Should you really “follow your heart?” Dispelling the Myth.


The phrase “follow your heart” has become ubiquitous in our society.  We hear it in movies and media.  Parents raise their children on this supposed wisdom.  If we just follow our hearts, we can’t go wrong and we can do anything.  The 90’s kid within me is jamming out to the 98 degrees song...”Be true to your heart. Just be true to your heart. Your heart can tell you know lies…”  I guess it worked for Mulan.

But is this really good advice?  Should we just accept it because it sounds so inspiring and makes for a good bumper sticker?  Shouldn’t we analyze it, examine the evidence to see if it’s even true? No one else seems to be preoccupied with this question, but it troubles me greatly.  I do not think it’s good advice.  In fact, I think it’s the exact opposite of good advice.  Here’s why.

First of all, there is a deeper, underlying meaning to the seemingly harmless phrase.  The language of “rights” and “free will” have become the language of our society.  Personal autonomy, the freedom to do whatever we please, has become the unquestioned cultural ideal.  “Follow your heart” is just part and parcel of this.

We view our hearts as inner guides that, if we listen to, will lead us to our ultimate destiny and happiness.  And we have a right to this happiness and no one else has a right to prevent us from obtaining this happiness.

Sounds like a pretty sweet deal, but do you see where this leads?  Basically, it means we can do pretty much whatever we want as long as it was our heart that led us there.  That doesn’t sound so bad, until you get people saying things like this:  “I knew I shouldn’t be having an affair.  But I love her.  I had to follow my heart.”  

The truth is, the real reason we celebrate this ideology is not necessarily because we believe it, but because it absolves us from guilt and moral responsibility.  Ironically, we turn following our heart into some kind of ultimate ethical imperative that trumps all other ethical obligations.  No matter what we do, or who we hurt doing it, we get a free pass as long as we claim we were “following our hearts.”  Believing that our hearts are faultless guides allows us to leave our desires unchecked and our actions unquestioned.  It’s easy to see why people sign on to this idea.

However, there is one hitch.  Ironically, people seem determined to believe in this myth of the human heart as a true and faithful guide despite staggering evidence to the contrary.  Why?  Because their hearts have deceived them!  You don’t have to look much past your own nose to see that our hearts do lead us astray.  Contrary to the wisdom of 98 degrees, they do lie to us.  But we willfully ignore this because we want to believe that our desires are always pure and our actions never condemnable.

Our hearts deceive us into believing that our hearts are pure precisely because our hearts are not pure, because “the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” -Jeremiah 17:9  Despite what the world tells us, following our hearts does not earn us an absolution from guilt.  God declares that He will “search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”  -Jeremiah 17:10  

Talk about counter-cultural.  These are tough words.  This is not the easy path.  But I would rather have God’s truth than the world’s lies.  I would rather be like the man “who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in Him.  He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.” -Jeremiah 17:7-8  I would rather be like him than the “one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strengths and whose heart turns away from the LORD.  He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes.  He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt man where no one lives.” -Jeremiah 17: 5-6

In wisdom, let us heed the words of the LORD rather than the enticing lies of the world so that we may never hear Him say to us, “If only you had paid attention to my commands, your peace would have been like a river, your righteousness like the waves of the sea.” -Isaiah 48:18  For “this is what the LORD says–your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: ‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go.” -Isaiah 48:17  It is God and not our hearts who will never lie to us, nor ever lead us astray.  Let us then, not follow our hearts, but follow God.


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