I was probably 13 or 14 the year I didn’t get what I absolutely needed for Christmas.
The big day came and went without me getting what I, being on the “starting five” of my junior high school’s basketball team, had to have. It was the Christmas gift for which I had campaigned for at least the 2-3 months leading up to Christmas.
And then nothing.
What was the gift that my cruel parents had deprived me of? the gift that I absolutely needed?
Nike’s “Air Jordan” basketball shoes.
These weren’t just any ordinary basketball shoes. They gave legitimacy, confidence, and, most importantly, belonging. Those whose opinions mattered–like Brandon, Stuart, Byron, and Justin–would subtly, but very truly welcome me into the inner sanctum of those who truly belonged, those who understood, who were “it.”
No other shoe could do this.
My heart longed for these shoes and feared never having them. My quest for them animated me; to have them was to have life; to have to go without them would be a death.
Sadly, my parents failed to grasp what was at stake. They were coldly indifferent to the longings and fears of my heart. How could they be so insensitive?
I can answer that question with two words: love and wisdom.
They loved me enough to want what was best for me, and they were wise enough to know what was (and wasn’t) best for me. And Nike Air Jordans weren’t it.
They cared for me far more than I cared for myself. More specifically, they cared for my heart more than I did. What does that mean?
In the opening chapters of the book of Proverbs, we overhear King Solomon speaking as a father to his son:
“Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.”
The NIV captures well the crucial comparative idea here: there are many things that we as humans would(and should) protect–e.g., our loved ones, our money, our health, etc. But, says Solomon (to translate it directly):
“More than all protecting [that we humans do], guard your heart.”
Here the word “heart” refers to a person’s deepest affections–e.g., what (or whom) we desire, fear, or trust the most. Consider a few other uses of “heart” elsewhere in the Proverbs 1-9:
“Trust in the LORD with all your heart” (3.5)
“Cling to my words with all your heart” (4.4)
“How my heart despised correction!” (5.12)
Trusting, clinging, despising–these are just some of the “radical” functions of the human heart. It is the place of one’s deepest affections.
Therefore, Solomon is warning his son (and us): “In all that you protect and guard in life, be the most careful to guard what (or who) it is you desire, fear, and trust the most.”
Why? He explains:
“for everything you do flows from it.”
That is, our hearts–i.e., our most deeply held fears, desires, etc.–are the things that animate and motivate us: everything we do “flows from”–that is, originates in or springs from–our hearts.
If our lives were a speedboat, our hearts would be both the motor and the rudder.
Above I said that as a teen “my heart longed for these shoes and feared never having them. My quest for them animated me; to have them was to have life; to have to go without them would be a death.”
Is there exaggeration here? Yes. But not a lot. As a young teen, among the things that animated me–that gave me life–was the possibility of wearing these shoes. Of course, it wasn’t the shoes I was after, but what the shoes promised—viz., entrance into the inner circle and approval from classmates and teammates.
Classmates. Teammates. People whose opinions were so important to me that I didn’t bother to stay in touch with a single one of them after graduation. (Sadly perhaps) I have no idea where they are today.
And the Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes? I did eventually get a pair. I saved up and spent the (ludicrous) $120 to get them.
Then they got old and worn out, and I threw them away. Like any other shoe.
It’s amazing how something so deeply treasured can end up so quickly trashed. What is so sacred can so soon become so stupid.
While running on the treadmill at the gym yesterday, I was listening to the Old Testament book of Hosea on my headphones. At one point Hosea says, “..the LORD loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love the sacred raisin cakes.”
When I heard that, I burst out laughing and then almost fell off the treadmill.
What? Raisin cakes? Are you kidding me?
Oh but these are sacred raisin cakes. Somehow they had obtained a cultic, even magical status.
Just like the sacred Nike Air Jordan basketball shoes. Raisin cakes, basketball shoes–these are things that can animate, even dominate, our lives, because they engross our hearts.
These fleeting, worthless things easily capture the unguarded heart, so that we consume ourselves, investing in and campaigning for them.
Solomon knows this. (How he knows this is a fascinating question we won’t consider here.) And so he tells his son:
“Watch out: over and above all that you protect–your health, money, work, etc., guard your heart.”
Implicitly, he is asking, “What will you desire, fear, trust, despise, etc., the most–and why?”
Solomon knows that from these deepest affections come both our allegiances and our aspirations. That is, our hearts are formative for both our friendships and our future. There is so much at stake.
So just how does one guard one’s heart?
Next time we’ll answer that by looking not only to Solomon’s wisdom but to the wisdom of the One who is greater than Solomon.