No doubt you’ve received the advice to follow your heart from very well-intentioned friends when you had a decision to make. Maybe you even received it from a counselor. If you’re on social media, it’s very likely you’ve seen it on a beautifully decorated inspirational meme.
It sounds really nice, and I feel certain that those dishing out this counsel mean well. But it’s actually not biblical, nor is it wise.
“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked…” Jeremiah 17:9
Wow. That’s quite a statement. This certainly doesn’t mesh well with the modern Christianity that gives us “all the feels” and teaches that God is cool with whatever, man.
But what’s so wrong with letting our heart lead us? One word: emotions. Feelings, if you will. Following our heart means that we allow emotions and feelings to drive our decisions. And this does not always lead to positive outcomes.
Let’s examine a few ways following our heart, or allowing emotions to drive us, can lead unwise decisions.
Emotions like excitement or desire can cause us to make purchases for instant gratification that we later regret financially. This is not the same as making a carefully planned purchase. This is what is known as “retail therapy.” Many seek this kind of happiness when other areas of their life are not quite pleasant. Advertisers know that emotions drive many purchases, so they work hard to invoke many of them in commercials and print ads. Mom-guilt often prompts us to want to make our children feel happy, so we spend money on objects or experiences that we cannot afford. A new dress or the latest in TV technology just might improve our mood today, a new toy could improve our child’s mood for a brief moment, but the financial consequences tomorrow or next week could actually make next week’s mood even worse.
Emotions cause us to say things that can hurt others or alienate us from those we love, often unintentionally. How often do we respond quickly to someone out of anger, and then must apologize? How often do we commit to someone or something out of guilt or excitement, only to realize we cannot follow through?
Emotions cause us to vote for someone because they promise things that make us happy, or even worse, because of their gender or skin color, without regard to thought for policies or law. We may have feelings of need or desperation that drive us to vote for a candidate who promises to make our lives easier. Many feel solidarity with a candidate because of their gender, race, background, or political party. Voting is a big responsibility, and its results impact more than just ourselves. We change the future of our cities, schools, counties, states, and the nation when we cast a vote.
Feelings of short-term attraction, desire, or lust result in astronomic cases of teen pregnancy, which in turn lead to single parenthood, step-parenting, or marriage unions that were not made with regard for faith, maturity, or true love. Even worse, many of these pregnancies lead to abortion. It’s a quick decision made in the heat of the moment that is life-changing for 3 people every time. How many couples do you know who were joined because they found themselves as parents, and quickly realize that their new significant other is not the marriage material they might have chosen in a more sober moment? How many new moms are left to begin motherhood on their own? How many children do you know who grow up in single-parent or blended families? Yes, I realize there is redemption. I am a product of a teen pregnancy, a blended home, and my own divorce. I speak from experience in all these situations. These emotions also lead to other very serious problems, like adultery, rape, and pedophilia. Keeping our emotions in check is critical for ourselves and those around us.
Emotions lead to obesity and poor health, because who doesn’t turn to a bowl of ice cream when the day has been hard? We all do it and we all know better. But the toll it takes on our bodies, both inside and out, can be serious.
On an extremely disturbing note, feelings and our management of them lead to drug addiction and alcoholism. This is a whole category of its own, but just like food, many turn to alcohol or drugs to find comfort, or good feelings. Some partake of small amounts on a daily basis. Others look forward to the weekend to relax and take their mind off a hectic week. It gets more serious for those who find themselves in desperate situations that feel out of control. Again, that’s a feeling. We want to feel capable. We want to feel competent. We don’t like feeling dependent. The negative emotions drive people to cover them with a feeling of calm.
The most serious outcome of listening to our emotions is suicide. Too many souls are lost when their feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and overwhelm choke them and make them think their struggles are permanent. They feel lost. They feel depressed. They feel lonely. And these feelings drive them to end it all.
Our emotions can run the gamut from happy, sad, fearful, jealous, angry, offended, compassionate, lonely, cranky, loved, surprise, shame, anticipation, and so many more. Should any of these be the impetus for decision-making? Of course we wouldn’t recommend making decisions under the influence of negative emotions, but even the good feelings can lead to long-lasting outcomes that we did not desire or anticipate.
What then, is the solution?
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding. Proverbs 4:7
Seems very clear. Wisdom is the principal thing. That should be our motto, and our advice to others. Get wisdom. Get understanding. Seek knowledge.
