From a reader, “I keep hearing how I’m supposed to protect my heart yet I’m also encouraged to have an open heart. How do I do both at the same time?”

Well, I think we’ve firmly established that I’m no heart protection expert. I gave mine away in this last relationship, and I believe I know why.

I had lived my life so shut-down for so long (as in, decades) that there was a part of me that just wanted to see what would happen if I were fully and completely me with a man.  The results were good (well, we’re not moving forward, obvi, so what I mean is that the results for those five months were good). I was fully accepted and daily affirmed and constantly supported. So, experiment successful.

However, I do know now that I probably shouldn’t do that again and again and again.  I should, you know, protect my heart.

And yet, yes, living with a closed-up heart is no good either.  It’s exhausting, frankly, and completely unhealthy.

I’m not going to touch on all that the Bible says the heart is capable of here, because I already did so in this post. So maybe go check that out first and then come back. I’ll wait.  Lalala la la…

So some thoughts on how to both protect and open our hearts at the same time, which I think we can do, because I don’t think they are polar opposites like they may seem.

Living with a protected heart:

You must know yourself well. You can’t protect something that eludes you. What do you want out of any of your relationships? What are deal-breakers? Know this, and you’re ahead of the game.

Set boundaries, ahead of time. If a deal-breaker rears its ugly head, know how you plan to handle it. Will that end a relationship? Will you be prepared to say, “That’s not okay with me,” and walk out of the room? Think this stuff through now before it happens. This one, I messed up on. Not that bad things happened, but, for instance, I went all in with my heart. I didn’t tell myself ahead of time, Umm, maybe don’t tell him your every story in the first few months. Maybe draw it out, baby. Next time (if there’s a next time), I will draw it out. Think of your heart as having a moat around it, and you get to control the drawbridge. Who gets in? Who stays out? Who gets access to the deepest parts? All your call, darlin’.

Ask for accountability. Open yourself up to your inner circle. Tell them they can ask you the scary, hard, uncomfortable questions about your relationship. Then, when asked, be honest, even if it’s yucky.

Pray. When it all comes down, I believe that Jesus is the protector of our hearts, so ask him to erect appropriate walls and to outright protect you from people who will hurt you. He allows to happen to us what he can trust us to handle, if that’s any consolation (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t, I know).

Living with an open heart:

Take a look back and in. This won’t be fun, I’m just telling you now. But if you find yourself unable to trust anyone (or even specifically unable to trust men), or fearful of entering a new relationship, or fighting back bitterness left and right, odds are you have some unresolved issues because you’ve been hurt. We all have been hurt; but some of us just moved on before working it all through first. So if you want to open your heart back up, you’re going to have to deal with your past.

Be trustworthy. As you become the kind of person you want in your life, you will attract those kinds of people. Lord, I am not talking all New-Agey voodoo Oprah stuff, okay. I simply mean that as you become more trustworthy, loyal and dependable, your core relationships will become stronger.

Practice. Take a risk. Meet someone new. Go out for coffee with a new person. Ask good questions, and reveal appropriately authentic truths about yourself, slowly. See how it’s received. Then step back and sit with it for a while. How did that feel? Freeing, right? Hopefully really good to connect with someone in a real way. And, also hopefully, courageous and ready to try again.

Pray. Ask God to help your heart be wide open to him and appropriately open to whoever he brings into your life. Each person will be allowed different measures of openness from you (again, you control the drawbridge).

Only you can know what heart protection and heart opening will look like for you. You are the expert on you. If something feels off…if you are giving too much of your heart away and you know it or, conversely, if you’re not giving your heart away at all…take stock. Ask the Spirit to guide you in this whole heart awareness process. And then…trust your heart.  If you’re a follower of Christ, it is new and indwelled  by the Spirit, you know.

Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. –Proverbs 4:23 

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Life isn't always how we want it. When change seems elusive, and we're stuck in old routines, a gentle push or some self-reflection can make a difference. Let these questions be that nudge to get you moving.

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