Forgiveness can be so hard. Sometimes it even feels impossible. We want to forgive. We try to forgive, but bitterness and hurt have a way of creeping back in. When we’re hurt by someone, especially by someone we love, the pain that follows is impossible to ignore. Forgiveness doesn’t come easy after your heart is broken. How can you guard your heart and forgive at the same time? The answer isn’t easy, but it’s possible when you understand the difference between guarding and forgiving.
When I think about forgiveness, the first thought that comes to mind is Jesus’ example on the cross. There He was, in agony, face to face with the people who were crucifying Him, taunting Him, hurting Him, and this was His response: Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34 NLT
So full of grace, even in the midst of His pain! Yes, Jesus is perfect, and we can’t expect to be perfect, but when I think about His pain and compare it to mine—I can always find room in my heart to forgive. No matter what, we can forgive because of (and through the power of) His love and example. And, I know that if I truly want to be His follower, I simply must choose to live a life of forgiveness.
But if we are to forgive like Jesus, why are we told to guard our hearts? This conundrum has always perplexed me. I find myself guarding when I should be forgiving and forgiving when I should be guarding. How can I do both? I decided to look it up. It turns out, guarding your heart means to treasure, protect, and guard it as if it were riches, property, or health. When Solomon spoke of guarding your heart, “Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life” (Proverbs 4:23 NLT), he was speaking of keeping our hearts pure and staying in communication with God. Why? So that the things that come out of our hearts are good, holy, and pleasing to the Father.
If our hearts are kept healthy, the decisions we make (which determine the course of our lives) will be healthy. Since we know that forgiving is a healthy choice, and that it creates room for love, grace, and healing, we can now guard and forgive at the same time!
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We might believe anger is the best way to guard our hearts. Sometimes we think the only way to keep our hearts safe is not to forgive. We think guarding implies all sorts of fighting off, pushing out, or holding back. But the beautiful part of forgiving is that it’s all about letting love into our hearts again—God’s love. This kind of forgiveness automatically dispels bitterness, resentment, fear, and envy. Our hearts are guarded from these painful emotions through forgiveness!
The temptation to guard our hearts and become bitter in doing so is still there. We’re humans, after all. But remembering the true meaning of guarding helps. It’s about keeping our hearts healthy. And knowing we have a Savior who can help us make the right choice also helps. Please understand, this doesn’t mean we are to walk blindly into hurt over and over, forgiving to our detriment. Remember, guarding our hearts means protecting it too. Making the choice to step away from people who continue to hurt us is an important part of the process too—of course, after we have forgiven them.
How are you guarding your heart with anger, bitterness, jealousy, or fear instead of forgiveness? You can guard your heart through forgiveness today. Reach out and ask someone to pray with you. With God’s help, you can forgive.