, easily bruised.
As the new school year starts, I, once again, ponder (obsess over) the new experiences that await my children as well as the new batch of young people who will be entrusted to my care as their teacher.
And then it happened, only three days into the school year: my daughter wanted “to talk” to me about something. So it begins.
I find myself searching desperately for wisdom to guide my own children. There are days when I think sequencing the human genome would be an easier task. I agonize, trying to relive my youth so that I can remember the details of my circumstances, my state of mind. I recall wishing that someone would provide me with an instruction manual to life with the answers to the seemingly endless conundrums of adolescence.
Now, as a believer, I am so thankful to have my Bible. I can still hardly believe my good fortune! Finally – a real, live How-To-Live-Life-for-Dummies!
At my age, one does not need to be a genius to know that our relationship to our fellow human being is the thing that will keep us up at night, time and again. The good news is, unlike other life trials like school, job, finances, etc, how we relate to others is something that, to the greatest extent, we have control. Although we cannot control how others will react to us, we can control how we behave towards others and how we choose to respond to them.
No doubt, I always counsel my children to respect others, treating them as they would like to be treated, commonly known as the Golden Rule (Luke 6:31). This part is easy enough. But the difficult part about being their parent is when I know they are not being treated in kind. Hell hath no fury like a momma scorned (Lee 1:1 – just kidding).
As the relationships enjoyed by my children evolve from play dates at the park to more emotionally complex endeavours (big SIGH), I find only one prayer on my lips: that they have the wisdom to guard their hearts.
When I think of this word, guard, I think of body armour, the type worn by medieval jousters, or the carapace of the komodo dragon – impenetrable. But reality is, we were made to be penetrated. To be impenetrable would mean that we make ourselves immune to the kind of emotion that defines our humanity. So then, how do we, practically, guard our hearts without hardening them or fleeing from human relationship?
Our young people are exposed to an increasingly impure, complicated world bombarding them with distorted ideas and portrayals of “relationships”. Indeed, even those of us who are older and “wiser” can attest to the maze of relational twists, turns, detours and one-way streets that we must deftly navigate in a world where saying what you mean and meaning what you say to a another’s face (not a screen) is about as common as slicing one’s own bread. The only strategy, to protect them (and others) from harm, short of withdrawing them from the world altogether, is to guard their hearts.
Guarding one’s heart is not a passive endeavour. It is an active fortification. Indulge me a moment as I illustrate with my favourite Hollywood epic, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. Aragorn and his dwarf and elfin comrades never just stood around guarding the city walls when they faced an impending onslaught of evil Orcs, they fortified them with troops armed with flaming arrows, fearsome boulder launchers and other destructive battle implements. In the spiritual realm, we need only one: God’s Word. Even if we can’t shut out the world, we can crowd out the undesirable elements with the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. Do not conform to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2). Time to gather some implements and get to work!
I think my favourite Bible verse which guides my spiritual fortification in relationships is this: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4). This verse just blows my mind. How often have we heard about looking after “Number One”? But this verse speaks to the kind of counter-cultural behaviour that is distinctly Jesus, but that which we can only achieve when we have been filled up with His incredible love. I must confess that as much as I am more or less able to live out this principle for myself, it is much, much harder to encourage our precious babes to walk in it. What if they get stepped on? Bullied? Hurt? That is when we remember that we (and they) are able to do all things through Christ Who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13). Man, did someone say that parenting was hard?
It is important to understand that considering others better than ourselves does not mean self-flagellation or lying on the ground with the word ‘welcome’ splayed on our foreheads. It is simply remembering that the mark of God is on every human being, and that we need to value each and every one of God’s creations as He does. In my experience, very few have not responded to such treatment in kind. And frankly, those who don’t have always, eventually, come around. But if not, then guarding one’s heart will sometimes mean a quiet retreat: Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces (Matthew 7:6).
If our children are able to guard their hearts in this manner, via fortification by the Word of God, from them will percolate the wellsprings that can be the source of love and healing for others. As a teacher of youth in the public school system, there is no end to the need that I see in this regard.
I pray that my children have the wisdom to fill their minds and hearts with the Word – the place where they will find the mighty, protective love of their heavenly Father. For the Word of God is not just a collective of words, but is alive and active (Hebrews 4:12)! I pray that they will always remember not everyone will have this refuge, that their friends are experiencing their own growing pains or come from difficult circumstances that they know nothing about, and so will need their kindness and prayers. I also pray that their hearts will be fortified to bear it when that kindness is sometimes not returned to them. Finally, I pray that they will have the wisdom to walk away from such situations without bitterness, because sometimes, that is what it will take to guard their precious hearts.
These are simple principals, no doubt, but worth revisiting, especially for those who ever needed A Parenting Guide for Dummies, like me!
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these. And he placed his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. ” (Matthew 19:14-15)
May our children run into His open arms! May the Lord bless and protect our precious ones as they begin a new school year. May they walk in His ways, and always know His deep, abiding love for them.