Heart guarding

Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watchover your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” (NAS) Again, in a different version, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” (NIV)

I have known this verse - I’ve had it memorized - since my college days, at least 30 years. Yet, for most of those years I wasn’t diligent about my heart at all. I didn’t even understand what it meant to watch over or guard my heart.

Guarding our hearts, there’s more to this than merely avoiding evil. Erwin McManus compared it to building core strength. Anyone who has worked out in the gym under an instructor for the past ten years, or read a magazine article about getting stronger, knows that everything comes from our core strength. In the fitness world, it is all about core strength training nowadays.

Cyndi and I ran the Dallas Half-Marathon last Sunday, around White Rock Lake and adjacent neighborhoods. Our original plan was to run with Katie as a family sort of thing, but then she got pregnant and wimped out of the race. So, it was just Cyndi and me (and 4,000 other runners we didn’t know).

I actually handled the distance better than I expected considering my poor excuse for long training runs; well, I was beaten-up and tired at the end, but not defeated. One reason was because I’ve been training with Jeff Galloway's method: alternating running five minutes and walking one minute; it has helped a lot.

Galloway has been part of my overall scheme for recovering from injury, coping with seemingly permanent knee aches, and my strategy to keep doing this sort of thing for a few more decades.

He encourages runners to insert regular walking breaks into their running, whatever the distance. Galloway wrote, “When taken from the beginning of all long runs, walk breaks erase fatigue, speed recovery, reduce injury, and yet bestow all of the endurance benefits of the distance covered.”

I kept to my 5/1 schedule, making small adjustments whenever necessary to space my walking breaks with the water stops. I was able to start back running every time, and I maintained a better average pace than I would’ve had I tried to run every step. That is, until I got to I0 miles.

At 10 miles, I just felt drained. I hit the wall. I don't know if it was because that was the length of my longest training run, or if it was just what happened that day. I adjusted my pattern to running 4:00 and walking 1:00, but I still struggled. I eventually finished the half-marathon by walking 100 steps and running I00 steps (my old backpacking trick). I wanted to finish in less than three hours, so I kept working hard. I did finally finish in 2:55. An embarrassingly slow time to actually commit to paper and hard drive, but even at that, it was about 20 minutes better than my last half-marathon in Austin. It is my recovery-era half-marathon P.R. Hopefully, the first comeback in a new trend.

Back in 2005 when I first realized my left knee was hurt, I actually looked forward to surgery. I wanted a quick fix to put it back like it was. I was willing to put up with surgery if that’s what it took to fix it in a hurry.

What I eventually discovered, thanks to my new friends at the Seton Clinic in Austin, was that what I needed instead, was to increase my core strength. I followed a prescribed series of exercises every day to build my core strength and correct my muscle imbalances. It is a project I’ll continue to work on for the rest of my life if I want to keep moving.

It’s a similar story about our heart. We want quick fixes, weekend seminars, and fast solutions, but it takes a lifetime of guarding and feeding and protecting and building core strength to avoid heart injury. That is the “with all diligence” part.

Everything of value comes from the core. Everything comes from our heart. We have to go to our core and get stronger inside if we want to be productive and long-lasting in our heart.

This is not a passive activity. We have to take the initiative to get stronger. We can’t just hope or pray it gets stronger, we have to work it. We have to do the exercises.

We also have to eliminate the things that hurt us. What have I allowed to inform my life? It is good? What have I allowed to shape my heart? Am I feeding my heart what it needs? What kind of crappyjack have I been eating?

Proverbs tells me to guard my heart, for it is the wellspring of life. God actually sees me as generative, able to create life. My heart is a wellspring; life can flow from me.

This is way different than merely protecting what I have or guarding what I know or staying away from evil. This is not a defensive posture, but an offensive posture. I am supposed to use my heart to create life in other people.

How about you? How do you guard your heart? How do you strengthen your core?

I run in the path of Your commands, for You have set my heart free.” Psalm 119:32