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Staying True to Self?

Have you been true to yourself? Do you follow your heart? Do you let your heart lead you? Those are all very common sentiments that are repeated endlessly in today's movies, literature, and music. But is it right?
Updated Jul 30, 2009
Staying True to Self?

Have you been true to yourself? Do you follow your heart? Do you let your heart lead you? Those are all very common sentiments that are repeated endlessly in today's movies, literature, and music. Just follow your heart. I've heard people give that counsel often. I've heard Christians ask other Christians, "What does your heart tell you?" We live in a society that is pervaded by emotions. We are ruled by the idea that the heart trumps all. At the movie theater we break into stirring applause when the hero defies common sense, rushes headlong into the impossible, and risks everything for a "feeling."

Follow your heart. Is that what you do? Do you encourage your friends and family to do the same? I hope not, because please listen closely: the idea of "following your heart" is, without a doubt, the dumbest, most senseless, most idiotic ideology ever concocted. Honestly, feelings are most definitely NOT our friends. I cannot believe how American culture so readily embraces such an idea.

History is littered with tragedies of those who believed nothing should stop them from pursuing their own happiness. Susan Smith followed her heart. Remember her? She just didn't feel like being a mother anymore, so she did away with the obstacles that blocked her ideas of a happy life. My stomach twists when I think of those poor children. I could give you pages and pages of examples of people who committed heinous crimes in the hopes of finding happiness for themselves. They followed their heart. I suppose I wouldn't get so riled up if this were just a worldly philosophy. But no, even Christians are duped into this line of thinking. "Surely God wants me to be happy ... and doesn't it say that God will give us 'the desires of our heart'?" When you throw selfish ambition and Scripture together, you end up with self-deceived, Scripture-twisting, egotistic blatherings. This may sound sharp, but the danger of the lie that says "follow your heart" needs to be tackled head on. The Psalms tell us that the heart above all else is wicked. The last thing you want to do is "follow it."

I can understand why we, as Christian women (in particular), get sucked into this line of thinking. For most of us, we don't even realize it is a philosophy that we've adopted. The "follow your heart" mantra is everywhere, and it starts when we are very young. Anybody raised on Disney movies can attest to that. It pops up most prevalently in the context of whom a person chooses to marry. Early on, our society is encouraged to think of love, marriage, and relationships in the context of "feelings." I see it constantly in books, Christian or otherwise. The main character always bleats out: "When I marry, I want to marry for love." As if "feelings of love" are superior to the choices of honor, duty, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. Gag. I just hate it. It is such a lie.

All manner of godlessness and perversion have been ushered in on the mantra "I have to be true to who I am; I must follow my heart." What this really means is "I need to follow my desires" or "I need to submit to my lusts." Married men and women will justify leaving their spouse, or their family, in the name of being true to themselves. They believe a lie that says, "I married the wrong person; I will be miserable if I don't follow my heart; I was meant to be with so-and-so." When you look at the modern sentiment of marrying for love and compare it with the current divorce rate, I don't believe it is coincidental. Love is not self-serving. It always looks to the welfare of others. But the word "love" in America seems to mean "the object that stirs my emotions and makes me feel giddy/worthwhile/beautiful/important, etc." It's a very selfish love that is based on "how we feel."

One of the few movies that I like is Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. It does a marvelous job comparing two sisters with two different ideas of love. The younger sister is controlled by her emotions and feels superior for having "deep feeling." The older sister is more reserved. She feels deeply; however, she is not rash, and her emotions are ruled by self-control rather than passion. It is a great case study. While the story is purely fiction, it perfectly sums up the common outcomes of choices based on passions versus self-control.

