“Just follow your heart.”
This was the advice given to me by a well meaning Christian brother who observed my distress over a decision I had to make: break it off or try to maintain a long distance relationship. I was in college and she was still back home. We were obviously not going to get married. It’s critical to note here: this was pre-social media days. If we were to communicate, it would be through letters (mailed) or long-distance phone calls (where you pay by the minute). And I was four hours away. And my parents no longer lived in that city.
I took this friend’s advice and the results were disastrous.
But it’s not the results I want to focus on. It’s the disastrous counsel he gave: just follow your heart. We may say it differently, but at the end of the day, most are saying the same thing: trust your heart.
There is, however, a fatal flaw in this advice. Our hearts aren’t impartial. They’re always biased in our favor. As Proverbs 16:2 states:
All a person’s ways seem pure to them, but motives are weighed by the Lord.
It doesn’t matter the situation, we will end up being totally justified in our hearts. It won’t take us long to justify anger, bitterness, revenge, depression, self-centeredness, cruelty, or any other feeling we desperately believe we deserve to feel.
And no wonder we see ourselves as right all the time: our ways “seem pure to” us.
The Lord, however, is an impartial judge and measures the motives of our hearts with perfectly balanced scales. His heart is pure; our hearts are deceptive. His heart is impartial; our hearts are always biased. His heart is holy; our hearts are hole-y. 🙂
What causes fights and quarrels among you?” James writes in 4:1–3, “Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.
In other words: most of our pain is self-induced. Why? We follow my well-intentioned friend’s advice: follow your heart.
My advice, based on Scripture: don’t follow your heart. It will lie to you.
Instead, learn to trust the heart of our Lord. Here are some takeaways:
- Read Scripture daily. I suggest at least a chapter of Proverbs a day.
- Pray daily. It’s okay to confess your lack of discernment to the One who already knows it.
- Submit daily. Realizing your heart will justify you in your own eyes, get used to submitting to the way that seems counter to what you’re feeling. Even submitting doesn’t feel “right” sometimes.
And—please—whatever you do, don’t ever (ever!) tell someone to “follow their heart”. Unless, of course, you want disaster to fall on them. In which case, you have other problems.