I stumbled across a brilliant blog post the other day with advice for teenage girls ranging from awkward-but-true (“maybe you should stop offering your own breasts up for the ogling”) to touching (“You are beautiful. You are valuable. You are enough.”). I nodded till my neck hurt and then offered my students presents for reading it. I gushed about it and raved about it and then I moved on. Because I am (allegedly) an adult and have learned these lessons.
Today in prayer, though, I was struck by this: “’Follow your heart’ is probably the worst advice ever. “
Amen! Your heart is stupid! Don’t look at me like that, you know this. Remember that guy (girl) with the spiked (long) hair who wore those amazing JNCO wideleg jeans (um…that shirt she looked all cute in)? Okay, so I was in high school in the 90s. Forgive me. But work with me here—that kid’s in jail. You were so in love and everything would have been so perfect if your parents/friends/less attractive significant other hadn’t gotten in the way. All you wanted was to follow your heart and be true to yourself but you were stuck following the advice of people who think with their thinking organs and not their blood-pumping organs. And where did that get you? Oh, yeah, prom pictures where nobody’s wearing an orange jumpsuit.
Despite the fact that anyone over the age of 12 knows this, though, following your heart is the only virtue left in American cinema. Josie Geller follows her heart to the pitcher’s mound in Never Been Kissed. Who cares if she outs an innocent man as a sexual predator along the way? She’s being true to herself! Or how about Cher from Clueless following her heart into the passionate embrace of…her stepbrother? And nobody has a problem with that?
You see, when we’re “true to ourselves” above all else, we’re generally stomping all over someone else. (Unless you’re so holy that you love others more than yourself. In that case, may I suggest starting a blog to teach the rest of us?) Our hearts may want to drown our sorrows, cheat on our taxes, and kick our children to the curb (figuratively, I’m sure). A well-ordered mind, or conscience, or, dare I say, soul, knows better.
Now, I’m not saying every decision you make should spring directly from an Excel spreadsheet (although that is how I chose my last home). I’m just saying that your heart isn’t an unfailing compass to happiness. Because your heart is broken. Maybe not broken in two, but somehow lost, confused, hurt, stony—broken. There’s something in you that isn’t as it should be. This is ultimately a result of the Fall, but more immediately caused by an absent father, a number on the scale, a demanding mother, a best friend who found someone better, a pink slip, a solo Valentine’s Day…. Your heart learns to long for things that will not fill it and runs from the One who will. You need meat and potatoes but your heart grasps at Snickers instead. And so following your heart without regard for consequences or kindness or truth, beauty, and goodness just leaves you clinging to the candy while you slowly starve to death.
So when I heard that line, I put a big check mark by it in my head and moved on. But today, I started to wonder. Doesn’t God write his plans in our hearts? Can’t I trust my heart to lead me in his paths?
It struck me that the Christian life is about letting God tear from your heart whatever is not of him, letting him break and remake you. As I suffer in obedience to him, he conforms my heart to his. The more I love and seek him, the more my heart leads me in his ways. The more I pray, the more my life is built on who I am in him, not who I am to others. When I sit before the tabernacle and ask God to show me his will, I usually just mean that I want him to validate my will. I grasp at the happiness he has for me without accepting the joy that he is for me. But when I seek to love and serve and be consumed by him, the hardness of my heart is transformed into flesh—into his flesh for the life of the world.
St Augustine said, “Love God and do what you will.” Not because the rest doesn’t matter but because your will is aligned with his when your life is about him. So maybe “follow your heart” isn’t the worst advice ever—if you’re really following God. Ten years ago, the most powerful desires of my heart were to get married and have babies—two things I no longer believe God’s calling me to. I don’t think the deep desires of my heart have changed, but I’ve started to recognize what my heart is truly longing for: to be loved as I am, to give myself away, and to nurture others. Gradually, I’ve learned to see what my heart truly desires and to listen to what God has written there.
I’m not there yet—of course I’m not. I’m starting to trust, though, that my will is an accurate reflection of God’s will when it comes to the big things. A friend asked me today how I know that God’s asking me to start this ministry. I explained that God reveals his will to me in many different ways (more on those soon) but in this situation I felt a deep desire to do something that doesn’t naturally sound appealing. I like to have plans and safety nets and instead I’m driving away from the people I love, leaving with no job, no home, and no plans to find either—and I’m thrilled! When my heart rejoices in something that isn’t natural to me, I start to listen for God’s voice in that.
My heart is still divided on pretty much every front and there are many areas where “following my heart” would be as much of a disaster as it was when I was 15. One day, maybe I’ll be so completely his that my heart is his heart. Until then, I’ll let prudence balance passion and trust the thoughts of those wiser than I. Pray for me!
Oh, and (because it was stuck in my head the whole time I was writing this) here you go: