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Guard Your Heart

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 and 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. See, once they have your trust, they have access to your heart. Giving access to someone you trust also means giving access to your emotions.

That can open the door for manipulation to occur, when given to the wrong person. It can also open the door for betrayal. The betrayal may occur because we gave them access to information about ourselves that was used against us. The pain of betrayal is a bitter pill to swallow.

For example, when someone you trust betrays you, it hurts and you feel pain, confusion, shame, and violated. That pain can lead to anger. If we do not actively hand it over to God, through prayer, it may lead to other negative consequences. It opens another door that leads to even more pain and strife, and so on.

When we safeguard ourselves from the get-go, we are protecting ourselves from that kind of influence and pain. 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 online. 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. This church made me feel safe because of their confidence. I was so desperate to experience God's love and comfort.

I ended up visiting the church in person a couple months later. Eventually, they convinced me to move over there and I moved away three months later. They seemed very caring and promised they would take care of me.

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. I would have a new church family who cared about me and would keep me safe, just like they promised.

But, some things are not quite like they seem, like this story in the Bible.

In Genesis 13, Abram travels from Egypt to the land between Bethel and Ai with his nephew Lot.

Because their possessions were so great, they were unable to live side by side together. Quarrels were breaking out between their men. So Abram, to resolve any disputes, told Lot since they were family, "Let’s not quarrel and separate from here. Choose your pick of the land – if you go left, I’ll go right. If you go right, I’ll go left."

So Lot looks, and chooses the land that was well watered and pleasing to the eye. It was like the garden of the Lord. So, Lot chose that side of the land and they separated. But where Lot chose to settle was right next to Sodom, which God ended up destroying and Lot barely escaped.

Lot chose a place that was pleasing to the eyes. It was a beautiful land, fertile, and well watered. In the end, it would not last because he chose to settle in a place God would destroy because of the wickedness that occurred there.

Sometimes, when we choose to go a certain direction, we must be careful to seek God for guidance because although it may seem like the best choice and may seem appealing, in the end it might end up becoming a mistake, one that we barely escape from. 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 did not align with the Word of God.

A couple of the church members were also my neighbors. They were constantly in my business. 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 those 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.

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. 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.

The Pastors wanted to know everything that went on and wanted to be the ones we went to for everything. 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.

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 and begin seeking the Lord to guide me and teach me. As I pushed through, I gained a strength to persevere. It was the struggle that enabled me to grow as I began to learn to lean on God and not 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 trusting that God was with me. 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. 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.

This lesson 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. And when we become overly burdened, making commitments that we just can't follow through on, due to our own life circumstances or situations, we open a door that leads to disappointment, where others are let down, and 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. And I am guilty of doing the same, which is why I cannot judge them or even be angry at 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. So, it's important that we don't trust a friend with something they can use against you if they ever do become your enemy.

Let God be the friend who you turn to for everything, whether it is wisdom, guidance, strength, or love. He will never mislead you or forsake you and will place the right people in your path.

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

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 those perceptions. Our past wounds impact our perspectives. Wounded people will see everything through the lens of suspicion not compassion, and I can understand that having been there.

I also learned the importance of not believing everything everyone will tell you. There were many false teachings that were being taught, and this is so dangerous because it will mislead people. 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, asking God to show me whether this aligned with His Word so that I would not be mislead. I had to be very careful not to guard my heart from accepting those teachings and search God's Word to determine if it was truth. God's Word is Truth and the source of clarity. It was through His Word that I began to gain clarity and understand those manipulation tactics that were occurring. Truth is found in Him. As we run everything we hear under the lens of His Word, asking Him to lead us into His Truth, we will not be deceived.

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 will create 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. As I did so, I was given a new perspective, which allowed me to see through the lens of compassion for them. 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.

Finding your voice means finding the courage to speak and the ability to set boundaries.

Be comfortable with the word "no."

Back Home

I returned back home, but now I faced a new challenge, which consisted of taking what I learned from Chicago and applying it to my life here. 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. But, spiritually I was tired. It takes a lot of mental strength and energy to be able to keep watch, to stand firm and remain diligent in maintaining those boundaries.

My discomfort and struggles were the motivation to create change. Chicago prepared me for the change I needed to make here. Some struggles are meant to strengthen and mold us. And these struggles also taught me just how valuable privacy was.

Privacy will protect you from the eyes and ears of those who seek to tear you down.

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 by the grace of God.

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