Following My Heart

Dec 27, 2007 |Nathan Zacharias

Our hearts can help guide us. But if we only listen to our hearts, we may be heading down the wrong path.

Several years ago, Reba McEntire released the hit single, "The Heart Won't Lie." That song came to mind recently, and after I got over the initial shock from realizing just how long ago that was, I started to think of the lyrics in that song. The heart won't lie. It's a romantic thought that we have all used at one time or another to make a decision.

The basic idea behind that kind of thinking also surfaces in what is becoming an ever increasingly popular logic in our culture: "Just follow your heart." Certainly, God designed us in a way so that we can use what we feel in our hearts to help guide us. But basing our decision solely on our heart can lead us down the wrong path.

The heart may not lie, but an unchecked heart can deceive.

* * *

A few summers ago, I was vacationing in Sarasota, Fla., with my sisters. We were there for a week just to relax before the summer came to a close and I would go back to school for my senior year of college.

And that's when I met her.

She was staying in the same condo complex as we were, and I would see her periodically throughout the day when she would walk past us at the pool. Every time she passed I'd manage to sputter out a nervous hello, and she'd graciously say hello back with a smile that removed what little words I had left.

As you may have guessed by my description above, I've never exactly been "smooth" when talking to women. I was always one to get very nervous around girls, and suddenly the scene in Napoleon Dynamite with Pedro's plan to "build her a cake or something" looked stellar compared to my approach. Every day I was determined to say more than "h-h-hi" to this girl, and every day that was all I could manage. I hadn't even been able to ask what her name was.

If there was a silver lining, it was that my voice didn't crack when I offered my weak hello.

The week was over, and my sisters and I were leaving that morning to go home. I was out of time, and the only lead I had was that I knew which car was hers. So I decided I was going to leave her a note that let her know that I was capable of saying more than "hi." I figured she would find the note either cute or scary, but I decided to take the chance. I wrote the note (several times to make sure my handwriting was perfect) and left it on her car. Being the 21st-century romantic that I am, I left her my e-mail address.

A month later I had just come home from my last day of work for the summer, when I decided to check my e-mail. In my inbox was an e-mail from a girl whose name I didn't recognize. When I opened it up, I discovered it was from her — she had evidently found my note to be cute.

The next day we were talking on the phone, and we would talk on the phone every day for the next nine months. In one of our first few conversations, it became evident that our spiritual beliefs were radically different from each other. On one of those first nights after we talked, I shocked myself at how quickly and definitively I told myself that our different beliefs were not an issue for me. She was fun, she was interesting, she was intelligent, she was beautiful, and she actually had an interest in me.

I had tried to keep the developing relationship from my parents as long as possible, because I knew exactly what they would say. But after some time it became hard to hide the phone bills, and I had to confess. They were very understanding of the situation, but advised me in no uncertain terms that this was not the smartest idea. I understood where they were coming from, and in my mind I knew they were right. But my heart was telling me that this was what I wanted.

And I had to listen to my heart, of course.

The relationship only progressed once I was back at school. She lived several states away so we had not yet been able to see each other. But we spent hours on the phone each night, and it was evident that both of us wanted a relationship. Several weeks later, I drove out to see her. Her smile was just the way I remembered it, and after that weekend, I made another decision: I loved her, and I was prepared to pay whatever price was required to be with her.

I can remember one of the last prayers I prayed before I stopped talking to God. I told Him that this was what I wanted, and I was going to live my way. I knew that I was acting contrary to what He had in mind for me, but I wanted her with all of my heart.

So I asked God to give me what I wanted, and then I didn't pray for months to come. My family was of course heartbroken, and to this day I still get emotional as I think of the many tear- filled conversations I had with them. I didn't want to hurt them, and it wasn't an issue of me trying to refuse their advice. I just didn't see things the way they did. I was following my heart, and I wasn't going to allow anything else to factor into my decisions.

Things continued to move forward in the relationship, and I really was very happy with her. I loved her more and more each day, and we were already planning what our life together would be like. But the relationship was emotionally intense, and as is the case with such relationships, we were either on top of the world or in the middle of a heated argument.

As the days went by, I found that more and more of our arguments were based in the philosophical differences we had. Issues of politics, issues of our culture, and even issues of our different families, were beginning to surface. I found myself having a harder and harder time ignoring my faith.

And then one morning, it was literally as if a switch just flipped in my mind. I suddenly realized that I could not give up my faith any longer. As much as I wanted to separate myself from it, I couldn't. Any quality I had that was good was because of my faith. And I couldn't let it go anymore.

The months that followed were the most painful in my life. She and I realized that love alone did not mean the relationship was right. We both knew that our differences were just far too great. After a lot of second guessing and "what ifs," we ended our relationship and, eventually, our friendship too.

* * *

Not a day goes by that I don't regret my actions during that period in my life. My heart breaks when I think of what I put her through. She didn't come looking for me; I sought her out. It was what I wanted, and I thought I was being "true to myself." Not only did I hurt her, but I probably turned her off even more to the message of Christ. And that is a thought I'll have to live with my whole life.

My heart breaks when I think of what I put my family through. No matter what the situation, a person's actions very much affect those he loves. They stood by me even through the hardest days, though, and when I came home ragged and broken, they welcomed me back with open arms.

I followed the advice that is the code of conduct for this culture. Do what feels right. Do what your heart wants, or do what you think makes sense. But one cannot rely only on the heart, nor can they only rely on the mind. God has instilled in us a system of checks and balances that we are to use.

"Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matthew 22:37, emphasis mine).

We are not meant to depend on just one or the other while navigating our way through this life. God wants us to use our heart, our mind and our soul when seeking His direction for our life.

Is it a fine line to follow? Of course. And does it mean that I won't ever mess up even when I use the emotional and intellectual tools God has given me? Definitely not. But what I've learned is that what I believe in my heart must also make sense in my mind. The two are connected, and when I exclude one from the other, I severely limit a compass that God has given us.

Copyright 2007 Nathan Zacharias. All rights reserved.

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