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Guard Your Heart

A heart guarded by a prison door and lock

I have come to learn and appreciate the value of privacy, even when there is nothing to hide. I have always been a transparent person, being open about my life, my emotions, and my opinions. I thought it was a good thing. However, there are dangers that come with over-sharing, even when you have good intentions. It can back-fire on you.

Privacy is the state of being apart from other people or concealed from their view; solitude; seclusion.

When we share personal details about ourselves with others, we are opening up our hearts to them. We are giving them access to intimate knowledge about ourselves and our lives. It's like opening the door to your house and allowing them entrance. We are providing information to them, and those who have ulterior motives can take that information and use it for their own selfish gain.

There are those who pretend to be sincere, who seek to gain your trust, but have the wrong intentions. Once they have your trust, they have access to your heart. Giving access to someone you trust also means giving access to your emotions.

When we give our trust to the wrong person, it can open a door for betrayal to occur. Betrayal occurs when we give someone access to information that is used against us. For example, when someone you trust betrays you, it hurts and you feel pain, confusion, shame, and violated. Betrayal is defined as "The act of betraying someone or something or the fact of being betrayed : violation of a person's trust or confidence, of a moral standard, etc." The pain of betrayal is a bitter pill to swallow. That pain can lead to anger, which then can lead to destructive behavior.

When the wrong person has gained access into our hearts, we are also at risk of being manipulated. Manipulation occurs when an individual seeks to control another person using various tactics to influence their emotions.

A robber sneaking into someone's heart.

However, if we can safeguard ourselves from the beginning, we will be able protect ourselves from that kind of influence and avoid the pain that comes from being abused. One of the best ways to do so is to listen and pay attention to their behaviors before allowing yourself to trust them. Protection against manipulation also includes setting boundaries and being assertive in maintaining those boundaries.

I went through an experience that taught me the importance of guarding my heart the hard way.

The Chicago Experience

I had found this church online through a contact I met through Facebook. I was invited to attend. I began to join every Sunday via Zoom. They were located in Chicago and I was in Massachusetts. I was so impressed by this church. They were very spiritual and confident.

This was a moment in my life where I was very vulnerable. I was struggling alone with grief as my daughter had passed away 6 months prior. I was dealing with so much confusion, fear, anger, and pain. I was so desperate to experience love and comfort. This church made me feel safe because of their confidence and compassion. It was the exact opposite of what I had experienced by those around me at the time.

I went to Chicago a couple of months later to visit the church and meet everyone. Eventually, they convinced me to move to Chicago with promises that they would take care of me. Three months later, I left Massachusetts for Chicago. What I really wanted to do was run away from all my pain. In Chicago, all my pain was almost a thousand miles away where I could forget about all the trauma I had experienced. I had a new church family who cared about me and would keep me safe, just like they promised.

Sometimes, when we choose to go a certain direction, we must be wise with the decisions that we make, because although it may seem like the best choice and may seem appealing, in the end it might end up becoming a mistake that can really cost us. The saying is true: "The grass isn't always greener on the other side."

Over time, things quickly began to change. I found myself struggling in a bad way. Here I was, in a place 15 hours away from home and family, alone with my son in a strange land. Far away from everything I had ever known. I couldn't find a job and I had no support system. At least in Massachusetts, I had some support.

Being a part of the church online was a lot different than being there in person. In person, I was able to see things I would never have noticed when I was online. I began to pick up on things such as gossip, condescending attitudes, and teachings that sounded cult-like.

A couple of the church members were also my neighbors. This was the person who had initially invited me to join. He and his mother lived upstairs from me. When I first met him, he was very kind and really gave me encouragement in my moments of despair. When I moved into my new apartment, I met his mother and we became friends. I soon noticed that she was a bit controlling and an information seeker. She would ask me personal questions and used that information as a source of power to exert manipulation and control. Her son was the same way, although I had not picked up on that yet because I wasn't around him as much. They would ask me questions about my life. Because I trusted them, I was open about everything. I was open about my vulnerabilities, my struggles, about the things that bothered me, and laid myself bare. I did this seeking guidance, seeking comfort, seeking acceptance. I never had a healthy support system, so I was looking for support. I was never taught how to manage a household, how to manage my finances, how to communicate, or how to live life in general. I was desperately looking for help, except I was looking in the wrong place.

They took that information they discovered about me, about my vulnerabilities and used it against me. They used these vulnerabilities to exert a form of manipulation over me and exalt themselves. I was judged and criticized. I was accused of all kinds of things. They twisted my motives and accused me of helping for my own selfish gain. I was accused of just wanting money. I was told some hurtful things that really tore me down, especially as a mother. I started losing the confidence I had just begun to gain.

My neighbor would send me these messages "from the Lord" that left me feeling shamed. These messages made me feel inadequate. It made me feel worthless. I felt scared, especially full of fear that I would fail in life. It got to the point where I no longer remembered who I was. I was surrounded by a fog of confusion caused by words. I felt so lost. They had this high and mighty attitude towards me that really made me feel so insignificant.

The Pastors also wanted to know everything that went on and wanted to be the ones we went to for everything. For example, when I told my neighbor I wanted to discuss what was going on with him, he said that we needed to go through the Pastors and they needed to be present. It was something they drilled into their minds, to filter everything through them. When I reached out to the Pastors to set up a day and time, they claimed to be busy and I had to wait about week before I could meet with them. At that point, we never did have that discussion.

