Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.

// Proverbs 4:23 [NLT]

To me, the word “guard” suggests fortification, hardening, and isolation. These terms perfectly described the state of my heart after having been raised in a very fractured family. In it are separations, divorces, siblings who don’t speak and parents who have disowned their children. Bitterness and resentment are still worshiped by many of my family members as they relentlessly refuse to forgive each other.

I was surprised to learn that the Hebrew word “natsar”, which is translated here as “guard” is translated elsewhere as “keep” and “watch over”. It is used throughout Genesis to describe God’s loving care of Creation. It has less to do with staunch defensiveness and more to do with gently tending and sustaining.

In my adulthood, with the help of a Christian counselor, good community and my loving husband, I’ve learned healthier ways of relating. The most valuable lesson has been to guard my heart from the hardening effects of unforgiveness. It is by regularly tending the condition of my heart that hurts are prevented from taking root, and I am freed to respond in love.  

Although there are certain relational dynamics in my family that are still painful, I’m trusting God that sowing forgiveness will keep my heart soft and open and prepared for a brighter future.  

I encourage you to join me in examining the state of your heart, to consider whether you are in a place of guardedness or careful tending. I’d encourage you to prayerfully ask the Lord where your heart is at, and how to grow it in forgiveness and gentleness.

// Beth Wood