As a college freshman, I was an open book. I enjoyed having long, deep conversations about values, hopes, and dreams. When I met guys, who were willing to have these conversations with me, I would talk for hours on end about everything that I held dear to my heart; essentially, I spilled my heart all over the place to any boy who gave me the opportunity. In this case, you could say that I was overly generous with my heart to the point that it was imprudent. It’s not that I would do this intentionally, though. It stemmed from one of the attributes of my humanity—my innate desire to be known.
Through a series of heartbreaks and guys failing to reciprocate this emotional intimacy that I sought, I began to look for answers as to why this emotional void was not being filled. When I confided in close friends and researched more about Catholicism and emotions, a common phrase that kept coming up was “guard your heart.”
“Guard your heart” is a phrase that is typically used to warn people about the dangers of oversharing their emotions with another person. It’s derived from Proverbs 4:23 that states, “With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life.” Taken out of context, it would seem like this verse is warning one of the dangers of sharing their heart with others—that they should protect their heart from being given away at all costs. That’s also the context in which this verse is often used. However, the entire verse reads,
“My son, to my words be attentive, to my sayings incline your ear; Let them not slip from your sight, keep them within your heart; For they are life to those who find them, bringing health to one’s whole being. With all vigilance guard your heart, for in it are the sources of life.” (Proverbs 4:20-23).
In light of the entire verse, it is clearer that the phrase “guard your heart” is actually used in reference to the words of God and keeping His words within our hearts. This does not mean that we should restrain ourselves from sharing the Gospel with others, but rather, we should not forget that we belong to God and we should not forget His promises. We should not let His words escape from our hearts by guarding our hearts against evil—protecting them from doubt, discouragement, sin, and the lies of the enemy, not from connection with other people. With that being said, we should not close ourselves off from connection with others. As humans made in the image and likeness of God, we were made to love and be loved by God and by others. For that reason, it is equally as damaging to close oneself off to others as it is to spill one’s heart all over the place without restraint.
The danger in not sharing our hearts with others is that we miss out on human connections. After my experience of oversharing my heart with others that were not willing to reciprocate, I began to do the complete opposite by building a wall around my heart, guarding it so much that I was not willing to allow others to actually know me whatsoever. In a sense, I over-corrected. As one of my professors always stressed to us, the enemy likes to yank us in extremes. The extreme of sharing one’s heart with anyone and everyone is not healthy for the soul. Additionally, closing oneself off from connection with others entirely is also not healthy.
So, where’s the balance? The balance lies in the virtue of prudence. Quoting St. Augustine in the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas states that “prudence is the knowledge of what to seek and what to avoid" (ST, II, q. 47, a. I). Virtue is a practice that the Holy Spirit cultivates in us with our cooperation; prudence is a habit that one can ask the Lord to cultivate in us to discern what is objectively good in a situation. Therefore, in situations where it is not objectively good to share a part of one’s heart with another, through prudence, the Holy Spirit will allow one to know that it is not appropriate. Further, in situations where it is necessary for the cultivation of connection, with friends, family, or a significant other, prudence allows one to know that it is okay to be vulnerable, to share their heart with someone so that both people can be open to love.
Ultimately, it is prudence that allows one to be generous in spirit—sharing our hearts with one another in good faith that connection can be cultivated and love can grow. Of course, it is the Lord who gives us the grace to grow in this virtue that allows us to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in this way.
Today, I challenge you to reflect on your own life and ask yourself if you are oversharing with others or closing yourself off. Where in your life do you need the Lord to cultivate prudence in you so that you can exercise generosity of spirit and share your heart with others in accordance with His will?
St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, pray for us.