The Guarded Heart
Scripture: Proverbs 4:23
My family moved about a month after I graduated from high school. I spent the first fifteen years of my life in the same house, in the same tiny town my Dad had lived in for his whole life. Then, before my sophomore year of high school, we moved two hours away for his job. Three years later, I was done with high school and my Dad’s work was taking him back to that small town in West Virginia.
Graduation and moving and going off to college all compounded, and I felt like I was losing my grip on where home was and who my people were. So I planned a party. It’s a coping mechanism.
I invited friends I knew from church and from school, and we gathered in my living room and spilled out into the backyard. I’m sure there was food because we were all teenagers so there was never not food, but I don’t remember many of the specifics about that night, except that we had set up the video camera on a tripod in the living room. The idea was that my friends could record a video message for me to look back on after moving. (This was before Snapchat and TikTok and even Facebook was just for college kids, okay? We managed.)
I don’t even remember who said it, but one of my friends, upon noticing the camera in the corner of the living room remarked aloud: “Oh gosh, we’re not going to, like, leave you cheesy messages on the tape are we?” I was mortified and prayed to melt into the ground with the fervor only seventeen-year-olds know. “NO. Of course not, how lame,” I lied.
The camera sat neglected the rest of the night, and I went off to college with a few random snapshots from the evening that I most strongly associate with a memory of being embarrassed about how much I was going to miss my friends. How deeply I desired to have their words to carry with me somehow.
We can all tell stories like this. Different points in our lives when we learned that our deep concern over a matter was a liability. That Papa Roach was right, and our weakness is that we care too much. We invest deeply until someone dismisses our care and we feel ashamed for giving a damn in the first place. Best not to care too much. It’s easier that way.
I think this is what makes gratitude such a difficult practice, perhaps especially in days when divisions are high and the world is full of things desperately in need of critique. Gratitude is an inherently “tender emotion,”* necessitating at the most basic level an acknowledgment that “I need you.” We can sit alone in our criticism, fists tightly wound around all of the things that we declare are wrong. Gratitude requires we reach beyond ourselves. We are not self-made. We are not self-contained. I only arrive where I am today, as who I am today, because of someone else—multiple someones if I am being honest. That is an immense gift.
We spiritualize the distance we make between ourselves and others in the name of “guarding our hearts,” Guarding your heart, though has less to do with making sure nothing and no one ever gets close enough to hurt you and has more to do with keeping your whole life on the path the Creator sets before you, that the Spirit invites you to walk upon.
Which is a path that leads us back to one another.
And toward others, our siblings in this New Creation, whom we would never have imagined being on the path with us.
Gratitude opens us up to the possibility of recognizing people on the path with us. But it’s risky business. Gratitude is like a camera in the corner of a living room, just waiting for a high schooler to bounce their nervousness off of it in an acerbic joke. Criticism may feel stronger, more secure, but gratitude is good. And it opens the door for a more beautiful world, and a fuller imagination of what that could look like than criticism ever will.
Above all else today, guard your heart. Commit to setting your whole life on the path Creator God is setting before you. One way to practice this is to open your eyes wide and look to see who is alongside you. Take time today to express your gratitude to one of those people. Send them a text. Write a note and mail it. Drop them an email. For the love of God, don’t call them unless you text them first and give them notice. It is two thousand and twenty.
Will it feel weird to tell someone you’re grateful for them on a random Friday? Yes.
But none of us have come this far on our own. Ram Dass reminds us that “we’re all just walking each other home.” Today, take time to thank one another for that.