Without doubt, somebody will read this and send me a letter saying that God gave us emotions and how dangerous it is to "bottle up our feelings until they blow." I am not disputing that God gave us emotions. I am disputing the idea that we are to be ruled by our emotions. Not only that, but I will go so far as to submit that emotions themselves can be tailored and shaped and changed. We can control how we feel. The things that we exercise and feed will grow. If we feed the feelings of disappointment, they will grow. Generally they will grow into bitterness, anger, and rage. If we feed impure romantic feelings, they will grow. Affairs, adultery, perversion—they all start somewhere. If validity is given to these feelings, rather than stopping the idea cold in its tracks, the seed will grow. And don't be deceived; we most definitely can stop wrong ideas when they start floating around in our heads. 2 Corinthians 10:5 tells us to take every thought into captivity to the obedience of Jesus Christ. If it is wrong, stop thinking about it. Stop feeding it and it will starve to death.

My sister and I used to meet with a friend who was heavily controlled by her emotions. She had a hard life and was prone to public outbursts of blind rage. It was embarrassing. There were times she would stand up in the restaurant we were dining in and begin seething and swearing and ranting like someone completely out of control. We began meeting with her in less crowded places. One time, while we were at a park with her, she began another one of her rants, and my sister and I told her to stop. We said, "Listen, just stop right now. Close your mouth and stop screaming." She looked incredulous. Very dramatically, she crossed her legs and sat up very straight, and with a haughty look she said, "Fine. I'll just sit here like this, just like a plastic mannequin. Is this what you think I should do?" She sat there in silence for a few minutes pretending to be a statue. It looked ridiculous, but it was better than her ear-piercing, foul-mouthed yelling. And then we told her, "What you are doing right now is practicing self-control. See? You just proved that you are able to control yourself." She was surprised when she realized that she had the power to stop. Regardless of how she felt, she did not have to express it. Some things are most definitely best left unsaid.

Despite what the American culture preaches, Love is a choice and even joy is a choice—just as much as obedience is a choice. Sometimes I don't feel like homeschooling, I don't feel like reading the Bible, or the idea of pleasing my husband is laughable. My heart doesn't tell me to do the dishes, smile at my kids when I am in a grumpy mood, or speak kindly when my aunt tells me I look like I've gained a few pounds (in that instance, my heart said, "find something heavy and clunk her in the forehead"). We open the door to misery if we buy into the lie of "following our heart." And our children will battle with self-control if they are allowed to exercise their "feelings" on a regular basis. They don't want to leave the park, so they throw themselves down and whine. They don't want to eat their green beans, so they cry and kick the side of the table. Their brother takes their favorite plastic ninja, so he knocks him in the head with a duffle ball bat. The sister is annoyed, so she snaps at her little brother for talking to her. These examples all stem from letting ourselves and our children "express our feelings." But it is absolutely possible to have a family who control themselves. They're rare, but they do exist. I've been around these families, and I generally go home embarrassed and humbled—but still inspired.

Our kids will follow our lead. If they see us throwing fits, that ill be "normal" to them and they will follow suit. If we allow them to gripe, complain, mope around the house, or throw tantrums, we affirm their "feelings," and that behavior will become part of their personalities. Sometimes the thought of tackling these issues seems impossible, especially when I so easily lose the battle of keeping my own emotions in check. But I will not stop striving for these goals simply because I "feel" like a failure or a hypocrite. Feelings should have very little to do with our resolve to do right.

I claim Christ; I call myself a Christian, and that means something. It means that I choose to obey and that I will trust that His ways are better than mine. And it says in John that if I love Him, I will obey Him. Do I love Him? Will I follow my heart, or will I follow His Word? What will my children see me living? God bless you as you teach your children "real life lessons."

**This article first published June 6, 2007

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Jenefer Igarashi lives in East TN with her husband, Geoff the Great; together they homeschool their six kids on a little farm.  She can be contacted by email, [email protected], or thru her blog, http://jeneralities.com/

Copyright 2007. Originally appeared in Spring 2007. Used with permission. The Old Schoolhouse Magazine. Visit them at www.TheHomeschoolMagazine.com. For all your homeschool curriculum needs visit the Schoolhouse Store.