Humbly Guarding Our Heart, Not Pridefully Protecting Our Heart

I've been overwhelmed by the response I've received to this article concerning the protective walls of pride that we are tempted to place around the heart. I knew from my counseling that I would be touching a nerve, but the conversations I've had as a result of this post have been a sobering reminder of the sin that so easily festers in secrecy. Nasty things grow in dark and damp places. And not just in basements and petri dishes. 

One of the challenges of discussing protection of the heart is that it's tempting to view it as an all or nothing proposition. It's important to understand that the call for an open heart isn't a call for foolish abandonment of discernment. Not everybody deserves access to our deepest thoughts. Not everybody has the capability or capacity to guard our heart with integrity. Not everybody is safe.  

I have a small handful of trusted friends who have shown a loyal commitment to the keeping of my heart, with my husband demonstrating that commitment most purely and passionately. I cherish these friends. I don't feel any compulsion to hide from them, for their acceptance of me has proven to be without condition. We enjoy a connection of genuine Christ-centered love that is held together by the gospel glue of honesty and humility. 

My relationship with these friends isn't calculated by quantity of interaction, but quality of interaction. Some of these friends I communicate with infrequently. But whenever we interact, I can trust them to speak honestly with me from an open heart with no hiding or hidden agenda. I can trust them to care enough for me not to settle for superficiality. I can trust them to tell me what I need to hear, not what I want to hear. They've proven to me that one of the best venues of grace is a loving friend who is a critic. A friend who loves enough to speak truth even when it's difficult to swallow. A friend who loves enough to offer accountability to live the gospel, not just articulate it. 

These friendships of honesty are also marked by humility. When there's a breach in the relationship, there's repentance. We're all sinful. We're all selfish. This isn't about perfection. This isn't about being flawless. Sometimes we don't keep our word, sometimes we aren't kind, and sometimes we're unthoughtful. But humility provides the grace to meet these relational breaches with repentance. Unless honesty lands on a cushion of humility, the resulting defense and negative disposition will crack the cement in even the strongest of relationships. Honesty and humility secure lasting relationships, relationships marked by repentance and resolution. 

I share my heart with these friends because they are safe. If I didn't trust them, wisdom would dictate that I remain guarded. I continually counsel people not to allow themselves to be guilted or shamed into sharing their heart if they feel unsafe. When the Spirit of God is working, He will open the heart with peace that only He can give. But He can only do that when we humbly ask Him to remove our pride enough to see and accept the places of safety He's provided. And just because someone is initially safe doesn't mean they will remain safe. It's all a work of grace that comes from a God of grace. Nobody has the right to access our heart simply because they are in proximity with us. 

Pressure for transparency can be wrongfully exerted, especially in accountability groups. I can't stress enough to group leaders the danger of applying this kind of pressure. There's an element of prideful competition that can easily infuse these settings where success is calculated by the willingness of those in the group to divulge information. This is true for counseling settings, too, and it's a special temptation for enthusiastic young people who desire to be used by God. We are all just selfish enough to go after good things out of a motivation for personal gain. It's good to desire that protective walls come down, but not thoughtlessly. We want to encourage discernment and discretion, not undermine it with pressure applied by any weight of selfish ambition.  

Do we have to share our hearts with everyone? Absolutely not. Authentic transparency doesn't require that we share our inner lives with everyone we meet, and wisdom dictates that we don't. Loving others openly and giving to them freely doesn't require it either. But living with authentic transparency does require the removal of protection that robs our willingness to speak honestly and confess humbly. And living with authentic transparency does require the removal of protection that results in the shaping of our reputation and the spinning of our persona with flattery, fakery and facades that falsely reflect our inner man.

Protecting our hearts in pride is not the same as guarding them in humility. Prideful protection is concerned with personal survival, humble guarding is concerned with proper surrender. Prideful protection is consumed with saving self, humble guarding is consumed with dying to self. When we protect our heart in pride, fear is the fuel that drives us. When we guard our heart in humility, love can become the language that defines us.