Here, most people don't see the difference. Vulnerability is weakness. It means you're going to get hurt. Period.
Relationship getting tough? Guard your heart. Think you might get hurt? Guard your heart. Taking a risk? Guard your heart. I'm not always sure what people mean when they say this, but to me it comes across as "Steel yourself," or "Don't get emotionally invested." Basically, don't be vulnerable.
Now, I'm a really sensitive person, and my work only intensifies this. I've been the "sentimental" poet among poets, the mentor who becomes everyone's mama, and the missionary who can't open a newspaper without crying over diseased children in Uganda. I am always emotionally invested in what I'm doing, even if I know I'll end up hurt. As you may imagine, I get told to "guard my heart" a lot.
But let me just say once and for all: I will not.
Though the term "guard your heart" is from the Bible, we've twisted its meaning. In Proverbs 4, Solomon instructs his son to shun evil and press towards righteousness and wisdom. He tells his son to "guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it." He then goes on to talk about corruption, adultery, and violence—things that break down relationships and destroy hearts. Solomon urges his son to reject these things, and to guard even his heart (his deepest thoughts and feelings) from turning towards these kinds of sin.
I think it's no coincidence that the character Solomon elevates—that of truthfulness, faithfulness, and peace—requires vulnerability. When we choose truth over corruption, we lay everything on the table. When we choose faithfulness over adultery, we brave the waters of intimacy with our spouses. When we choose peace over violence, we run the risk of having to lay down our weapons first or, scarier yet, forgive first.
If we look to Jesus as the example for our hearts, I think it's clear how guarded they should be: not at all. Jesus had such love and compassion for the world that he died for it. Laid down everything he had. Before he did that, he told us to love God and to love one another.
I assume he meant wholeheartedly.
The problem is, we'll never hear those things if we don't admit to being human, lost, and hurt. And we'll never have the kinds of relationships or lives we want either.
If I had taken the "guard your heart" advice, I never would have moved to Kosovo, married Sam, or started a writing career. All of these things require huge amounts of vulnerability. I can't even go to the store without exposing my weaknesses—lack of language and cultural understanding are forever with me. And you should see me after I post a blog, pacing around our apartment, waiting for that one zinger comment. But on the flip side, it brings me so much joy and fulfillment to live here, with my love, doing what I love.
And even if I have to cry over people and cry over my own shortcomings for the rest of my life, I'm pretty okay with that. Because vulnerability has been the best gift, leading me into intimacy and trust, shaking away pride and fear. It's helped me to heal others, and it's allowed them to heal me. It's increased everything: the grief and the joy.
But most importantly, the joy.
Don't miss it, friends. Keep those hearts open.
With love (and crying and all sorts of sentimentality),