I was a Sophomore in college at Boise State University. I lived just off campus in a two bedroom apartment with two of my dear friends. As the Fall semester was coming to a close, I had a big decision to make. I had talked to friends and family, prayed and thought. Much of that time is a blur, but I have a distinct memory of a conversation that influenced my decision at the time.
I dialed up a mentor in my community in Boise whom I knew better than the others. I explained the decision I was facing and talked about the options - briefly.
7 months before this phone call my dad died. I am the oldest child in a family that used to be 6. When I moved back to Boise after the summer, things were different. Of course, grieving isn’t the most common Friday night activity for college students. As the semester began, I noticed a pull toward home. Are you an oldest child? If so, you may understand the feeling of responsibility. I felt like an understudy - as if my new role was to fill in some of the spaces my dad would have filled. Nothing extreme - but for example, until my mom became remarried, I reminded my siblings about birthday cards and mother’s day cards for my mom. I planned surprises for her - things like that. It was not a burden in itself, it was a joy, but there was a unexplainable presence of responsibility on my shoulders upon losing my father.
This feeling of responsibility grew as the semester progressed. The draw toward my mother and siblings grew. I remember breaking the news to my best friend that I was not going to study abroad with her in Ghana the next semester like we had planned. I couldn’t imagine spending the year anniversary of his death away from my family. She went anyways on her own, and I was so proud of her. A few weeks later I found myself sitting by a lake, in the beautiful Boise campus with my Bible in hand. I wish I could remember more clearly, but I was reading something in the Old Testament and I found myself reading about how immensely God cares about the orphans and the widows. Loving them in their time of need is important to Him. Perhaps my desires had been aligning with this all semester. Perhaps the strong pull I felt to live this out was not a coincidence.
I hung up the phone call with this mentor, and it occurred to me that I had not given him enough information for him to thoroughly understand my situation. The sentence I remember him telling me was, “I think you should stay here, wouldn’t your dad want you to finish school?” I’m not sure how I responded, but yes my dad would definitely want that, as did I, which is why I planned to transfer my credits to a university in Colorado if I did move home and finish school there. I think had we had a longer and more detailed talk, or had he known me better, his advice would have been relevant to my situation and impactful. After I recognized his advice as quite irrelevant to my situation and though he was important to me, I chose not to take what he had to say into account.
Who Could Have Permission To Speak Into Your Life?
Have you ever heard the phrase “guard your heart"? I often hear it around dating relationships, but it is true of life. I think it means this: Capture the information going in, and decide if it should have access to your heart.
It’s important to simplify the voices you hear weighing in on the decisions in life- both big and small. Too many voices can be overwhelming, unhealthy, stifling, confusing and cause unnecessary strife. It is simply wise to limit the voices you take into account when making decisions or receiving opinions from people. The people you allow to speak into your life should be intentionally listened to.
Imagine there is a gate to your heart and mind. If someone’s opinion is not allowed through, it does not mean you don’t love them or trust them. They might be quite intelligent or wise. Perhaps they believe they are entitled to access to influence your heart. What guarding your heart and choosing who has permission to speak into your life really means, is simplifying the voices down to the most helpful ones.
The voices who criticize you are not helpful.
The voices who give thoughtful and honest feedback out of love for you are helpful.
The voices who give advice for your situation based blindly on their own personal situation are not helpful.
The voices who give advice for your situation based on their knowledge of you, their own experiences, and a collaborative attitude are helpful.
Here are a few types of people who you could allow to speak into your life.
Those who have walked in shoes like yours
People who have already experienced what you are going through have the knowledge specific to your situation. When we ask for input from others, people give their opinion from their own perspective. Sometimes people will see your situation only through their lens without stepping outside of their context and diving into yours. Of course, this is human nature - and all of us have only ever been ourselves. For those who have been where you are, the perspective they bring will more naturally align with the advice or perspective you need. The wisdom of someone who has been there is more valuable in some instances than someone who hasn’t.
Those who know you well and care about you
We all have those people in our lives who love us, but for various reasons may care more about the outcome of our lives than our personal wellbeing. Though no one would admit to feeling that way, it happens! When allowing people to speak into your life, walk through the people who love you for you no matter what you accomplish or produce. Who are the loved ones and friends who know your tendencies, your history, your desires and your blind spots? These are people who you might allow permission to influence your heart.
Those who are in the same boat
Our peers within life circumstances can be a great support system. Sometimes the wonderful people who love you well will not understand your situation like a peer. Are you a young mom? A graduate student? An empty nester? Fighting an illness? Those who currently walk in our shoes alongside us might have particularly valuable wisdom to share. They may not know us inside and out, but their perspective could be specific when you need that.
A Challenge For You
Here is some advice I took after reading I Thought It Was Just Me But It Isn’t by Brene Brown.
Make a list of 5 people who you love, who you trust, who genuinely have your best interest at heart. Write their names down on a little list and keep it with you for reference. These are a short list of people whose words are on the guest list to enter your heart. You can have permission to stop the rest at the door, evaluate or just throw out on the spot. When it comes to more specific advice - the kind which your list is not qualified to answer, navigate advice from those who are in the same boat and especially those who have walked in shoes like yours.
The reality in life is that people care. Most people who speak to you ‘mean well’. That is great! That does not mean you must accept their influence in your heart. You have an opportunity to choose the voices you receive just like you can choose the people you surround yourself with. You may find that life becomes a bit more free when you become the giver of permission to the voices which surround you.
I would love to hear more about the ways you guard your heart over on our facebook page! Which ‘types of people’ did I miss? Who else should have access to our heart?