Valentine’s Day is around the corner again, so our culture’s confusing messages about romance are in full swing right now. In the midst of the onslaught, it’s vital to remember this wisdom from Proverbs 4:23: “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.”
Guarding our hearts is essential, because our hearts are valuable and sensitive, and because love is the greatest force in the universe. What we decide to do with our hearts has powerful consequences — either good or bad.
That’s why I’ve been careful about romance in my life. As a girl, I experienced the damage that happens when romance goes bad by watching my parents divorce and living with the stress that resulted from it. As a teen, I came to faith in Jesus Christ and chose to make him my number one guy, because no one offers a greater love than him. As a college student, I cautiously began dating, and was shocked to discover how many guys devalued their hearts and mine by trying to seduce me into casual sex. As a married woman, I was grateful to begin the journey as a virgin on my wedding night. Later on, I was grateful for God’s help to resist the many temptations that came when my husband couldn’t be there for me due to frequent business trips or serious illness, some other men I was attracted to flirted with me, and pornography called from my computer. I absolutely love sex! It’s one of my favorite activities. But only healthy sex will do. Thanks to my commitment to guard my heart and God’s grace to help me do so, I haven’t given in to affairs or became hooked on porn.
Even after all I’ve done to guard my heart, however, it’s still a daily struggle to do that living in a culture that devalues people’s hearts so much. The key, I think, is confidence. God — our true beloved — has confidence in us. Yet, too often, we lack confidence in ourselves. The reason why I’ve been able to enjoy a healthy romantic life is because I’ve been a confident person. Yet my heart breaks when I reflect on the many women I’ve known who simply don’t love themselves the way I do — and most importantly, the way God does.
Here are some ways to guard your heart in romance:
- Understand the differences between healthy and unhealthy love: Healthy love: is reality-based, completes another, finds a friend, sacrifices, is patient, is kind, is forgiving, doesn’t hold grudges, is born out of security, is vulnerable, is allowed to develop, is gentle, is honest, and is satisfied. In contrast, unhealthy love: is fantasy-based, seeks to be completed, seeks a victim, demands sacrifice, is impatient, is rude, is resentful, seeks revenge, is born out of fear, is defensive, is pressed to perform, is combative, is deceitful, and is restless.
- Shift your focus from receiving to giving: Understand that, as much as you desire intimacy, you can’t achieve it if you continue to focus on your feelings and how to try to gratify yourself. Replace unhealthy dependency on other people with healthy devotion to God, who can truly fulfill you. Ask God to help you shift your focus from your own desires, needs, and hurts to those of other people. Look beyond yourself and your own life toward God and other people. Focus yourself outwardly to gain genuine love for them.
- Understand how your background has affected you: Think and pray about your childhood and other past experiences that may have contributed to you developing unhealthy attitudes about romance and unhealthy behaviors that sabotage your relationships with others. Consider whether you learned poor communication patterns that encouraged you to keep secrets, whether your feelings were acknowledged or denied when you tried to express them, and whether you learned how to trust other people. Once you understand how your background has affected you, use that knowledge to equip you to do think and act better in the future. Don’t blame your current problems on your past or believe that there’s nothing you can do to change your situation. Instead, once you uncover the sources of your problems, decide to deal with them head-on, with help from God.
- Confess sins that are hindering you from giving and receiving love: Rob your secrets of their destructive power by bringing them out into the open. Confess each of your sins to God. Confess your sins to others you may have hurt, and humbly ask for their forgiveness. Join a support group or build friendships with a few others who are struggling to recover from the same issues you are, so you can hold each other accountable and encourage each other.
- Embrace forgiveness: Forgiveness will help you resolve the past and clear the path toward a better future. Accept the forgiveness that God offers you after you confess your sins. Ask God to empower you to forgive people who have hurt you (such as through betrayal) by relinquishing any plans for revenge and inviting God to heal your heart toward them. Trust that you can live with confidence in your romantic relationship once you know you’ve given and received forgiveness.
- Be accountable: Ask God to help you unlearn destructive ways of relating to people and learn how to relate to them in new, healthy ways. Take concrete action to make amends for past wrongs whenever you can.
- Be patient with yourself: Realize that you can’t take shortcuts in recovery; the process demands plenty of time. Be aware that hunger, anger, loneliness, or fatigue can trigger a relapse into unhealthy romantic behavior. Don’t expect too much too soon. Instead, simply ask yourself each day what you can do now to become the person you want to be tomorrow.
- Ground yourself in reality: Give up the fantasy high of immediate gratification to the strenuous yet rewarding task of building authentic relationships. Stop trying to take what you want in relationships and start making sacrifices for those you love. In the process, you’ll discover more fulfillment than you ever could have previously enjoyed.
Above all, remember: You are deeply and unconditionally loved by the source of love itself — God — and the heart he gave you is a treasure that’s worthy of protecting!