The book of Proverbs talks endlessly about wisdom, understanding, and knowledge. These three combined give us the tools we need to make every decision, both big and small. Imagine the difference in our lives, in our families, our health, our future, and our nation if we focused on these three more often.
Our financial decisions would be based on careful planning, budgeting, and deliberate spending.
We would stop and think before we spoke (or typed!), and would carefully consider our obligations (or limits) before answering others.
He who is devoid of wisdom despises his neighbor, But a man of understanding holds his peace. Proverbs 11:12
We would vote according to a set of principles and guidelines that make a candidate qualified to serve in his or her office. We would research the candidate’s previous voting record and public statements. We would align their campaign promises with local, state, and federal laws. We would cast an informed vote.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. James 1:5
We would be vigilant to avoid situations that tempt us into sexual relations outside of marriage. Whether on a date with a cute boy, in a situation at work with a married co-worker, or giving into lustful desires that harm others, self-control is crucial. It’s important to understand when these temptations can arise and not even allow our thoughts to explore possibilities.
Knowledge and understanding are key to healthy bodies, and we live in an age where the information is available to everyone. It’s easy to ignore the healthy information available to us when we just want to have fun, but in the long run it affects our life span and our families.
For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding; Proverbs 2:6
I believe that understanding how emotions drive us is necessary to never letting ourselves become victims of addiction. There is always a starting point, and addicts can trace it back to one particular moment. Maybe it was a time of loneliness, desperation, or depression that led a person to find something to take it all away for awhile. Understanding emotions, acquiring knowledge about the dangers of addiction, and using wisdom to seek counsel will all give us the tools we need to avoid this dangerous path in the first place.
Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, Proverbs 14:33
The devastation of suicide is the final end to a soul that is wracked with negative feelings. I do not make light of depression or hopelessness, but I do believe that it starts small and grows. And in the end, it is still an act of following the heart, except it’s a broken heart that does not know where to turn. There is hope in knowledge, in understanding, and in wisdom. Wisdom seeks counsel in a desperate situation. Understanding gives that person hope and a bigger picture. Knowledge helps that person to understand how our brain works, how our bodies work, and the ability to see the big picture and find help.
Happy is the man who finds wisdom, And the man who gains understanding; Proverbs 3:13
Oooohhh. Look at that scripture. Happy is an emotion! And the Bible states that a person who finds wisdom is happy.
We already know that there are consequences to making decisions with our hearts, our feelings, our emotions. But the Bible clearly states that there are also rewards when we seek wisdom and instruction. Throughout Proverbs we see that results are generally good ones. Proverbs Chapter 2 is a great example:
My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you,
So that you incline your ear to wisdom,
And apply your heart to understanding;
Yes, if you cry out for discernment,
And lift up your voice for understanding,
If you seek her as silver,
And search for her as for hidden treasures;
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord,
And find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
From His mouth come knowledge and understanding;
He stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
He is a shield to those who walk uprightly;
He guards the paths of justice,
And preserves the way of His saints.
Then you will understand righteousness and justice,
Equity and every good path.
When wisdom enters your heart,
And knowledge is pleasant to your soul,
Discretion will preserve you;
Understanding will keep you,
To deliver you from the way of evil,
From the man who speaks perverse things,
From those who leave the paths of uprightness
To walk in the ways of darkness;
Who rejoice in doing evil,
And delight in the perversity of the wicked;
Whose ways are crooked,
And who are devious in their paths;
To deliver you from the immoral woman,
From the seductress who flatters with her words,
Who forsakes the companion of her youth,
And forgets the covenant of her God.
For her house leads down to death,
And her paths to the dead;
None who go to her return,
Nor do they regain the paths of life—
So you may walk in the way of goodness,
And keep to the paths of righteousness.
For the upright will dwell in the land,
And the blameless will remain in it;
But the wicked will be cut off from the earth,
And the unfaithful will be uprooted from it.
(New King James Version)
It’s all there. The consequences and the rewards.
Some people live their entire lives with one difficulty after another and think, “Why me?” It would be wise to examine the decisions they have made along the way, especially the ones that followed their heart. They might find that that some of those decisions created a domino effect of outcomes.
Don’t follow your heart. Get wisdom and understanding.
Nicki Truesdell is a 2nd-generation homeschooler and mother to 5. She writes at nickitruesdell.com, speaks to area groups about the many facets of homeschooling, and reads in her spare time. Nicki is a member of the Texas Home Educators Advisory Board. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
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