Erica Garner’s heart attacked her. A heart that mothered and sistered. A heart that fought tirelessly for her people.
Growing up in church, Proverbs 4:23 was quoted to me like it were a commandment. “Guard your heart” was chanted from pulpit to purity class. It was more about making sure I didn’t fall too hard for the cute boy at Vacation Bible Study or have mixed gender friendships. More about guarding people’s idea of my heart then the living breathing muscle that holds my spirit.
What if there’s more to these treasured words? What if the writer was urging us to take care of and nourish our spirits?
I didn’t learn the importance of guarding my heart until Black women around me started to drop dead. March 2016, it was my paternal grandmother. September 2017, a treasured mother figure. According to the American Heart Association, heart disease, which is the main cause of heart attack, is the number one killer of women. At first glance heart disease may seem simply physiological and disconnected from our emotional and spiritual selves. It is easy to ignore the ways in which the world weighing on our hearts impacts our physical health and even threatens our existences. The day of charging the untimely deaths of our mothers, sisters, and friends solely to scientific facts while never addressing the realities that led them there is over. The time is now to guard our hearts like never before.
Everything around us tells us otherwise. The church is calling us to be wives, to mother, to prepare the potluck dinner, and sometimes even to bury the deep traumas we may have experienced. Our families and friends are calling us to host the parties and bake the cakes. The streets are calling us to protest and organize. The careers we have are pushing us to climb the ladder of success. Some (if not all) of these things are both noble and necessary. Still, all the while, God is calling us to rest. He is calling our hearts to rest before they attack us.
My heart attacked me mid-November on the floor of my apartment in the form of the most severe anxiety attack I’ve suffered in years. I’ve been on a journey since then to guarding my heart.
The first step for me in that journey was organizing my post graduate travel. I have spent this spring traveling to different cities to see friends, explore, write, and center myself. I’ve also decreased my social media presence drastically and am challenging myself to say no.
The hard thing has not been booking the flights or planning the trips. It has not been troublesome to find new journals and great pens to match. The trying part about this journey has been abandoning the need to demonstrate my worthiness by doing. I think we run our hearts rampant because often it feels productive.
I do not have an absolute regimen to better guarding our hearts, but our monthly pedicures will no longer meet the self care quota. I am here as a sister beckoning you to look closely in your life at the things that are attacking your heart. Share these things with people who can love you well. Go to that therapy session. Say no and sit in it. I am here pleading with you to guard that heart of yours.
May we guard our hearts from the lies that tell us what we produce is who we are. May we guard our hearts so that our daughters and sons get to encounter the beauty held within them.