Unsurprisingly, if you Google “follow your heart,” you’ll find numerous articles extolling the virtues of the popular mantra. But is that actually sound advice?
At random, I chose this article at Huffington Post by a professional counselor that lists 10 reasons to follow your heart.
Each point sounds encouraging at best and trivial at worst. But what if we look past the surface and carry these ideas to their logical conclusion or try to apply them universally?
Here are the 10 reasons given to follow your heart and some questions to help us better examine this idea that has become so prevalent in our culture.
1. When you follow your heart, you cease having regrets.
What if my heart tells me to have an affair and I ruin my marriage and harm my children?
When you follow your heart, you often simply transfer your potential regrets on to others. Maybe I feel as if I’m living life to the fullest, but they feel pain and desertion. Is that right or good?
2. Gain a newfound respect for yourself and from those you admire.
What if our heart wants things that run contrary to the desires of those we admire?
Maybe your heart is whispering how great it would be to become rich and famous, but those we admire are aiming for a life of service. Or maybe it’s the opposite. Is my heart right or theirs?
Will I respect myself more if I abandon my family and responsibilities to pursue my personal dreams and passions?
3. Get to know who you really are and what really matters to you.
What if my heart is confused about who I am and what I want?
Why should I trust my heart to have infallible insight into who I am and what I want? Why would my heart know what’s best for me?
It may decide I really want a double cheeseburger and large fries every night, but that would not be good at all for my physical heart.
This also ignores the contributions others make to helping us learn more about ourselves. They often know us better than we know ourselves or at least they can have a more honest assessment of us and our faults.
4. Ensure that you are on the right and true path for yourself.
What allows my heart to see my path so clearly?
My heart cannot see into the future and know the consequences of my choices. It has no idea if the path I’m on will lead to problems. Why trust it when it can’t see any further than the rest of me?
Perhaps it is “right and true” for me, but it harms others or conflicts with their “right and true path.” What then?
5. Allow yourself to forgive yourself and others.
What makes my heart want to forgive myself or others?
It seems our passions are often directed entirely in the exact opposite direction. More than anything, we often want to get revenge on those who hurt us. Why seek forgiveness when the other desire is stronger?
6. Learn to love yourself.
What if my heart hates me?
Imagine telling this to someone suicidal or depressed. For them following their heart, might mean ending their life or harming themselves. My heart doesn’t always love me.
What if my heart doesn’t want to learn to love myself or anyone else? How can the writer know this is the right path for me?
7. Learn to love others.
What makes loving others a desire of my heart?
It seems now we are learning not to follow our heart, but to try to teach our heart to follow the right things. The writer is now giving advice to shape our desires, not follow them.
From where do we get the idea that we should love others? What makes that right and how does it become a desire of my heart?
8. Learn to trust our intuition.
What if I have two intuitions that disagree?
In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis speaks about having intuitions that conflict. Our intuition to flee danger can run contrary to an intuition to save someone else. Which intuitions is right? We have to look to a standard outside of ourselves for that.
That’s not even discussing times when our intuition may be wrong or indecisive. It could also run contrary to loving others or any of the other pieces of advice given in this list.
9. Stop overthinking and go with what life throws us.
What if life throws injustice at me or others, am I supposed to simply accept that?
Would people like Rosa Parks or William Wilberforce have brought needed change to the world if they had simply accepted what came their way? This is actually fatalism and leaves us unprepared to challenge injustice or oppression in the world.
10. Listen to your heart — it knows your true desires.
What if my true desires are evil?
Dylann Roof murdered nine people during a Bible study because they were African-American. His true desire was to kill them to start a race war. Should he have listened to his heart? Should I?
That’s a question our culture never stops to consider. Should I listen to my heart?
In his book This Is Our Time, Trevin Wax explains how the concept permeates our culture. You cannot watch a Disney movie and not leave humming a song about being “true to yourself.”
Yet, as Wax, details, following your heart is a faulty map. It will not take you where you want to go. Exclusively following your heart will shipwreck your life.
Don’t follow your heart. Instead, recognize it’s inherent deceitfulness and let be shaped and directed by God through His Word, His Spirit and His Church.