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Don't Follow Your Heart
Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario. Here's this week's!

When news of Al and Tipper Gore’s split hit a while back, many newspaper pundits chose to put a happy spin on it. Deirdre Baer, writing in the New York Times, urged us “not to feel sad” about the end of the forty-year union. Instead, we should “rejoice” that they have decided to take the plunge and find themselves!

Self-actualization is the new god.

This line of thinking goes like this: if everybody pursues their own dreams and values and goals, then the world will be better off. We must be true to ourselves. To fail to do so is to betray our deepest convictions; it is to betray who we are.

This philosophy reminds me of a comedy routine on drug use that Bill Cosby did years ago. He asked a druggie why he got high, and the druggie replied, “It intensifies your personality!” Cosby looked confused. “But what if you’re a jerk?”, he queried, though he used much more colourful language.

Good point. What’s so great about doing what is true to you if you’re also a jerk? Won’t that just increase the misery in the world? Following one’s heart is only a good idea if one’s heart is first going in a positive direction. The heart is not a very reliable compass, because it is too often governed by feelings rather than real conviction.

Living by one’s feelings makes one into a liar. If you are going to live based on feelings alone, ensuring that you are always true to yourself, then you won’t be true to anyone else. Al and Tipper vowed at their wedding to love each other til death do us part, forsaking all others. At least one of them has violated that pledge. They vowed it once, but it doesn’t matter now.

Similarly, when you become a parent there is an unspoken pledge that you shall now put your child first, caring for that child and loving that child and nurturing that child until adulthood. If you one day feel that you would be better off pursuing your dreams away from your child, you’re true to yourself. But you’re not true to that child.

Feelings are not the best guide to right and wrong. Hitler probably felt very fervently that he was pursuing his dreams. Most criminals who now languish behind bars were letting their feelings get the better of them, too. The world is full of scars from people doing what feels right.

Our culture may celebrate feelings, but it needs conviction. Without people willing to work a double shift at the hospital, even though they shouldn’t have to, our health care would collapse. Without accountants willing to be honest, even though they could really use some extra money, our businesses would fail. No workplace would long function if workers only decided to do what they wanted to do, and not what they promised to do when they signed on. And no family can provide a shelter from the outside world if people aren’t really committed to loving each other no matter what.

I’d rather that people decided to follow something outside of their own hearts. I’d rather that people find a set of values that didn’t change—that we judged ourselves not based on whether we feel fulfilled, but on whether or not we are doing the right thing. I’d rather that people cared far more about honour and legacy than they did about fun and self.

To live in a world where everyone strives for their own fulfillment is to live in a world where nobody really cares about anybody else. And despite what the New York Times may think, that doesn’t really sound like anything to celebrate. That sounds like something to mourn.

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At 9:37 AM , Blogger Sheri said…

Awesome post Sheila!!!


At 9:38 AM , Blogger Sheri said…

Oh, by the way, I linked to you on Wednesday and "I" have gotten a lot of positive and shocked feedback on your poll.


At 9:43 AM , Blogger Terry @ Breathing Grace said…

Amen, Sheila! Wonderful post.


At 12:26 PM , Blogger Gretchen said…

Amen, amen and AMEN!!!! What an awesome post! Thank you!


At 12:58 PM , Blogger Vaughn said…

How often do you hear this in movies and TV, especially the ones made for kids? "Follow your heart." When in truth, the heart should be the last thing that one should listen to, as the heart is "desperately wicked."

Even in church, we sometimes do this. "My heart told me to do such and such."


At 2:42 PM , Blogger Heidi McLaughlin said…

Speak it sister. My hand is up in the air waving in agreement. I see too many young marriages breaking up because they did not "feel like they were in love" anymore. I think we have forgotten that love is a verb..not a noun.
I'm afraid we are becoming a feel good, self absorbed world, and that is not what Jesus taught us.


At 3:51 PM , Blogger Nancy said…

So true! This has been brought to my mind recently in that I have a relative that decided that she wanted to go to nursing school. She is doing the 1-year program so it is very intensive. While she is out pursuing her dream, her five children ages 8 - 19 are home fending for themselves. Her marriage is on the rocks, also. Tears me up.


At 11:22 AM , Blogger living water homeschool said…

"If you are going to live based on feelings alone, ensuring that you are always true to yourself, then you won’t be true to anyone else"

I LOVE this!!! So many people seek their own happiness at the expense of other's, and more importantly without any sort of Wisdom. Or I've heard people say "God wants me to be happy" when really their actions are in direct conflict with scripture. It's so much the self centered mindset of today's society, do whatever makes you happy in the moment regardless of consequences.


At 11:21 AM , Blogger The Happy Domestic said…

Why should we be surprised that the world seeks after personal happiness, when they have never known true joy? Those of us who are in Christ, however, should know better. God's goal is not for us to be happy, but for us to be in fellowship with him: "In His presence is fullness of joy."

I don't think it's reasonable to expect those who don't know Christ to live according to God's order... they're already missing it in so many ways. This is why we are to be salt and light in the world. If WE live according to God's order, we will have such abundant life that people far and near will covet what we have - life in Christ.


At 12:44 PM , OpenID americanfamilynow said…

Preach it sister! Another great post. I love how you just speak it like it is, no nonsense. The world needs to hear more of its kind!


At 2:31 PM , Anonymous Rhonda Henrich said…

Scripture tells us to have child LIKE faith. It does not tell us that we should be childISH.
Children follow their hearts..and are right to do so in that they have nothing else until they learn more wisdom. This is why God put them in families and instructed the parents to teach their children His ways.
ChildISHness is now the way of the world. We need mature Christians to put our collective foot down and declare "NO more! As for me and my house, WE will serve the Lord."


At 2:01 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said…

This is the first of your articles that I have read. Will look forward to more. I, too, think it is sad when a couple breaks up. My thoughts as I read your article and the posted comments: 1) What we feel is, most often, a direct result of what we think. So it behooves us to make sure our thoughts are straight. 2)Love is not just a feeling, it is a decision. 3)I have no problem with the idea of seeking fulfillment - I hope that everyone may find it. It seems to me that the question is, how do people define fulfillment? 4) I definitely believe that God wants us to be happy. That's what the Gospel is all about - it's a game plan for learning what happiness is and how to get it. Contrary to popular thinking, however, it involves thinking and caring about others.

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About Me

Name: Sheila

Home: Belleville, Ontario, Canada

About Me: I'm a Christian author of a bunch of books, and a frequent speaker to women's groups and marriage conferences. Best of all, I love homeschooling my daughters, Rebecca and Katie. And I love to knit. Preferably simultaneously.

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