They constantly said I needed to ask for help. So, I would reach out to them for any little thing. I needed a job, so I reached out to them. Except, all I received were empty promises and false hopes. It got to the point that I ran out of funds, because I was waiting on them, which was my own fault.

Instead of allowing me to grow, by encouraging me to do things on my own, I felt like I needed to be dependent on them for the wisdom, guidance, and resources. I was always left feeling inadequate. This led to frustration on my end because I became stagnant, like I was stuck.

However, this frustration gave me the motivation to stop asking them for help. I began to pray and strategize. As I pushed through, I gained a strength to persevere. It was the struggle that enabled me to flourish as I began to grow in wisdom and not depend on people.

I began to overcome my anxiety of doing things alone and it gave me a sense of accomplishment to be able to do these things without needing anyone else. Dealing with challenges helps us grow in ways that times of ease do not. It builds resilience and it also teaches us to learn from our mistakes so that we can avoid them in the future.

Although this was a dark time, I received some valuable treasures. The treasures of darkness. Trials can hold an opportunity to bless us. We gain wisdom that lasts. Wisdom that can help us avoid problems in the future. Wisdom that can keep us safe.

An oyster with an iridescent pearl in the bottom of the ocean

"Dealing with challenges helps us grow in ways that times of ease do not. It builds resilience and it also teaches us to learn from our mistakes so that we can avoid them in the future."

This experience taught me that being dependent on others in an unhealthy way will keep us stuck. There always needs to be a balance. We can definitely help support each other, but when it becomes one-sided, it becomes a burden that can be too hard to bear. When we become overly burdened and make commitments that we just can't follow through on, due to our own life circumstances or situations, we're opening a door that leads to disappointment where others feel as if they have been let down. That was the case with these Pastors. They were quick to make commitments, wanting to help others, but their lives were so busy that they were never able to follow through with them.

This experience also taught me to be careful who you trust. Some people are self-motivated. They don't really have your best interests at heart. Even your closest friend or relative can quickly become an enemy. I believe that it's important that not to trust a friend with something that can be used against you if they ever do become an enemy.

For me, God became that friend who I was able turn to for everything, whether it was for wisdom, guidance, strength, or love. He has never mislead me nor forsaken me. He has always placed the right people in my path at the right time,

'Don't trust a friend with something they can use against you if they become an enemy.'

I can't place all the blame on them, either. I opened myself up to these attacks because I trusted them. I gave them access into my life and my heart. I shared information that was best kept to myself. They did not have the spiritual maturity to understand what I was going through or even appreciate my intentions. Their perception was flawed, so they made judgements based on that perspective. Our past wounds impact our perception. Wounded people will see things through the lens of suspicion. I've been there.

I also learned the importance of not believing everything everyone will tell you. They taught many things that really weren't based on facts and were very misleading. We must be careful not to accept everything we hear as truth, because we will find ourselves influenced by what we believe.

Job 34:3-4 "For the ear tests words as the tongue tastes food. Let us discern for ourselves what is right; let us learn together what is good."

I began to learn how to take what I heard and I would pray about it, asking for wisdom and discernment. I really did not want to be mislead, having had bad experiences in the past. I had to be very careful to guard my heart from accepting those teachings and search God's Word to determine if it was truth. It was through His Word that I began to gain clarity and understand those manipulation tactics that were occurring.

I was wounded for a while by what I went through. By the betrayal and what I lost. I was angry at the church. I had to learn not to allow my anger to lead me to say or do something that could cause a bigger issue, or hurt someone emotionally. I had to forgive and instead, pray for them. I had to guard my behavior, so that I would not react in a way that I would regret. But as I did so, I was given a new perspective, which allowed me to see through the lens of compassion for them. I saw how they were wounded people seeking validation. Although, there needed to be a balance and I could not allow that compassion to enable the wrong behavior.

I was also able to understand that the value of what I gained was greater than what I lost. This trial gave me the opportunity to grow. I gained clarity. I began to learn how to set boundaries. And most important of all, I found my voice. I gained the courage to speak and use my voice, and with that, came the ability to set boundaries. Be comfortable with the word "no" because that is one of the most powerful boundary-forming words we have.

"Finding your voice means finding the courage to speak, and with that, the ability to set boundaries."

Back Home

I returned back home after living 10 months in Chicago. Now, however, I faced a new challenge. This challenge consisted of taking what I learned from Chicago and applying it to my life in Massachusetts. Being back home meant being back in a place that was familiar, so I was naturally inclined to return back to what I was used to prior to Chicago. Meaning, I was tempted to adapt to the old cycles where I was comfortable. Of being too open and not establishing boundaries.

Spiritually, I was tired. It takes a lot of mental strength and energy to remain focused and stand firm in maintaining those boundaries.

My discomfort and struggles were the motivation I needed to create a change in my life. Chicago prepared me for the change I needed to make here. Some struggles are meant to strengthen and mold us.

These struggles also taught me just how valuable privacy is. Privacy protects us from the eyes and ears of those who seek to tear us down in order to exalt themselves.

"Privacy will protect us from the eyes and ears of those who seek to tear us down in order to exalt themselves."

At the end of the day, though, I choose to be grateful for it all. They have their own internal wounds that they are dealing with and I wish them all the best. We all have our battles. I hope they conquer theirs, too.

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