An ancient proverb says, “Guard the heart with all diligence for out of it proceed the issues of life”, meaning, the things you say and do reflect deeper, important life issues. A wise teacher from the Middle East once reiterated this in a different way, “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” This same teacher said later concerning food and activities that people considered ‘unclean’, “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then is eliminated? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean’. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man ‘unclean’ but eating with unwashed hands does not make him ‘unclean'”. This means that whatever we say reflects the uncleanness of our hearts and these ‘harmless’ words are ultimately what make us (or reveal us as) ‘clean’ or ‘unclean.’ Teachings like these sober me up very quickly. What this means, ultimately, is that I only have myself to blame for the condition of my heart and that I must own my actions and words and blame them on no one else but myself. This is what was meant by “give an account”. Stephen R. Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People wrote similarly, “If you start to think that the problem is ‘out there,’ stop yourself. That thought is the problem” [emphasis mine]. He also states that until we realize that our lives’ are a product of our own decisions (and no one else’s), we will be unable to choose otherwise for ourselves. If we are reaping negative consequences in our life, it is best to consult the soil of our behavior (our heart) and not blame the sun, thorns, or water around us (our conditions).
What is even more shocking to me is a quote that talks about how our heart is constantly deceiving us. In a pivotal time that preceded seventy years of slavery in the foreign land, Babylon, a leader and teacher of the people of Israel, very wisely warned his people concerning their hearts and the trouble they were being led into,”The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” ‘To deceive’ means ‘to deliberately cause (someone) to believe something that is not true, especially for personal gain.’ This means that not only is your heart convincing you of something that isn’t true, it is doing it for personal gain (fame, self-honor, impure pleasures, etc.) This frightens me because the problem with this kind of self-deception is that the source is YOU (or rather, your heart), which makes the deception nearly inescapable. Not to mention, if even *I* don’t understand my own heart…then who does?? Ultimately, if what we are believing isn’t true, then we are living in a fantasy world. We are like the fanatic that dresses up in a superhero costume and jumps off a high-rise while echoing the popular song, “I believe I can fly!” It doesn’t matter how firmly our hearts have deceived us into believing something if it isn’t true. If I stand out in the middle of a busy lane, blind-folded and yell defiantly, “I don’t believe in traffic!” What’s going to happen? Can you visualize it? It would be an ugly and tragic sight. I’d like to think that I’d have some loved ones around me to shake me from my delusion.
This brings me to my next point. If we are the source of our own self-deception, how can we possibly escape it? I’d like to propose 4 solutions: One, surround yourself with friends who will tell you the truth even when it smarts a bit. Another favorite proverb of mine is “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” If the people around you are constantly numbing you and themselves to life’s difficult questions and trials with meaningless activities and praises, then I recommend you find a group of friends who will challenge you to grow as a person both in character and deed (as the two are inseparable). Two, find a way to process out the things that you are dealing with. Whether that is journaling, praying, or counseling with a trusted friend, sometimes you just need a “sounding board” to figure out what’s real and concrete in your life (But…a word of warning, be mindful, your friends are susceptible as well). The pause-inducing fact of universal self-deception brings me to my third tip, whole-heartedly search for the truth of a matter, no matter what it is. If you dedicate your life to pursuing truth no matter where it leads you, then your path will be sure and your feet will not slip. Do not assume that you already have the truth because you may only have part or have been unwittingly convinced of an untruth somewhere in your past. I primarily cultivate this by being a continual open-minded learner and listener (but not so open-minded that my brain falls out). If I maintain a teachable heart and ask myself, “Is there truth here? Is there something new that I can learn from this person/idea?” then I believe I’m well on my way to escaping the deceit of my own heart. After all, it is only revealed input from the outside that will help me align my heart with the truth in the innermost part of my being. [While I’m on the subject, a warning to those of you who have everything “figured out” (although if you’re reading this I suspect that may not be the case): if you are not “teachable” you will never grow and will remain the same person your entire life; unable to be corrected, you will be unable to be encouraged; unable to be a learner, you will never have anything of substance to offer anyone else. In short, be teachable or stay where you are until your sojourn here expires. I say this harshly that I might “wound” some of you into life and healing].
In summary, in order to fight the natural self-deception of our hearts you must:
- Surround yourself with loved ones who will challenge you to grow (even if it hurts a little)
- Live a life of self-reflection and “analysis” through things like prayer, journaling, and wise counsel
- Don’t let truth escape you. Bind it around your neck and write it on your heart. Search for it like you would hidden treasure. If you don’t find it as you search, it will more than likely find you.
I sincerely hope that whatever wisdom I have to offer has shone through and helps guide you along your path and that whatever is not true would fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. Thanks for reading and I pray you found something to carry with you and that if it helped, you’ll share it with a friend.