What I Learned This Summer, Part III: Guarding Your Heart and Nontraditional Housing

This is the third part of a four-part series.  Part I, Part II.

I’ve written two posts over the past couple weeks: the first dealt with my education in business and photography through self-employment; the second, some of my thoughts on homelessness.  This post deals with what I learned about a Christian idea called “guarding your heart” and nontraditional housing compared to my suburban upbringing.  Next week, I’ll talk about the Gospel – the depth of which I grew to understand more this summer.

Guarding Your Heart

I subscribe to several podcasts, one of which is the North Point Ministries podcast, featuring the sermons of Andy Stanley.  I listened to Andy on the radio (this makes me feel old!) many Wednesday nights in high school, and have read several of his books.  I’m incredibly grateful for his wisdom.

The current podcast series started in July, with an episode titled “The Hidden Chamber.”  It was perhaps this episode that, thus far, most resonated with and challenged me.  Andy spoke of the heart as a hidden chamber, as the place from which our thoughts and motivations come.  His text was from Proverbs 4:23-27, reproduced below:

Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech, and put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forward, and your gaze be straight before you.
Ponder the path of your feed; then all your ways will be sure.
Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

These verses come from a book of wisdom written by Solomon, King of Israel in the mid-900s BC.  Here, he speaks to his son, warning him to “keep” (or guard) his heart.  Out of the heart comes our true self – all the thoughts and intentions, desires and emotions.  They may be black with sin, pure as snow, or some gray slushy mix in between.  The primary instruction in these verses is to keep away from doing evil.  How? Guard your heart.

This was somewhat new to me.  Often, in Christian circles, “I’m guarding my heart,” can either be a fancy, tactful, way to reject a potential suitor, or to put the brakes on increasing emotional intimacy so one don’t give oneself away too quickly to a significant other before the actual marriage.  This was how I understood the phrase “guard your heart,” as do some of my peers (I once received a “not interested in a relationship” message using this phrase as part of the reasoning).  I don’t think this is wrong, but it has become clear that such an understanding displays a flagrant disregard for context, and therefore (in this instance), is unbiblical.

So, what ought it mean?  Stanley suggests that it mean we literally keep watch over our hearts; that is, our thoughts and desires.  So often, we put up behavioral and linguistic filters through self-imposed morality.  Then, when darkness springs from our heart past our filters, others say, “That’s really not like you.”  But, in fact, it is.  Our true self just burst through our façade.  Our heart was exposed.

To guard one’s heart is to relentlessly purge evil from oneself.  To catch those stray thoughts that betray unrighteousness and recognize them as evil.  To know ourselves and seek purity of heart.

However, if we are the ones who are broken, how can we fix ourselves?  I say we cannot: God must come and give us a new heart!

Search me, O God, and know my heart!  Try me and know my thoughts!  And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!  -Psalm 139:23-24

Guard your heart and turn your foot away from evil.  Through Christ, we have a new heart; through His Spirit within us, we have the power to be rid of the evil that springs up from within.  Guard your heart, and may Jesus lead you in the way everlasting.

Nontraditional Housing

I now switch gears to something completely different!  This summer, I read a book called Little House on a Small Planet, by Shay Salomon.  Never before have I so happily read a book, occasionally stopping to shout YES! as I read the ideas contained therein.

Some context:  I live in a regular suburban neighborhood typical, I suppose, of middle America.   Seems like everyone has two children, two sources of income, at least three cars, and various leisure items – whether boats or basketball hoops.  Nearly every home I’ve been to has a large television, several have rooms dedicated to the television. The closest places to eat are about ten minutes away (it takes four to just get out of the neighborhood).  Some of the biggest employers in the area (NASA Goddard, NSA, Northrop Grumman, etc.) have their massive campuses located at least twenty minutes away.  Most commutes, it seems, last about an hour.  We have somewhere between five and ten different supermarket chain stores located within a fifteen-minute drive.  There are three large high schools located in that same zone, as well as several small parks, many gas stations, banks, frozen yogurt places, and one library.

This is where I’ve lived my whole life.  I didn’t question it much until I started spending more time in the forest behind my house.  The Patapsco State Park is a beautiful place, with a great many trails for running and walking and thinking and discovering.  There was something much more peaceful about that world, compared to the suburban landscape.  Then, I went to college, and discovered I could live well with less stuff in a smaller space.  I learned to love walking everywhere, a love that grew even more when I lived in Galway, Ireland, for 4 months.

This summer, I did not have my own car, making travel difficult.  I could only leave the house a few hours at a time to go to the library or run errands or go take photographs somewhere.  I missed being able to walk to most of the places I needed to go.  Why design our communities by separating the commercial, residential, and working worlds the way we do?

As I cleaned out a lot of stuff in my room I thought I’d need after high school and had never touched, I wondered how much room I really need.  I’ve lived well in a 10’x15’ space here at college – do I need a whole lot more than that?  Do we need all the space our house offers?

Then I read this book that asked questions like What does a dwelling look like when it encourages companionship and intimacy?  Why do people with big houses still complain about not having space for themselves?  What does the rest of the world think of large American suburban homes?  The book features interviews with many people who built tiny houses for themselves, taking only the items they needed and used regularly.   They noted that a smaller house brought their family closer together.  They noted, somewhat counterintuitively, that when people came to visit, they loved to spend time together in the small spaces.  They noted the increased sense of freedom: a smaller or nonexistent mortgage, lower utility bills, less time eaten up by maintenance.

The book also dealt with zoning laws, alternative energy, and many other aspects of owning a smaller home.   It touched on community building as well.  What if the commercial, residential, and working worlds were more interconnected than the typical suburban experience?  Commutes would be shorter, gas usage would decrease, we’d have more time at home with family, and so much more.  What if our homes were smaller?  We’d save money not buying stuff to fill it up, heat it, maintain it, pay it off.  Families would grow closer together, or at least be better equipped to deal with each other with less of a chance to run and hide.

I’m asking many more questions now.  I don’t yet know all the answers, but I am becoming more and more aware that suburban sprawl is not the best solution.  We are a people made for community – what solutions can best foster that?  We are a people designed for freedom – what solutions will bring financial, relational, and emotional freedom?  I, for one, want to find and implement those better solutions.